When I need to call simple dances because we have people who can't
handle the more complex stuff, what I do to keep the experienced dancers
interested is show them some more style and variations that they can add
to their dancing. A simple dance gives them a chance to try these
Different swing holds, entries and exits and how to negotiate them (this
list is endless!)
How two people can spin off each other as they meet in the middle of a
A Lindy Anchor on Lines Forward & Back
Better technique for twirls in Ladies' Chains
How to catch eyes in spinning Dosidos
How to twirl if you are on the end of a line going up or down the hall
A North Country Ladies' Chain
How to spin out of Allemandes - then do a dance with Contra Corners :-)
Spinning as you walk forwards into a Wave
Every time I watch a good video on YouTube I pick up more great
I don't pick up so many on the dance-floor as I am too busy
We can all always learn something new, and it only takes a few
seconds during a walk-through to show something new. - just one item at
John Sweeney, Dancer, England john(a)modernjive.com 01233 625 362 &
07802 940 574
http://www.modernjive.com for Modern Jive Events, Instructional DVDs and
http://www.contrafusion.co.uk for Contra Dancing in Kent
At the Pinewoods A&E week last summer, Jacqui from Michigan (Henry's wife)
told me she had read a research article that studied peoples' sense of
rhythm and timing. The article concluded that about 20% of all people never
develop a "sense" of rhythm/timing as they age. They further found that, of
that 20%, almost none of them were able to improve their rhythm even after
extensive work to improve their timing. Rhythm is apparently something you
pick up when you're younger, and if it's not gotten then, you likely aren't
getting it... So that's one thing to keep in mind when dealing with newbies,
or some of the perpetual beginners in your dance groups.
But Alan and Martha touch on something else. People who just don't connect
in some sensory way that we expect them to.... Some people have very extreme
and/or erratic reactions to new experiences, one or more senses will do
surprising things. The guy at the calling party didn't understand until the
end that the caller is telling you what to do--why didn't he? He probably
observed everyone else moving along to what a caller said, and the same
words were said when he got individual instruction--but nothing sank in. No
offense, Martha, but did anyone simply tell him to listen to the caller?
Some part of his hearing, or learning process, was simply shut down until
the end of the dance. Who knows why? Fear? Embarrassment? Literally being
"out of his mind" and not allowing himself to focus on the real world?
I've had one woman tell me directly, and have heard the same from another
indirectly, that the dancing was so tactilely and physically stimulating
that she would get close to orgasming on the floor, and that made it
difficult to hear and follow the caller... This example is probably a less
common one, but the point is, we have no idea of all the emotional, mental
and physical things happening on the dance floor that may be getting in the
way of people being more successful. You just try to get their attention,
and lead them gently to where you want to go if you get it. (This is one
argument for keeping beginner sessions short: they already come in with so
much on their minds, you shouldn't be trying to dump 30-45-60 minutes of new
info into an already-addled brain. Get 'em moving, to get them out of their
Alan, if that Portabella sequence is what you used to judge your beginner
with... well, we have regular dancers with talent who would mess up that
sequence 3 times out of 10.
7. Re: What do you do as caller when you're completely failing
> to reach a dancer? (Martha Edwards)
> Message: 7
> Date: Tue, 22 Mar 2011 23:42:30 -0500
> From: Martha Edwards <meedwards(a)westendweb.com>
> To: "Caller's discussion list" <callers(a)sharedweight.net>
> Subject: Re: [Callers] What do you do as caller when you're completely
> failing to reach a dancer?
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8
> Yes! We had a similarly strange experience last week at one of our Calling
> Parties. There were just six of us there - five of our very best dancers,
> most of them callers, and one guy who simply could not process what we were
> telling him. Each person would try to explain a move, but all that would
> happen was more confusion. One dance had a hey in it, and after our usual
> explanations had not worked, one caller said "Watch this!" and did a hey
> four just by walking straight across the set and back, letting the other
> three people weave around him. When the new guy didn't understand that, we
> did the PattyCake Polka and a simple couples mixer. He did okay with the
> Pattycake Polka (He did swing dancing, and I think the footwork made him
> more comfortable - THAT was like dancing!), and during the couples mixer
> excitedly said "OHHHHhhh... You listen to the caller and he tells you what
> to do!"
