I recently had the following exchange on a different list with Michael
Shapiro (guitarist with U4):
>>> U4 just played the SwingShift weekend in Lexington/Berea. The caller was
Barbara Groh. She did something that I think most callers should do, but I
haven't seen before. After the sets were formed and people had done the hand
four, she then broke up the beginners sets that had formed at the end of the
lines. She asked then to move forward and intersperse themselves with the
more advanced dancers (so that they were more toward the beggining of the
line and the foursomes were not all beginners).
She was also good at letting the music be heard ...
>> Regarding the caller asking sets to reform in order to spread the less
experienced dancers throughout the hall, much tact is required. Generally,
callers strive to avoid calling attention to particular dancers other than
when asking people to watch a demonstration, but asking people to change
sets can have the effect of making them feel like there is attention on
them. In addition, newish dancers want to dance with people they know, even
if those friends may also be newish dancers.
>> Speaking to the entire crowd, I do encourage experienced dancers to share
their experience by asking someone they've never met to dance at least once
in the evening, and praise the community for being so welcoming to newcomer
dancers. So while I might be thinking "let's break up this clump of
confusion," it would not be good to say something that draws attention to
"you people right here."
>> I have asked, off mic, for a set of experienced dancers to offer to
repartner with a set of inexperienced dancers down the line.
To this list, I ask:
I'd be interested in the wording that Barbara Groh used (which I'm assuming
was quite gentle). I'm also guessing other callers on this list have
developed tactful ways to address this issue.
For what it's worth, I usually call the A2 as gents allemande left until they can swing their neighbor (12 count swing). I think dancers have a hard time with doing balance and swing that starts on the 5-6-7-8 of the music and only lasts 12 counts, or 8 after the balance. It takes forever for it to "gel." I think the short wave is awkward and doesn't go with the geometry of the rest of the dance in my mind. On the other hand, going directly from the allemande left to a swing is something gents are quite accustomed to, and have adapted to despit its inherent awkwardness.
>Date: Tue, 29 Dec 2009 14:59:46 -0600
>From: Jerome Grisanti <jerome.grisanti(a)gmail.com>
>My favorite dance-calling memory of the year:
>At a school's father-daughter "barn dance" in Kansas City...
>During the break, one of the girls, about six years old, came up to talk to
>me. With big eyes and a sincere expression, she looked up at me, showed me
>her gun and assured me, "I just wanted to let you know, it's only a TOY gun
<chuckle> What a great story Jerome! And a good idea for a discussion.
Thanks for sharing it. I'm looking forward to reading the outcome.
My favorite dance calling memory of the year .....Hmmm... For those of you
on FaceBook see my note called "Finding My Way Out of The Woods" for the
full <very long> story. The short version is:
I was hired to be the staff caller at "The Woods Music and Dance Camp" in
Northern Ontario in August. It was my first event that was longer than a
weekend and I'd never been to the camp. I had been warned that the focus
wasn't on dancing, that most of the dancers would be newbies, and that I'd
have a hard time pleasing the crowd. I was also very nervous about whether
I'd be able to deliver on the same level as the musical talent that had been
The third dance night was a milestone for me, and also the camp. I had
trouble teaching the first dance of the night. I'd walked it through twice.
But I couldn't seem to teach it without confusing the dancers. I was ready
to bail on it. In fact, I told them that and threw the card down into my box
of dances. They all shouted "NO!!!" That took me aback! They were determined
to get it. And, gawd love 'em, I walked it again, and they did it! I had 4
squares on the dance floor that night, which was just about half the camp.
People kept telling me over and over again how they'd never seen so many
people dancing at The Woods before. I think that's when it finally began to
sink in that I was, in fact, delivering at the same level as the other
staff. It was a personal triumph that I really needed.
I'll never forget that week for so many reasons. And I was just delighted
when they called me in October to ask me to come back in 2010!
Happy New Year everyone. May this new year bring you lots of calling
My favorite dance-calling memory of the year:
At a school's father-daughter "barn dance" in Kansas City, many of the girls
came dressed in wonderful cowgirl outfits, complete with hats, boots,
holsters and pistols. At the beginning of the dance I asked the girls to
leave their pistols aside and come onto the dance floor. After some
hesitation, most complied. (One didn't, and her gun fell onto the floor
during the first dance.)
