Here's an experience you may find instructive:
Back when I was pretty darn new to this calling business, I was asked to call a dance for a mixed group of high school kids -- about 30 American and 60 Russian. The event was in Hardwick, VT in the high school gym and it was the Russian visitors who pulled things together for the American kids, who looked and acted like the last thing they wanted was to do some weird dancing to weirder fiddle tunes. As is often the case, there were more English speakers among the Russians than Russian speakers among the Americans, and very few American kids felt up to finding Russian partners -- it was usually the Russian girls who would put an American kid on the spot and claim him as a partner. Sounds like you won't have a mixed group, though--it might be all, or almost all, Japanese.
To cut to the chase, there was an interpreter with the visitors, a blowsy woman with a voice any caller would be happy to have. She stood beside me and translated my instructions in what sounded like very succinct and clear terms. After forming the set and getting everyone's "hands joined in circles of four", I went down to the center set and used the "duck-duck-goose" method of showing who the ones and twos were, using gestures to indicate how they would interact then progress in opposite directions. Before I could get too smug about how their eager smiles and nods reflected on my own skills, I suddenly realized that the interpreter had shadowed me closely, mimicking my every move and gesture to everyone's great amusement and insight. I pantomimed arriving at the end of the set to find no more couples, turning around and waiting, and starting back up the set, the entire time still being copied by the interpreter. The whole deal took about three minutes, but it broke the ice and reluctance for everybody on the floor and the rest of the walkthrough was a piece of cake. The rest of the evening was a complete success, thanks to that interpreter. With her, it probably would have been possible to do well with a 100% Russian group. Without her, things that night might have had an entirely different outcome.
The moral of the story for me was "act out more and speak less," and have a good interpreter if possible. Since you're dealing with festival-goers, you won't have to cope with outright aversion to even being there, but I suspect you'll be able to take the actual temperature of your group as soon as you see the manner in which they collect on the floor. Be ready to adapt on the fly. There have been many great suggestions in this email group about the best dances for beginners, and about the importance of choosing dances where the foursome maintains strong unambiguous physical connection as much as possible.
You didn't mention the musical resources you'll have or won't have, and they will probably be as critical as anything else. A live band, I hope? Strongly-phrased tunes with steady rhythms seem more important than the actual choice of tunes or the band's level of virtuosity, but good music really does make for good dancing. If you have tunes with easily-noticed differences between the A and B parts, it'll make it easier for you to keep track of where you are in the process. Don't ask the band to play much slower than usual--it's much harder to dance in slow motion--but you don't want the band racing through the tunes in an attempt to make them seem more exciting.
There will probably be many more good suggestions from the many truly talented contributors to this group, but I hope these will be of some value.
I agree with Lindsay. Contras are hinged to a deep tradition and a well-established ritual. To start from scratch it will take at least a generation to get a "real" contra dance going.
I suggest you put out the word through whatever media you can and try to contact other contra dancers in Japan. You may be surprised to learn how many there are. If you can get a crowd with at least 20% dancers with some contra experience you can make it work...provided your calling is very precise.
I have organized three contra dance tours of the former Soviet Union. One thing I learned is that you don't need a caller who speaks the native tongue, as long as you have a core of experienced dancers. In fact, calling in English is recommended. The new dancers will learn by watching and dancing with those who have done it before. They won't learn from verbal descriptions in any language.
>From: Lindsay Morris <lindsay(a)tsmworks.com>
>Sent: Oct 2, 2007 3:23 PM
>To: Caller's discussion list <callers(a)sharedweight.net>
>Subject: Re: [Callers] Japan dance and self intro/update
> Wow, you're biting off too much.
> Teach them community-dance stuff first - circle mixers, easy things to
> get them used to touching, allemanding, and giving weight.
> If they refuse to take hands and circle left, then I suggest you fake a
> heart attack and get out.
I'm finally getting ready to consider buying a wireless microphone -
handheld, not a headset. What are the minimum requirements I should
consider? What should I expect to pay for such a mic (with receiver)?
Any/all advice is appreciated. Feel free to point me elsewhere.
If you're on a PC, British caller, choreographer, and computer programmer Colin
Hume has a program that he devised for doing just what you've described. you can
find full details at this site:
I'm looking for a way to get my collection of hand written dances into a
computer. I'd love to hear what programs other callers use, have used, etc
along with their limitations and strengths. A strong "search"
component would be a feature that I'd want such a program to have.
Any advice and/or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks - Deb