Emily Addison asked for ideas about a handout for new dancers.
First, I wanted to echo Claire Takemori's remarks that no printed
document can have much effect compared to aspects of a new dancer's
actual experience: the quality of the music; the clarity of the
teaching and calling; the energy and excitement level of the crowd;
and especially the way new dancers are treated by the experienced
That said, I guess there are still some folks who may want a
written document. So here's info on some documents I know about.
The Bay Area Country Dance Society home has these two pages on
its web site:
What To Expect at a Dance
Links to both are near the top of the righht hand column of our
The New England Folk Festival Association's home page
has a link to
"Contra Dancing in Greater Boston"
When I visited the Boston area in the early 1980's, I came across
two handouts for new dancers. One was by Larry Jennings's "Almost
All You Need to Know to Enjoy a New England Style Dance". The other
was Tod Whittemore's "blue card", titled "Welcome to Tonight's
Larry's handout filled the front and back of a letter-sized
typewritten sheet. You can find a slightly edited version here:
In her query to this list, Emily lamented:
I have a few examples of other handouts but they often
focus on explaining the specific moves.
and indeed Larry's handout fits that description. Note that in
the prefatory remarks to the online version, Larry writes:
... I emphasize: today I would talk about connection,
phrasing, and customs, not about figures.
Tod's "blue card" was a much shorter document and much more about
customs, etc. It fit on one side of a 4.25" x 5.5" card. Tod
had it printed 4-up on 8.5" x 11" sheets of blue card stock,
which were then cut into quarters.
Below is the text of a handout that I created years later based
on Tod's blue card. My version is the same 4.25" x 5.5" size
as Tod's, but has text on both sides. The front of my version
is basically a lightly edited variant of Tod's text. (For
example, I write "TRADITIONAL AMERICAN COUNTRY DANCE" where Tod's
card had "NEW ENGLAND COUNTRY DANCE".) The back has whatever
additional information I though might be useful and could cram
into the available space without shrinking the font and the line
In the transcription below, I've used asterisks to indicate
text in *boldface* (the asterisks don't literally appear in the
printed version), slashes to indicate text in /italics/, and
indentation to indicate lines that are centered (though some mail
handling software between my fingers and your eyes may take the
liberty of trashing the indentation). I haven't attempted to
indicate the exact line breaks.
*WELCOME TO TONIGHT'S DANCE*
*You are in for a good time!* For many years Americans have
been dancing Contras and Squares to great live music.
Here are a few guidelines to get you started.
*Line up and try it.* Learn by doing; watching doesn't help!
Be sure to get into the first few dances, which are usually
*Mistakes are part of learning.* Everyone goofs at one time
or another -- experienced dancers, too! After a while it will
begin to make sense.
*Singles are welcome!*
*Couples:* Part of the tradition is dancing with many people.
Please, split up at the beginning of the evening. Dancing with
other folks will help you to learn faster and have more fun
dancing with each other later on.
*Questions?* Ask someone! Everybody remembers their first
dance. You will find many experienced dancers eager to help.
An evening of dancing will include easy, not-so-easy, familiar,
and unusual dances. Most dances are taught; some are not.
Staying alert and listening to the caller will make it easy
In a short time you will be swept into the wonderful
web of people, motion, and music that is
*TRADITIONAL AMERICAN COUNTRY DANCE.* over-->
*A FEW MORE TIPS on style, etiquette, and advancing
*Choosing partners:* THis is the 21st century; men or women
may offer or accept an invitation to dance. /The most
valuable advice on this card:/ Don't fret that you'll be
imposing on experienced dancers by asking to dance with them.
We were all new at this once. Besides, it's only a ten minute
dance, not a lifetime commitment.
*Eye contact:* Don't be surprised by dancers making a lot of
eye contact. It's friendly acknowledgment, not necessarily
*Feet:* For almost all figures, use a simple, smooooth,
brisk walking step -- one step to each beat of music. Let
the spring in your step propel you forward, not up and down.
*Arms/hands:* Keep arm connections firm but not rigid, with
comfortably bent elbows. Hold fingers slightly curved, with
some muscle tone (no "dead fish" hands) but not gripping
or grabbing. THis will let experienced dancers guide you
gently through the figures, but also allow an easy release
when you need to go in different directions.
*Music:* In general dance figures fit the music, like the
lines of song lyric. As you learn to listen, the music will
tell you when to end one figure and start the next one.
*Missed a move?* Don't worry about scrambling to make it
up. Just try to get where you need to be for the next part.
/Hint:/ Look around for someone looking for you.
*Contradancing is more fun than reading about it.* It's an
amusement park ride we make for ourselves. So put this card
away right now, find a partner, and step aboard!
[Sideways in right margin on back, in small print:]
Bay Area Country Dance Society www.bacds.org
with acknowledgments to Tod Whittemore
In the text above, I tried to stick to things I thought might
be of use to first-timers who were already at the dance. For
example, I didn't include advice about shoes, figuring that
people already at a dance were unlikely to go home to change
shoes. Similarly I figured that dancers who came too warmly
dressed would realize on their own that they should wear cooler
clothing next time. I also left out remarks aimed at shaping
up the etiquette of experienced dancers.
I think I first heard the amusement park ride metaphor from
Under "Missed a move?" I considered drawing an analogy to
forgetting a line while singing in a group. You catch up
by joining in with whatever line everyone else is singing
now, not by finally remembering the missed line and trying
to sing it really fast while everyone else is already
singing the next line. But I couldn't think of a way to
state the analogy clearly and effectively in the space I
was willing to allow.
I also considered adding a suggestion along the lines of
Reread this after the dance. Some things may make
more sense then.
based on a similar remark in Larry Jennings's handout. But
again, it wouldn't fit in the available space, and I didn't
have good ideas about how to shorten or eliminate something
else to make room.
I hope some of this is helpful.