On the subject of Chorus Jig,
I believe that it was John Macintyre who called Chorus Jig at Down East.
I happened to be dancing with a talented and experienced dancer form
Maine. She had never danced CJ or done the Contra Corner figure.
Her eyes lit up once she had got the sequence down. She asked why this
Is not called more often.... I explained that it is rare at a dance in
CJ is not called. I call it as standard at my dances (even if the band
does not know the tune!)
Jeffrey Petrovitch wrote:
> Also in the dance Money Musk there is a "lines of three forward and
> back" and it really is not a "forward and back"; it is a "balance in and
> balance out", which is danced differently. What does this have to do
> with discussion of less used figures; I think it is important to know
> dance moves like contra corners, balance in and balance out and once
> again the "little things" that have brought contra dancing to where it
> is today. It is the history!!!
In a similar vein, I recently learned from Peter Rogers that in the English figure called "forward a double and back," the double refers not to doing the move as a pair, but rather taking two measures of music to move forward and two to move back back. Forward a single and back would be equivalent (in timing) to a contra balance, forward a double and back would be equivalent in timing (if not shape) to long lines forward and back.
Also, I have intuited that in the move "roll away with a half sashay," the half sashay refers to the non-rolling individual stepping sideways into the original place of the rolling individual. Can anyone confirm this?
> What called waltz dances do people know?
These are the three I use most frequently:
Spanish Waltz, an oldie
Waterfall Waltz, by Pat Shaw
The Wood Duck, by Fried Herman
(both of these are from English country dancing, as is Margaret's Waltz, Duke of
Kent's Waltz, and many, many more, but these two are the ones I seem to have
There's also Roses in Bloom, a square set in waltz time, written by Rich Jackson
and published in the CDSS News #106. But given the difficulty of getting some
contra dancers to dance squares at all, and adding in the challenge of asking
people to dance in waltz time, you can imagine that this doesn't get used much
in contra circles!
Also from the ECD world, another square in waltz time is Pat Shaw's
Dave Merrill asked, "Are the intro, breaks, and close traditional and standard
for particular dances, or are they generally improvised by the caller as his own
Singing squares typically have the breaks built into the words that the caller
sings. There may be slight variations in the wording that the caller uses, but
the figures that are called for those breaks remain the same. Hence, when a
group of dancers hears the caller sing, "Well, you do-si-do 'round your corner,
with a right hand go twice around your own," they're primed to chime in with
"Make it twice!" That's part of the fun of the singing squares, their very
In calling New England quadrilles or other styles of squares, it's more common
for the breaks not to be a set part of the routine, and yes, that's part of the
fun. If there's a particularly complex break that the caller plans to use, s/he
may teach it before the dance, in the same manner as teaching the figure. If the
break is going to be made up of more common movements, ones that the caller
expects the dancers to be capable of carrying out on the fly, then there's no
advance warning and the dancers just react to the calls as they are given.
The "bow to partner, bow to corner" is indeed one time-honored way of starting a
square--I've seen references citing this as a particularly New England styling,
harking back to more genteel times--but even that isn't a given. I'd suggest
that any caller interested in investigating breaks would do well to purchase a
copy of Ted Sannella's "Calling Traditional New England Squares," which is full
of general comments and theory, scores of breaks that Ted used, and a CD of Ted
callign squares. The cuts on the CD were chosen in part to illustrate many
different breaks. Two other items that may be helpful are Tom Hinds's recent
publication with a similar title, "Calling New England Squares" and Tom's
earlier "Give Me a Break!" All of these materials are available from the sales
office at Country Dance and Song Society, http://www.cdss.org/sales/index.html
* Of course, the predictability sometimes breaks down, as it did for me when I
was calling "Just Because" some years ago. I found myself moving dancers in
unexpected patterns, shuffling them all around the square. A friend came up
afterwards and congratulated me on a calling tour-de-force, keeping people
moving and getting back home with partners where they needed to be, all the
while keeping up the singing square. The truth, which I readily confessed, is
that I had experienced a sort of brain freeze, and simply couldn't remember what
was supposed to come next, and just kept calling. It worked out okay, but it's
not an experience I'm eager to repeat!
David Millstone wrote:
> I'd suggest
> that any caller interested in investigating breaks would do well to purchase a
> copy of Ted Sannella's "Calling Traditional New England Squares," which is full
> of general comments and theory, scores of breaks that Ted used, and a CD of Ted
> callign squares. The cuts on the CD were chosen in part to illustrate many
> different breaks. Two other items that may be helpful are Tom Hinds's recent
> publication with a similar title, "Calling New England Squares" and Tom's
> earlier "Give Me a Break!" All of these materials are available from the sales
> office at Country Dance and Song Society, http://www.cdss.org/sales/index.html
I would like to throw in my own endorsement for Tom Hinds' "Calling New England Squares" and "Give Me a Break!" I have found both to be very fine resources as I seek to call fun and satisfying squares. I've been reading and rereading these as I've been traveling lately.
