If someone is starting a new dance, this is my advice:
Talk to experienced callers...what is good about contra dancing is it is
really not as simple as it looks. The callers are the ones that have
studied this carefully.
Yes it is pretty easy to learn at first and get into the line. But putting
together a dance is a lot more difficult, then it seems. In the years as
my being the chief organizer of the New York City contra dance I have taken
two callers workshops. I never wanted to be a caller, but I was in a
position to judge callers and wanted to know what my basis for judging
The discussion about inactive dances is interesting because it shows the
kind of thought that most callers put into their programing. (I will admit
that I do not think that every single caller puts work into programing -
those that don't are usually not that good - or maybe used to be good).
Some of our experienced dancers had made a point for a while that they did
not like circle dances. I believe they have changed their mind after
realizing how callers used them as a teaching tool when we have a lot of
beginners - this does happen in NYC)
How to teach the swing -- it is a struggle for us as it is for other
communities..a workshop during the break, experienced dancers give a
pointer or two at the end of a line. We have had an occasional worksop
during the break and that has been helpful. We are now trying to have a
session in a corner during one of the earlier dance.
Callers workshop - callers I have talked to put considerable thought into
the workshop they teach - often the workshops are connected to the dances
they intend to call. Again, the variety in this stuff is part of what
makes contra dancing so interesting and keep us all involved.
I would like to advertise one callers workshop. George Marshall, who is
(even for some who may not like him) is one of the most respected callers,
and is known for calling successful evenings. He seem to have chosen not to
teach patterns so much - no ladies chain or right and left through, I guess
he figures if he can teach a hey during the evening he can teach the other
stuff. His workshop stresses dancing. This 24 minute workshop is
something I like.
Also, some talked about having "dance angels" be identified by buttons. I
thought there would be a problem with it (is not there a problem with
anything?). How do we keep the people we do not want to be dance angles
that we do not want to be but due to lots of experience they think they
On Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 10:36 AM, barb kirchner <barbkirchner(a)hotmail.com>wrote;wrote:
actually, that's one of the reasons that this came
to me. too many
experienced, well-meaning dancers helping newbies. not a bad thing - but
if they did it with a few specific points in mind, it could work much
the cadre gets "training" - ie, everybody could have a meal together and
talk about the basic points, or something like that. it could be as simple
as a one-page document describing "good dance floor behavior". that way
the dance ambassadors, or whatever you want to call them, are NOT part of
the "distract newbies during the walkthrough" problem.
btw - i'm not starting a new dance. i've done that twice, and learned a
lot. i just want to discuss this as a possible method for people who ARE
starting new dances.
and the cadre does not need to be identified - they are just people on the
floor who have decided to be good role models and discussed what that means.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2013 09:26:30 -0600
Subject: Re: [Organizers] starting a new dance series
Once upon a time our group made a bunch of buttons labeled "dance
ambassador". They were available at the sign in table for experienced
dancers to pick up. The caller could tell new dancers that those with the
button would be happy to dance with beginners or answer questions. It
worked okay, I think. Not lots of people wore the buttons. They eventually
all wandered off, and we never made a new batch. Something of the sort
might help with your cadre. I guess the danger is this might indicate that
some experienced dancers are not happy to help new dancers.
Sent from my iPad
> On Dec 5, 2013, at 5:37 AM, barb kirchner <barbkirchner(a)hotmail.com>
> good points, john. that's exactly why almost the very first thing i
teach in class (and repeat a lot) is a swing.
> i agree that it's not fair let them flounder in the swing, but as a
caller, it seems to me that if you're teaching the swing during a
walk-through, they will fllounder through the whole dance, not just the
swing. where is the satisfaction in that? i've certainly talked to new
dancers who left at the break saying they were "too confused". i could see
that this often happened because well-meaning dancers distracted them
during the walk-through.
> and the things that are taught by "helpful" partners are often not
helpful at all - just get bad habits started.
> if you can teach it in a couple of seconds, that's great. but i've
seen people spend the whole first walkthrough of a dance "learning" to
swing. then they wander through the line, confused, causing tangles. then
the experienced dancers complain - even though they might have helped set
up the situation.
> if there is no class - "crew leaders" could greet new dancers and
teach a couple things - how to swing, ladies on the right - that kind of
> so - this thread isn't about swinging.
> it's about the idea of having a cadre of educated iand goal-oriented
individuals on the floor helping to maintain order and fun among a bunch of
new dancers, and making sure that new dancers listen to the caller by
exhibiting good dance floor behavior. because THAT's the main thing that
new dancers do NOT know - to LISTEN TO THE CALLER.
>> From: info(a)contrafusion.co.uk
>> To: organizers(a)sharedweight.net
>> Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2013 10:04:41 +0000
>> Subject: Re: [Organizers] starting a new dance series
>> We did some analysis of swings some time ago, considering a typical
>> dance evening, with modern contra dances
and their bias towards
>> We estimated that there was about 106 minutes of dancing, and that
>> of it was swinging! As a dancer you
spend nearly THIRTY MINUTES of the
>> evening swinging!
>> To let first-timers flounder without help on their swinging seems
>> unfair to me. And while we have some
excellent swingers who can
>> swing well, we also have dancers who are
not so good, have strange
>> and are the most likely to teach a
first-timer while the caller is
>> the dance.
>> So if there are only a few first-timers I will teach them the swing
>> individually before the first dance. But if that isn't possible, if
>> aware of any first-timers being present,
then I always teach the
>> we get to it in the first dance. It
only takes a few seconds and
>> an incredible difference to the
first-timer's experience. There is
>> always the hope that some of the more
experienced dancers will pick
of the tips and improve their swinging.
John Sweeney, Dancer, England john(a)modernjive.com 01233 625 362
for Dancing in Kent
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