> He didn't seem otherwise stupid or anything, but it was as if he couldn't
> "get" what we were saying about dancing. He kept saying "I just don't know
> where to go." It seemed as if his whole brain was occupied with some other
> thoughts so that nothing else could get through - like a denial of service
> We've all been wondering ever since what we could have done, if anything,
> short of turning the evening into a One Night Stand dance.
> On Sat, Mar 19, 2011 at 9:42 PM, Robert Golder <robertgolder(a)comcast.net
> > There's only one thing I can think of to try at that point, and that's to
> > strike up a conversation at the break, ask the guy if he's enjoying the
> > evening, how he heard about the dance, etc., and if conversation
> > he's not compromised in some obvious fashion, then ask him what's up. Had
> > something similar happen to me with a couple that would fit the
> > you gave. It turned out that as a consequence of surgery he would have
> > occasional, unpredictable disorientation episodes. He really wanted to
> > but it may have brought on a spell; at any rate, though he seemed
> > he had instead been trying to fight the disorientation and continue
> > but he realized with disappointment after a few attempts that he couldn't
> > dance any more that evening. He was a good guy and I wish he could have
> > participated more fully.
> > On Mar 19, 2011, at 10:05 PM, Alan Winston - SSRL Central Computing
> > > Callers:
> > >
> > > Here are things that didn't seem to help this guy in any visible way:
> > >
> > > - continuing to call the dance when everybody else had it
> > > - doing demos of things that we otherwise would not (eg, Trip to
> > Tunbridge)
> > > - having dancers in his set beckon or point, as appropriate
> > > - strong partners who tried to lead him (by whatever means) where he
> > needed
> > > to go
> > > - pointing out other people in the line in the same role to copy from.
> > > - second walkthroughs
> > >
> > > I gave up following a problem couple up and down the set and calling to
> > just
> > > them years ago; that almost never works and just raises everybody's
> > anxiety
> > > level. I don't think it would have helped here.
> > >
> > > I could see that he was never really managing to build a model of the
> > dance,
> > > and that he was, if anything, a kinetic learner. (Eg, in Portabella,
> > where if
> > > you're a 1 the A1 is gent cast off with partner behind and orbit
> > 2s
> > > place and back to place, and B2 is 1s cross, cast, and half-figure
> > he
> > > seemd to have some kind of memetic entrapment where having crossed he'd
> > turn
> > > back and follow his partner down the wrong side, as though it were A1
> > again.)
> > > I don't think he ever connected pieces of music to pieces of dance. It
> > wasn't
> > > "he's got it except for"; I don't think he ever understood the basics
> > any
> > > dance well enough to be able to fix the parts that weren't working.
> > >
> > > He sat down at the last dance before the break and didn't dance again
> > rest
> > > of the evening.
> > >
> > > Now, maybe he's just not cut out for this. (
> > >
> > > But maybe my bag of tricks isn't deep enough.
> > >
> > > What do you to do reach somebody like this? When do you know to let it
> > go?
> > >
> > > -- Alan
(I should say, I'm used to dealing with clueless, drunk, not-listening ONS
dancers, and I have a repertoire of incredibly-accessible material. So my
usual approach at ONS is only to worry about people who are being dangerous,
and not worry much about clueless, and to call material where you can be pretty
far off and it still works. Even fairly-sophisticated contra-dance falls into
that realm, because somebody will be along to swing you, circle with you, etc,
pretty soon. So this is maybe an English-specific problem, but I'm suspecting
I co-called the Palo Alto English last night with Lise Dyckman. (We expected a
somewhat challenging night because many of the strongest local dancers are off
at Spring Fever weekend.) Got a decent turnout (24+), about a third of them
first-timers or quite new dancers.