One of the wisest nuggets is the lesson that squares I find fun to dance may not be suitable for me to call because callers are generally more experienced dancers. So Tom offers several ways to analyze squares for suitability to a particular crowd.
I know that some contra dancers think squares aren't fun. It's my judgement that when callers are very well prepared and the figures are well-matched to the crowd's ability, I don't hear from those "squares aren't fun" dancers. In fact, I even hear "that was a fun square!" It's especially satisfying to get a smile from a grump.
Contrawise, if I am not well prepared on a square, I will hear it.
I am just back from a wonderful two days at the DownEast Country Dance
Festival in Maine.
There was something I noticed there that I thought was worthy of note on
I was sitting out watching Linda Leslie do a walk-through for a dance. The
dance had a contra-corners figure in it and the dancers got lost enough
trying to walk it through that Linda had six couples do a demo. It struck me
that fifteen years ago I don't think that would have had to be taught at an
event like the Festival, because it was a figure we used (and was taught to
us) so frequently in the regular Saturday night dances that the number of
people attending an event like the festival who didn't know it would be low.
It seemed to me to be a reflection of doing the older dances so much less
often than we used to. I remarked on this to the person I was sitting with,
but then realized that he is in his twenties and does not know the kinds of
dances that used to fill an evening of dancing around here back in the 70s
and 80s (when the majority of dances we used in an evening might well have
been older traditional dances and were as likely to be proper as improper).
His assumption is contra corners is a figure that always has to be taught no
matter who the crowd.
When relating this story to my partner, who was not at the festival, he
asked whether people sat down when Linda did the demo. Most of them did -
but there were a good number who did not. He recalled how it used to be that
when the caller asked for a demo, the whole rest of the hall automatically
squatted or sat so everyone could see. Very often now people remain standing
during demos (at least around here).
Just two interesting observations on the evolution of what we're doing and
how we do it.
I've made a note to teach the contra corners at my local dance sometime
soon. (other callers have used it there - but very infrequently).
Best to all of you,
If there is one dance that you are going to dance at the Nelson Town
Hall, it is going to be Chorus Jig. Without exception, Chorus Jig is
danced every Monday, every Monday of the year, and there is no doubt
that it is the highlight of the evening. I think there are few places
where the dancers will actually cheer when the caller says that are
going to call Chorus Jig or Money Musk (both dances you should not miss).
It is interesting people are talking about less used figures, because in
doing so, we can really look at the evolution of contra dancing.
Formation for example, from a time where the majority of dances were
proper, from a time where the majority of dances were improper, to a
time where the majority of dances are improper and becket.
Last month, I was talking with my friend Amy Cann, a fiddler in the
Greater Putney Area, and we were talking about the evolution and history
of contra dancing. An interesting point came up when we danced a dance
with a wave across to a pass-through. I have only been contra dancing
for three years, and I learned that a "balance the wave" was balance to
the right and balance to the left. According to Amy, she told me that
the "original balance the wave" was balance forward and balance back,
similar to a "balance and swing". It is an interesting point and when
you think about the physics of it, it makes a lot of sense. Another
example is "line of four, down the hall, turn alone and return"; as
experienced callers and dancers we known that is polite to turn alone
towards your neighbor, because it has become so second nature to us.
These are two examples of the "little things" the history points that
really had to a contra dancing experience.
Also in the dance Money Musk there is a "lines of three forward and
back" and it really is not a "forward and back"; it is a "balance in and
balance out", which is danced differently. What does this have to do
with discussion of less used figures; I think it is important to know
dance moves like contra corners, balance in and balance out and once
again the "little things" that have brought contra dancing to where it
is today. It is the history!!!
Chris made a great point about "we as callers need to model the good
behavior from the floor as dancers." My addition to that would be that
we as callers perhaps are one of the largest factors in the evolution of
contra dancing. Through our dance selection and dance programming and
of course our teaching, we have the opportunity every evening to present
contra dancing to a new individual, someone who has no idea what contra
dancing is all about and for them that is where contra dancing starts.
If contra dancing was a plate of cookies siting on the table, it would
be perhaps one of the best cookies there is, but don't you think it was
taste better if you knew what were the ingredients and where they came
Cynthia spoke about the necessity of demonstrating contra corners, a figure that
she had thought most would know well.
