Many experiences with enthusiastic teens dancing for the first time has taught me the
importance of training them to listen for each successive call. They can lapse into
autopilot on any figure--I've had teens who take forever to get a star rotating, then
just keep going to indulge their success through two or even three subsequent calls.
Starting out with longways dances (such as the many variants of the Virginia Reel) with
several 8-count figures ending in long lines facing across can establish good listening
behavior especially if you insist they wait for each call before launching into the next
figure. I try to get them to really notice how dynamic it is when the whole set of dancers
moves together so they are thinking more about the big picture. I also tell them if they
realize they're really late on a figure, skip it if they can and wait for the next
call (and I try to pick dances that tolerate that well).
As far as contras go, dances with 16-count swings actually have worked better for me
because the dancers usually wear themselves out more quickly and settle down into a more
energy-conserving mode. But in the walkthrough and while the dance is in progress, I
almost always insert a warning such as "end the swing and face across" (or
whatever) before I give the call for the next figure.
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