One guy (50ish, not visibly impaired, seemed nice enough) showed up with a
group about 10 minutes late. When it got to be my turn to call, I gave an
abridged version of the orientation session (up, down, in, out, partner,
neighbor, dance with anybody). Naturally, he did the first two dances in a
row with one of the women he'd come in with. He was clueless and active (don't
know what to do, must do something, do something random); she was clueless and
passive (don't know what to do, will wait until somebody makes me do
First, I commend the community of dancers who were there that night. They
pretty soon got that couple separated; didn't display visible impatience, and
continued helpful and welcoming, without grabbing, pulling, and pushing. Good
Here are things that didn't seem to help this guy in any visible way:
- continuing to call the dance when everybody else had it
- doing demos of things that we otherwise would not (eg, Trip to Tunbridge)
- having dancers in his set beckon or point, as appropriate
- strong partners who tried to lead him (by whatever means) where he needed
- pointing out other people in the line in the same role to copy from.
- second walkthroughs
I gave up following a problem couple up and down the set and calling to just
them years ago; that almost never works and just raises everybody's anxiety
level. I don't think it would have helped here.
We tweaked our program to the simpler end of the things we'd been thinking
about, but didn't revert to the one-night-stand/barn-dance level, since that
wasn't what the vast majority of people there had come for. [To be honest, I
didn't even consider that - which I've done when, eg, the whole
not-previously-dancing Revels children's chorus turned up unexpectedly at a
country dance I was calling, expecting to dance - but if I had consciously
considered it, I would have discarded it for that reason.]
I could see that he was never really managing to build a model of the dance,
and that he was, if anything, a kinetic learner. (Eg, in Portabella, where if
you're a 1 the A1 is gent cast off with partner behind and orbit through 2s
place and back to place, and B2 is 1s cross, cast, and half-figure eight, he
seemd to have some kind of memetic entrapment where having crossed he'd turn
back and follow his partner down the wrong side, as though it were A1 again.)
I don't think he ever connected pieces of music to pieces of dance. It wasn't
"he's got it except for"; I don't think he ever understood the basics of any
dance well enough to be able to fix the parts that weren't working.
He sat down at the last dance before the break and didn't dance again the rest
of the evening.
Now, maybe he's just not cut out for this. (I think that if somebody threw me
into a football game in progress, and I just got a brief description in the
huddle of what I was supposed to do and I didn't understand how timeouts
worked, etc, I'd look completely clueless and overwhelmed, and there are ways
in which this is like that. It was more like a football game than usual,
actually, because among the things he never understood was the difference
between going down the inside of the set and the outside of the set, so there
were considerably more near-collisions than usual. I'm not cut out for
football, but if I got a bunch of explanations, coaching, and questions
answered, I would at least look more like I knew what was going on. And of
course he didn't get that.)
But maybe my bag of tricks isn't deep enough.
What do you to do reach somebody like this? When do you know to let it go?
Alan Winston --- WINSTON(a)SSRL.SLAC.STANFORD.EDU
Disclaimer: I speak only for myself, not SLAC or SSRL Phone: 650/926-3056
Paper mail to: SSRL -- SLAC BIN 99, 2575 Sand Hill Rd, Menlo Park CA 94025
Welcome, Keith! I think you'll find this list to be a helpful source of ideas
> A couple of moves you include, I wouldn't think about calling for college
beginners until I see they've mastered 4-5 simpler dances.
Can you be more specific about which figures are giving you pause? Haste to the
Wedding, for example, is a dance that I've called for years in lots of settings.
The elementary school where I taught used to include it as part of our annual
May festival, with 300-400 children, teachers, parents all dancing around the
Although I appreciate being credited for that version of Chaos (one of my favorites for family/community type dances) I don't consider it mine. I learned Chaos from Diane Silver (caller from Asheville NC). Don't know whose it is. Diane gave me a few variants - including N/P dsd in B2, P/N sw in B2 (making it a mixer) and I think over the years I've added a few tweakings. It can also work fine w more than 2 cpl sets, depending on how much chaos you want to invite. NB: Among 6th graders at a recent dance residency it was voted "Best dance" of the ones they learned.
