The post on walk-throughs for new dancers got me thinking about
recruiting new dancers. This straddles dance caller and dance
organizer, but I'd like to hear people's responses.
I'm curious about people's experiences recruiting new dancers. I've
seen several dances that do a lower cost for first time dancers to try
to lower the barrier for entry. Has any group tried doing a coupon for
a discount when they come back a second time?
I feel like the venues for dances are usually such that folks don't
randomly wander in. If folks show up for a first time, they've decided
to come (or were brought). Does knowing there is a discount for first
timers help make them come? When there is a discount, how often do the
first timers know that coming in? I'm pondering the scenario where you
charge full price for the first time, when they've committed to coming
out, and then give them a coupon to come back at a discount price
their second time.
I know a lot of people who tried contra once and were hooked, and I've
seen people who try for a little bit and then never come back. Is it
worth trying to up the likelihood of a second experience, at what
fractional cost for the first? Or should the focus be on that first
experience, and making the barriers for entry as low as possible?
If a group has the resources, then it can just say that the first two
dances are cheaper, but I feel like giving someone a reminder,
business card sized, with the website to check for more information,
is a nice way of having them think about the dance at least once more.
Do callers doing one night gigs announce local dance options if they
know them? Or do you only talk about it with the folks who come up and
ask? Presumably if a caller has been brought in, the organizer of the
party knows the folks at the party and the local dance scene. Is it on
the caller or the organizer to spread information about other chances
to dance? And do you broadcast wide, or focus on the folks who seem
really in to it. I think culturally, at a societal level, we've lost
the sense that we can dance after our 20s at things besides weddings,
which is a real shame.
> To present a "barn dance" using recorded music sounds
> pretty shabby. If we hold to our standards I think the dance form
> will benefit from that.
Geez, Greg. Shabby? Sigh.
In my calling practice, I'm all about holding to my standards and I earnestly strive to support live musicians (and even the occasional dead one).
I imagine that's the case for every single person on this list.
However, I am also concerned with giving non-dancers a joyful experience, and with earning a living. If it's either a dance for them/gig for me with recorded music or no dance/gig at all, I choose the former, with absolutely no ethical pangs whatsoever. It's not like it's murder or theft or assault or an ethical lapse of that magnitude. But if some other caller would rather hold to different standards, well then, that's their choice. (Again, it's not on the order of egregious ethical lapses if they choose to withhold a joyful dance experience from others.)
Now, as far as benefitting our dance form and simultaneously supporting dance musicians, well there are dozens more ways** to do that than giving a fiddler a single paid gig, including these: (**And no single person can do all of these things all the time.)
1 - Produce a dance series which (a) pays musicians and callers well, both in dollars and in positive feedback for their efforts (b) carries on our dance form, (c) provides an opportunity for non-professional performers to play/call, (d) contributes to general joy in world, e=etc
2 - Serve in an organization which (a) promotes our dance/music form, (b) provides opportunities for people to learn from one another, (c) sells recordings/books/supplies connected to our dance form, (d) produces events for experienced and neophtye dancers/callers/musicians, e=etc
3 - Promote our dance form through individual efforts such as (a) advocating for worthy compensation, financial & otherwise, for self and co-performers whenever possible, (b) purchase and use recordings by dance musicians and books by callers, (c) learning new aspects of the tradition, (d) supporting others who are doing this work, e=etc
Now, this last point leads to a recent personal mission of mine. Lately it has been troubling me that many of us in our traditional dance/music subculture* choose to point fingers or name-call or criticize practices which aren't exactly like ours or otherwise belittle or tear down our peers. (*Yes, folks, remember it is a SUBculture, as in a MINISCULE proportion of the larger whole.)
But, whether it's chestnuts/modern, squares/contras, old-time/northern, totally-trad/non-trad-envelope-pushers, young/old, fast/slow, straightforward/flourishes, catering-to-hard-core/focusing-on-neophytes, recordings/live music, kids/adults, no-swings/2-swings or whatever the supposed conflict or failing, every single flavor of these callers/musicians/dancers is ADDING SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TO THE WORLD, and that, my friends, is something I think ought to be honored and appreciated.