As Lisa pointed out, there are dance series where the older dances are called
regularly and dancers there will be familiar with figures such as contra
corners. (I'd say you're more likely to find these older dances included in the
repertoire of smaller dances in rural New England than you are at most of the
zesty urban dances.) The figure isn't called as much these days because it
favors the ones-- the "active" couples, in the now out-of-favor parlance. The
contemporary passion for everyone-moving, equal-activity choreography means that
figures such as contra corners simply aren't used as much, unless it's a dance
such as Alternating Corners where the ones and twos take turns doing contra
There's an example I like to use to demonstrate these changes. In the early to
mid-1980s, when the "hey for four" started to appear with increasing frequency
in contra choreography, an import from English country dancing, it frequently
required lengthy, step-by-step instruction, often supplemented with a
demonstration by a carefully-selected group of dancers. At that same time, when
an evening's program included traditional contras--many of which are duple
proper and end with the generic down the center and return, cast off, right and
left over and back--people had no trouble with those closing figures.
Today, the situation is nearly reversed--callers can move swiftly through a hey
for four, knowing that most dancers on the floor will be familiar with the
figure; it's a figure that you couild expect to encounter in a contra medley at
NEFFA, for example, where there's no instruction. The newcomers will be assisted
by those old hands (old feet?), who can indicate with an exaggerated shoulder
the correct passing side and who can keep everyone moving. Call a duple proper
dance, though, and the caller's troubles multiply. First of all, there are all
those dancers who have already taken hands four and crossed over... they need to
be brough back onto the correct side. And then doing the same sex right and left
through can cause all manner of problems, so a careful, step-by-step instruction
follows, often with a demonstration. The same applies, even more so, with triple
minors, which of course were the norm at one time in our dancing past. People
like what they know, and if they haven't been exposed to different figures and
different formations, they'll initially resist the unfamiliar. But take a group
of dancers who only dance contras regularly and get them through a grand square
successfully, let alone something like a teacup chain, and you can feel the
excitement in the room. But I digress...
Cynthia also also raised the question of whether dancers squat or sit down when
there's a demonstration, and Chris made several good suggestions about this.
Dancers simply have grown accustomed to not having a demonstration, or are less
tolerant of a demo than they might have been. I recall the story of Ted Sannella
calling in Washington, DC, some years ago. He went out onto the floor to
demonstrate the timing he wanted to see for a right and left through, and one of
the dancers was heard grumbling something to the effect of "Who is this old man,
who thinks he has the right to show us something?" The dance's organizer swiftly
replied, "That's Ted Sannella, and if he thinks people here need to work on that
figure, then they do!"
Ted was fond of jumping onto the floor once or twice in an evening-- never more
than that, in my recollection-- to illustrate style points. I don't think that
this practice is as common these days, at least in the groups where I dance.
One delightful exception for me came last fall when I was calling in Prague.
There, in part because of the language barrier, I found it far more efficient to
demonstrate unusual figures than to try to explain with words what I wanted.
Yes, they'd be able to follow me, with the assistance of a translator, but the
one picture/thousand words maxim applied. As soon as I took two steps toward the
dance floor from the mic, the entire room sat down or squatted, without my
needing even to make a request. I'd show the figure with the assistance of a few
couples, and then everyone would dance it.
I consciously modeled my calling on Ted's model, so I'm comfortable going out
onto the floor. I do think that this action is a good way of making style points
or demonstrating a particularly complex move. Perhaps if more of us did this at
opportune moments, dancers would in time learn to get out of the sightlines of
One final point. Chris ended his post with the comment that "we as callers need
to model the good behavior from the floor as dancers." Well said! If we're on
the dance floor when another caller comes out to demo something, I think that we
have an obligation immediately to squat down ourselves, and trust that others
will follow our lead.
After this year's DEFFA survivors dance and armed with this year's Ralph
Page Weekend syllabus, (and my first impromptu chance to call squares) I'm
left with a question. Are the intro, breaks, and close traditional and
standard for particular dances, or are they generally improvised by the
caller as his own signature?
(Bow to partner, and then to corner seems to be how most begin but they seem
fairly divergent from there on out!)
Thanks from a very inexperienced sort-of-caller,
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I've been sitting on the sidelines for a while enjoying the conversation. I'm been an avid dancer for almost twenty years and I truly enjoy bringing new people in to contra dancing through one-on-one teaching.
I think that Rick Mohr has a wonderful way of explaining the mechanics of the swing. He recently taught the buzz step to the gathered crowd at Rehoboth and it was great to watch. I used the same language the other night with a beginner and he got it easily.
Rick also has a nice way of explaining the weight distribution concept so that the gents don't get sore right arms.
I agree with Jeff that if you find the right language you can teach this successfully. The buzz step swing is such a great thing, it seems a shame to let someone miss it.
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