Splendid dance. I've even done it w a mix of 5 and 6cpl sets (for ex, if there's just one more cpl that wants to dance, and we can't get another 4 cpls for the extra set, they just add onto a set.) I always do the AABBCC version of the dance (Thanks David Millstone for teaching it to me!), and I just treat the 5/6 as one so I hardly have to change my calling pattern, thus saving embarrassing miscues due to altering something I know by heart (so both cpls gallop up center and back to place in the C1, then cpl 1 gallops down ctr to bottom of set and all swing P for the C2.) I'll run it til at least everyone has a chance to be cpl 1 once. If the band doesn't know a 3 part tune, it works for me to use regular AABB tunes. If it won't be coming out even at the end, and the band isn't up to an A2 ending, then I just add in a tag at the end to fill up the B1B2 Something like EVERYONE allem R, L, EVERYONE LLF&B, and EVERYBODY sw one last time.
Cool hint from Michael B. Can't wait to try that technique, since facilitating forming of squares at Comm/Family/School dances for me is always a bit of a hands-on and time-consuming process, whereas circles is nearly always quick & efficient.
More interesting dances to add to the box! Thanks all!
Great thing about new/inexperienced dancers is they are usually happy to do anything. Great thing about this list is the useful ideas and positive reinforcement.
Linda mentioned The Snowball in her recent post. I learned that dance from the
very useful website maintained by Thomas Green:
He credits the dance (slightly different than Linda's version) to Martin Hodges.
I in turn have modified the printed version by having the 5s simply gallop up to
the top and back down again, instead of casting back, a minor point.
I find it a really useful dance for several reasons. First, it includes the
basic figures that one might need to include in an evening: hand turns, stars,
circles, lines forward and back, swing, and a progression.
Because it's in five couple sets and not everyone is moving all at once, it's a
bit calmer than some other dances I call in such settings. The dancers farther
down the line who are watching those who are moving inevitably start clapping
along in time to the music.
One wrinkle is that the dance is designed to be 48 bars of music, so it works
best with a three-part tune, AABBCC. When I called it Friday night at the local
PTO dance (our 28th annual!), the band picked Merrily Kissed the Quaker's Wife,
a three-part jig. Other tunes that your musicians might know that would fit this
pattern are Set de Ronfleuse Gobiel (the Snoring Mrs. Gobiel, a staple in the
Quebecois repertoire) Ragtime Anie (with its third part), Reel Beatrice,
Quadrille Jos Bouchard.
If you're working with recorded music, there's good recording of the latter two
tunes on the Sashay the Donut album, and another of Snowball 6x (Reel de
Rimouski/R. des accordeonistes) on the Any Jig or Reel album, both available
from New England Dancing Masters.
Of course, you could also have a band play AABBAB, or AABB and then another tune
AB, and most dancers won't even notice. I find as a caller that it helps me to
have the structure of the three part tune to support my prompting.
I will put in a plug for all of the New England Dancing Masters books as
supremely useful for such settings. Also those my Marian Rose. Paul Rosenberg's
Sashay the Banana contains lots of useful material, and of course Dudley's
I think a bunch of family/wedding/ONS dances have been shared on the SW callers list already, so they're available in the archives. (I recently was made aware of the very useful search function.)
Most mixers can also be keepers w a little rearranging.
Don't forget about easy squares! And scattered 2 couple sets w "scatter promenade to find new neighbor cpl" in the B2.
Hi o esteemed community of callers -
I'm going to call a big father-daughter dance for the Girl Scouts next month.
(It's called "Me and My Cowboy; how cute is that?!) In preparing, I realize that
most of the supremely easy dances I know are mixers. While this is usually
great, these girls are likely not going to want to partner up with other girls'
dads, but instead keep their own dad. They'll also enjoy partnering with each
other, especially for the goofier dances.
But I still seek delightful and very easy ONS dances wherein the dancers keep
I already have a lot of galloping longways set dances like Galopede, Weaver's
Galopede, Four Around Four, & White Mountain Reel. I also have Do-Si-Three
(thanks, Linda Leslie!) and Jefferson & Liberty. I mostly seek a variety of
calmer (but still fun) ones so the dads can rest up a bit while still dancing,
and a couple of circle dances that aren't mixers, if they exist. A few more easy
Sicilians would also be welcome.
Do your repertoires include these? What are your favorites? Will you share?
Tina R. Fields, Ph.D.