So what I've been doing (and, perhaps tiresomely, encouraging others of my caller/musician friends to do) is focusing on that thought in CAPS, especially when a caller or musician or dancer does something that annoys me, or isn't what I'd do, or has some sort of minor failing in my opinion, or is getting more attention than I think their work merits, etc. So I'm working to quiet the outward expression of my critical thoughts, and simultaneously to look for and reinforce the positive instead.
Because really, even an offering that I might rate with a B- or C+ or even D grade is disseminating traditional dance & music values in the larger culture, and every bit of disseminating can benefit all of us in the world.
Well, that was a bit longer than I envisioned. As David Millstone quoted, "If I'd had more time, I'd have written a shorter letter."
Maybe some other time I'll outline my "Dance as Social Change Agent" theory. Or maybe not.
dance series www.belfastflyingshoes.org
Wow, thanks! It sounds like the resource at UNH will soon be expanded significantly because of your help.
The lists of dances from the 1988 and 1989 weekends that Roland has put up were made by Ted Sannella, before anyone started making a full syllabus for the event. The first syllabus was the one that you scanned from 1990. I did not know (and was excited to learn) that Roland had found Ted's list from 1989, and so it was not reflected in my index. After receiving your note yesterday I updated the index to include 1989. Meanwhile, I happen to have Ted's list from 1993, and so that year is already reflected in the index. I sent Roland a scan of that list along with the updated index, so I suspect those two pieces will go up on the UNH site pretty soon.
It is even possible that recordings were made of one or more of the missing years. If so, I have no doubt that they will surface eventually and be used to make a more complete record. (That is, in fact, how the 1997 syllabus was made.)
This may be more detail than most people need or want. The short version is that the Ralph Page weekend's online resource is getting better and better over time. What fun!
> Date: Fri, 23 Jul 2010 17:19:08 +1200
> From: Liz and Bill <staf186(a)ext.canterbury.ac.nz>
> To: Caller's discussion list <callers(a)sharedweight.net>
> Subject: Re: [Callers] Ralph Page Syllabi
> Message-ID: <4C49264C.3050805(a)ext.canterbury.ac.nz>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
> Hi David(s) and others,
> I agree with you all that the Ralph Page syllabi are a fantastic
> resource. Especially so for me being at the end of the world here
> in NZ.
> David Millstone suggested I contact UNH library and ask about
> earlier years.
> Roland the librarian in charge of the Ralph Page collection
> has been very helpful and has started to scan more syllabi.
> He said it may take awhile as the scanning produced multiple
> large files which need to be combined, and he has other
> work to do.
> Since I'm retired, I offered to help him from here. So today using
> the power of the internet I've been remotely accessing the university
> of Canterbury (where I am still an 'associate' ) to process files
> Roland sent me for 1990, 1991 and 1995.
> So now there are text based pdf documents available - they are
> searchable and not too large. I've uploaded them back to Roland, so
> they should appear on the web
> very soon.
> He will send me 1994 and 1996 soon, and the search is on for 1992 and 1993 if
> they exist.
> Note that 1988 and 1989 are there now, however they are only one page
> programs with details.
> Cheers, Bill
> MY FAVORITE, MOST USEFUL, MOST USED RECORDED MUSIC:
* All recordings (& books) produced by New England Dancing Masters
(Peter & Mary Alice Amidon, Andy Davis, Mary Cay Brass & many other fine musicians including Becky Tracy, Keith Murphy, Sam & Stefan Amidon & Thomas Bartlett)
*Sweets of May & White Mountain Reel - recordings (& books) by Dudley Laufman
These have recently been combined into a single volume which looks quite terrific
* Recordings by musicians local to my area (or the area of the gig) and inspiring at least one on-mic comment about these talented musicians in the neighborhood.
* I also have used KGB's Volga Notions (because the cd jacket claims in Russian, "Danceable but no chestnuts").
For SPECIFIC Tunes/Songs required for a specific dance:
* New England Chestnuts by Rodney & Randy Miller
two cd re-release available at Great Meadow Music
* Lissa Schneckenburger's gorgeous new cd, Dance, is almost all chestnuts.
* Lloyd Shaw Foundation
Amazing resource, zillions of recordings & cue sheets and more. They set up a download site for you, once you request your recordings.
* I recently found Amazon Music Downloads very useful
Dan's comment about having lots of 5x and 7x cuts reminded me...
