For those of you not on the Callers list, here is a message posted by
Amy Cann wrote:
Dead silence for weeks and then a four page rant?
OK, I'm going to stop lurking and finally jump in. Brace yourself.
> Because there are balances both at the top
and the bottom of the A1, it
> helps to have an appropriate tune. I wish I could recommend one.
I have never quite understood why *other* musicians want to know where the
Sure, it's good to "spike" the balances in my playing, but I can do that
ANYwhere in a tune - and if I can't, I ain't no fiddler.
And sure it's good to know where the balances ARE, but I can get that by
watching the dance - and if I'm not watching the dance, then I ain't no
Let me posit something: what we're really talking about here is LENGTH OF
The one thing I want to know from a caller: how long are the phrases that
you care about?
The balances often mark the starts or ends of a phrase, but they're not
always the actual issue.
As both a caller and fiddler/pianist, I find with many callers (I'll get
to the exceptions later) that the fastest way to match the tune to the
dance is to say - "hey, can I see that card a sec?"
First, I get to check out everyone else's heiroglyphics, and second, I can
see what's going on faster than anyone could ever explain it to me.
And here's what I'm looking for: where do things stop?
Well, not stop, more like.."gather."
It takes 16 beats to get through an A. This is NOT the same thing as 16
steps. When you step, your weight is passing from one foot to the other.
We take LOTS of steps in contradancing, but what we also get are lots of
GATHERING moments, when we suck our weight together under us.
Circle left = /step step step step /step step step step/ -- IF the next
move is slide-left-along-the-lines.
It also can = /step step step step /step step step GATHER / -- IF the
next thing is going to be balance-the-circle.
Think about it.
Sometimes we gather ourselves, alone; sometimes in pairs, sometimes as a
four person circle or line-of-four, wavy or not, and sometimes as a
(We usually do this for one of two reasons: because we're about to go the
OTHER way, or because we ARE going to go on, in a moment, in the same
direction, but we're setting up some sort of delayed-gratification thing.)
And often, without that clear gathering moment, the next thing won't work
Think lines-forward-and-back: in some dances the line MUST suck itself
together, snap into formation, BEFORE moving forward, or it won't have
that satisfying clarity.
NOW, tunes have places where they continue and places where they
Sometimes they go: deedle-deedle-noodle-noodle-deedle-noodle-doodle-needle
for the whole time.
Sometimes they go: deedle noodle CHUCK, deedle noodle CHUCK, chucka
noodle chucka noodle YA CHA CHA! (hear the stops?)
Another way to think of it: 16 beats could be 123stop 123stop 12345678 or
it could be 1stop12345678910111213 stop or it could be.... you get it.
NOW, the whole reason contradancing stays fresh (this my theory, and just
my theory, but *I* believe it) is because even though the same people come
every week, and the dances have a certain number of moves, and the band
plays a limited number of tunes, the COMBINATION is never the same.
Different partner, different neighbor. Different tune/dance pairing.
Different 4+4 +8 tune layered over 8+2+2+4 dance.
Imagine doing an allemande/balance/allemande/balance sequence to a tune
that stops and starts right along WITH you. It can feel very satisfying,
Doing that same sequence while the tune keeps driving onwards? Now there's
a delicious sense of urgency, gotta-catch-up.
The better the dancers/caller/band, the more you can stretch the limits of
that kind of interplay.
HOWEVER, there are places where the dance stops/gathers, and the tune
REALLY needs to do the same.
In a group with lots of beginners, at the beginning of the night, at the
beginning of a medley:
Long-lines-forward -and-back really should have a tune that goes
Any place where it's important that couples stop swinging and get on to
the next thing.
Any place where shapes need to quickly coelesce out of thin air, do
something, and then morph quickly into a new clear shape:
Pass thru to ocean wave, Bal line , outside alle R 1/2, Bal line.
Plus specialty moves like bucksaws and zigzags, where everybody needs to
"get THERE, now STAY there, now get THERE" all at the same time or they
get in each other's way.
And there are some tunes with such good built in stops (Joys of Quebec,
the B part) that it's a crying shame to waste them on something sinuous
I personally see it graphically. Here's a mythical dance (don't worry who
does what with whom, ok?):
A1: Bal, pull by,
alle L 1ce, alle R next 1ce
A2 Long Lines fwd & back
Swing in center
B1 Down hall lines-of-4
Back, cast off
And here's inside my head:
A // , // , - - - -
- - - -, - - - /
- - - /, - - - /
- - - - - - / /
B - - - - - - / /
- - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - -,
- - - - - - - -
The A parts definitely need a tune that comes in groups of 4, or the lines
won't form and the swings will dribble into the down-the hall.
The B part could use a 16-er, if it weren't for the cast off:
since they have to come UP the hall AND cast off in one phrase, they
better do their turning around at the END of the previous 8 bars, and the
band better help them :
Down 2 3 4 TURN as a couple,
UP 2 3 4 cast off get ready to chain.
Time for a French Canadian, or maybe a march. Saut de Lapin would be
Give me the card, I will pair up the tunes.
Tell me how long the phrases are -- "short and choppy in the A, long and
connected in the B," and I will pair up the tunes.
Give me a description that makes sense to YOU - "I need something that
goes UH uh uh, UH uh uh, digga digga digga digga UH uh uh" and I will grin
and match up the tunes.
Or show me with your hands, or use really good adjectives - sprightly,
brisk, sly -
- or make tune comparisons, " something a lot like La Bastringue, but not."
But tell me where all the balances are? "Beginning of A1, last 2 beats of
A2, third beat of B1 but only for the ones.." and I will smile politely
and say "can I see your card a sec?"
And, God forbid, if you call a dance like my mythical one in a community
hall full of Old-Home-Days beginners, and ask me to play the relentlessly
driving old-time tune you heard Wild Asparagus play at the
advanced-dancers night in the big city? I am gonna LIE to you, tell you I
never heard of that tune, and say, "can I see your card a sec?"
'course, with certain callers, I do EXACTLY what you tell me, 'cause you
already thought all of this out yourself, bless you, and you know who you
I'll be really interested in feedback from all four people who actually
read this whole thing.
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