During the break, one of the girls, about six years old, came up to talk to
me. With big eyes and a sincere expression, she looked up at me, showed me
her gun and assured me, "I just wanted to let you know, it's only a TOY gun
For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance. ~ William Butler Yeats
I have two questions about Steve Zaikon-Anderson's "Trip to Lambertville".
(1) At the end of A1 the men are in a long wavy line and they balance. It
seems that dancers are balancing right and then left most often. Since the
next figure is Gents Allemande Left, balancing left then right instead would
seem better as this would make sharing weight on the gent's allemande more
satisfying. (2) I have seen two versions of A2. In one the gent's
allemande left to their neighbor for a balance and swing. In the other
version the gents allemande left to a wavy line of 4 across the set, balance
in that wave and then swing their neighbor. In Nelson, NH, where I dance a
lot this version (into the wave of 4) is how it is danced. I am planning on
calling the dance at the Scout House in Concord MA soon and am wondering
which version is more common there.
Thanks for whatever help you can give,
>My understanding is that the basic rule is "who, what, how much [if needed]"; e.g. "gents allemande left once and a half," or "partner balance and swing" (as opposed to the commonly heard "balance and swing your partner"). The idea is to give the dancers the information in the order they need it -- first, they need to orient toward the correct person, then know what to do, then know how long to keep doing it (unless it's obvious). I was also taught that the "how much" is one of the first things you leave off when you're shortening calls in preparation for dropping out entirely.
Laila is correct. The basic principle is the same, though I learned a variation. I also have to admit that the phrase "effective word order" may be an invention of mine. This idea is usually treated as a basic of structuring calls. I coined the phrase to emphasize the importance of this principle.
The piece below is from an article I wrote several years ago on a "cure" for center set syndrome. The real issue for discussion is: Why do so few callers use effective word order?
The Value of Effective Word Order
This is one of the most basic skills of calling contras. It is also one of the most neglected principles of good calling. This may be, in part, because so many experienced and otherwise excellent callers ignore effective r\word order and seem to get away with it. Others will avoid using effective word order in their calls because it does not fit with their “style” of calling. This may be so. The basics of the principle, however, should be adaptable to almost any style. Whatever style you use, however, the application of this structure to calls and prompts will take some effort and re-training. You will need to change your speaking habits and integrate the more effective word order into your style. The results, however, will be worth it. Excessive booking ahead, center set syndrome, and a failure to integrate newcomers are all strong indications that more effective word order is needed.
For many callers effective word order feels awkward and unnatural. Natural English usually places the verb before the object, as in “Swing your Neighbor.” Switching this pattern around often feels unnatural,…at first. Using effective word order, however, can make a big difference in reducing the amount of ambiguity and thus building the confidence of the dancers.
The most effective word order for prompts and teaching in dancing is:
1. Tell the dancers to whom you are speaking. (Not needed when speaking to everyone.)
2. Tell the dancers with whom they will be dancing next.
3. Tell them the figure or move they will be dancing.
Less effective: “Balance and swing your neighbor.”
More effective: “Neighbor, balance and swing.”
Note that with the less effective word order above a confused dancer of any skill level must wait almost two seconds longer before learning which direction to face. When in a line with unsure beginners this can seem like an eternity. Think about standing still almost two seconds during the dance or walk-through, while shifting your eyes back and forth. For some, this means two seconds of feeling incompetent, confused, unsure, and embarrassed. It is also two seconds during which a confused dancer will look to others for the information the caller should be providing. Good word order gives the dancers the information they need at exactly the time they need it. Using effective word order will instill confidence in the dancers. They will begin to trust you more as a caller and will be more willing to take risks.
Using effective word order does seem awkward, at first. Over time, however, it will become much more natural. Start by writing all of your card notes and dance transcriptions with the most effective word order.