Something I didn't mention in my earlier post on this subject is that for many
one-night stands, you don't often really long cuts of music. You can do
Gallopede 9 times through and folks are plenty happy to stop. If they're really
long lines, instead of having just one couple chassez down the set at the end of
B2, you can send the top two couples galloping down.
It's a differen tmentality than at a contra dance with dancers who do this
regularly, folks who are looking to get in the groove. Squares, longways set
dances, circle dances, and novelty dances as Beth points out. At camp gigs I
usually toss in Cotton-Eyed Joe and/or the Macarena and, more recently, the
Cupid Shuffle. Don't need to teach a thing... just put on the music and let the
kids take it away. They're having fun.
There was a time-- and not so long ago-- when I wouldn't dream of doing any of
that, and finally diagnosed myself with a case of
more-traditional-than-thou-itis. Realized that people hiring me for those
one-night stand situations weren't asking for a bit of pure-from-the-well
traditional dance... they were looking for me to assist them in having a good
time with their friends and relations.
I agree that live music is great to bring to a party and that's always my
preference. There's a different kind of energy that comes with it, it's part of
the tradition, it employs musicians, it gives folks who aren't dancing something
else to watch, and it's much easier to get the musicians to speed up or slow
down or to add one more time, not to mention having them be able to play backup
when someone wants to get up to sing a song. All part of making the party
While I vastly prefer using live music, I call my share of dances with recorded music, and have for decades.
Some people have cited some good recordings. Listen to recordings that are *almost* suitable, but can be made suitable by lengthening, shortening, excision of an "interesting but undancible" round, etc. Use audio editing software such as Audacity (free) to make things the way you want. As a result, I have a collection of cuts from 5x to 7x (lots of those), 8x, 9x, 11x and 15x.
I keep my music organized on my laptop and accessed by the MIT Folk Dance Club player. See http://home.comcast.net/~a1penguin/ for details on that. It is mostly bug-free, but it is free.
You don't need tons of material right away. Build it up as you go along.
Hi all -
Have any of you called for a dance without a band? I've gotten a query about
calling a barn dance, but their budget is teeny tiny, so they asked if I could
call to CDs. I know this is quite possible; my dad used to call square dances to
records, but those records were specifically made for dancing to. Most contra
music tracks I have only last at most ~3 minutes. I could theoretically splice
the tracks together to make a repeating loop, but this is a lot of time
investment and also, how would you know when the music would stop, in order to
go out? Would you try to guess, or just unceremoniously turn the thing off, or
do the "mood fade?" (And no, sadly, I'm not like Alan Furth or Erik Hoffmann,
folks who can call and play guitar/fiddle/banjo//etc. well at the same time.)
Do you have any strategic ideas? Thanks!
OK fellow callers, shall we compile a nice big list/thread to serve as
reference to those in need, since this seems to keep coming up? Hit that
reply-with-quote button and let's share/compare...
(I'm leaving my answers off so this can be an easy template)
MY FAVORITE, MOST USEFUL, MOST USED RECORDED MUSIC:
Albums specifically recorded to be danceable for contras:
Albums specifically recorded to be danceable for other formations:
Albums not specifically intended for live dancing, but nonetheless
containing enough good material to be worth buying for that purpose:
Single tracks on otherwise not-always-danceable albums:
Non-contra recordings that work for dancing (klezmer, swing, etc):
I call about a dozen dances a year with no live music, just me and my iPod. My
preference is to work with musicians there, but as you say, there are some whose
budget just won't allow for that/
Tina, there are CDs available with longer pieces of music on them. One of my
favorites is called "Any Jig or Reel," with wonderful music by BEcky Tracy
(fiddle), Andy Davis (accordion), and Keith Murphy (guitar and piano and foot
percussion.) Other albums from New England Dancing Masters also have longer
If you're calling New England style squares, then your typical pattern is 7
times through a tune, so you'll find plenty of cuts on other albums that are
that length, about 4 minutes.
Yes, it will take time at first, listening to your collection and notating each
album more carefully, but once you've done that, you're good to go. I used to
work from CDs but now MUCH prefer the flexibility and portability of my iPod. I
have friends who use a different sort of mp3 player... it's bulkier but it has
the advantage of variable speed control, so they can slow down a cut if need be.