While the effect may seem subtle the value of effective word order becomes most evident in a line with many newcomers. With lots of confused dancers the lack of effective word order is much the same as if the caller were calling late. Most of the newcomers won’t know which direction to face until it is too late. Again, this encourages other dancers to attempt to “help out” by giving verbal instructions and thus further distracting newcomers from the caller’s voice. It also does little to enhance confidence in the caller. Effective word order thus helps to maintain the focus on the caller’s voice because the correct information is received exactly when it is needed. Ideally the prompt should always end exactly one beat before the next move begins.
“Allemand left Gents once and a half.
_ _ _ _ _ Balance and swing your partner.”
“Gents left hand turn
_ _ once and a half _ _ to your partner, Balance
_ _ _ and swing.”
(In the transcription above the underlined spaces represent one count each.)
Note that in the more effective prompt the gents receive the information about how far to turn as they are turning. The word “partner” is spoken just as their partner should be coming into view. The close coordination of the calls with the dance also helps to emphasize the timing of the dance.
Some may protest that, in many transitions, effective word order is not needed because the information is implied. I would answer that there are also many transitions where good word order makes a big difference, particularly for newcomers. The caller should form the calls consistently. This makes it easier for the dancers to hear the calls and frees the caller from having to decide whether to use natural English or a more effective word order. The best practice is to use effective word order at all times, not just when most needed. Good word order will quickly become a habit for both the caller and the dancers, to the extent that, eventually, common English word order from the caller will begin to sound unprofessional.
Using effective word order is one of the most effective tools for integrating newcomers into the dance community. It builds the confidence of dancers at all skill levels and makes experienced dancers more willing to partner with newcomers because they can see that the caller is making the effort to get the vital information to all of the dancers exactly when it is needed. When newcomers are partnered with experienced partners the caller’s other responsibilities become much more manageable. Effective word order is one of a host of techniques callers can use to generate a more generous and community-spirited atmosphere in the hall.
>Date: Wed, 23 Dec 2009 15:44:18 -0800 (GMT-08:00)
>From: Greg McKenzie <gregmck(a)earthlink.net>
>Subject: Re: [Callers] Using effective word order in prompts
>>My understanding is that the basic rule is "who, what, how much [if
>>needed]"; e.g. "gents allemande left once and a half," or "partner balance
>>and swing" (as opposed to the commonly heard "balance and swing your
>>partner"). The idea is to give the dancers the information in the order
>>they need it -- first, they need to orient toward the correct person, then
>>know what to do, then know how long to keep doing it (unless it's
>>obvious). I was also taught that the "how much" is one of the first
>>things you leave off when you're shortening calls in preparation for
>>dropping out entirely.
>Laila is correct. The basic principle is the same, though I learned a
>variation. I also have to admit that the phrase "effective word order" may
>be an invention of mine. This idea is usually treated as a basic of
>structuring calls. I coined the phrase to emphasize the importance of this
Okay. I follow the same rule as Lewis <the way they sign themselves>. My
cards are written that way and that's the way I call. There was just
something about that phrase you use Greg that made me wonder if things had
changed over time and I was no longer calling most effectively.
And I have to say that I wasn't sure I saw the link between effective word
order and booking ahead, centre set syndrome and failure to integrate
newcomers until I read through the whole section of the article you
included. But I agree with your comments. I'd be interested in reading the
rest of the article.
Thanks for the reality check! Wishing everyone on Shared Weight a happy and
healthy holiday season and lots of calling in the New Year!
> Rickey Holt asked about the A2 of "Trip to Lambertville."
I prefer the version with a wave balance to a neighbor swing. For some male
dancers this transition may seem awkward because their right hand is in the
woman's right hand for the balance, but it has to travel to behind her back
for the swing.
A point of style that might be pointed out here: at the top of the balance,
right hands are connected, but in the middle of the balance the gent can
switch to his left hand in her right, while freeing his right hand for the
swing position. More easily demonstrated than explained, but that wavy line
to a balance will make more sense.
As Chris Weiler suggests in his note, "It's always good for the caller to
put style points out there, but not get too hung up on them being followed.
Some people are ready to hear them, but some aren't."
For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance. ~ William Butler Yeats