Wow! What a bunch of excellent points Dale Wilson makes in his
recent message! The message also touches on multiple topics that
might each be the subject of a productive discussion thread.
On Jan 4, 2017, at 2:29 PM, Dale Wilson wrote:
[Quoting Chris Brady]
.... for every dance the 'caller' is spending over 10
minutes explaining each dance -
[to which Dale replies]
This brings to mind a quote attributed to Blaise Pascal:
Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire
Roughly translated as
I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it
In called-dance context:
I am taking too long to explain this dance because I haven't invested the time to
discover the best way to describe it.
I'm curious how others on this list go about preparing to teach
a dance--especially when it involves some figure or transition
that's likely to be new to most of the dancers. For example, do
you ever (or often or never) try practicing your *teaching* out
loud in private. I confess that I find it difficult to motivate
myself to do that, though I find it easy to put on a recording of
dance music and practice *calling* (e.g., to make sure I can get
the words out in time when a dance has a sequence of short
A couple of notes to myself:
A dance walk-thru is rarely the time for a history lesson. [Although a rare short amusing
anecdote before the start of a walk-thru may occasionally be forgiven.]
If you come up with a really cool analogy -- for heaven's sake, don't use it!
[Teaching a ricochet hey in terms of slices of pizza comes to mind.]
I share Dale's skepticism about the pizza slice analogy, even
though I've heard it used and recommended by a couple callers
whose teaching skill I generally hold in high esteem. It seems
to me that people who *already understand* what path they travel
travel in a ricochet hey will go "Oh, yeah. It's like a pizza
slice!" but the people most in need of help from the caller (the
ones who lock on to the idea that "ricochet" must mean to go back
along the path they just came on, or the occasional dancers who
want to "ricochet" to the far side of the set) will have no idea
what "pizza slice" the caller is talking about.
And how do we judge the effectiveness of teaching techniques?
If a caller uses the pizza slice analogy--or any other teaching
technique--"successfully" with a group where 90% of the dancers
already know how to do a ricochet hey, the success may be due
entirely to the dancers who know how guiding the ones who don't
and not to the teaching technique.
Chose the right word for the occasion. Before a balance and petronella I say "make
a ring" not "make a circle" because if I mention the word
"circle" most dancers will start moving [to the left!]
Do not teach to one couple or one gender/role unless you identify them. "Swing your
neighbor below" only works for the actives. With luck the inactives will translate,
but they may well be looking below for the neighbor *they* should be swinging.
Even worse is "swing the lady below", which speaks only to the
active gents and asks three dancers in each foursome to infer
what to do.
"Ladies start a Mad Robin." leaves the gents standing still
when they should be moving.
The multiplicity of roles in squares makes it even easier (than
with contras) for callers inadvertently to speak to only some of
the dancers. To give just one example, the assertion "You have
your original corner beside you [in your line of four]" might be
true for head gents and side lades but not for the other four
Do not teach to individual dancers or even sets. If, for example, you say "ladies
chain" and all but one set does it, do NOT simply repeat "ladies chain".
The ones who dutifully followed your instructions the first time will do so again leaving
EVERYONE confused and in the wrong spot. Instead say something like "you should now
be on the side of the set with your partner" then pause to let them sort things out
-- with possible help from the experienced dancers around them.
Or "*What just happened* was that the ladies chained to their
partners. If you haven't done it already ..."
Speaking of experienced dancers:
Trust your dancers, but give them a chance. Watch the entire room. If you see some
ad-hoc teaching going on, be quiet and let it happen. [up to a point -- determining the
point at which you step in and reassert the fact that you are the caller comes from
I wonder how others on this list judge when (if ever) to
pause and allow ad-hoc teaching on the floor to happen and
when to "reassert the fact that you are the caller". As a
caller, do you regard ad-hoc teaching on the floor as anathema
and consider it an act of extreme rudeness on the part of the
self-appointed assistant callers towards you and towards the
many dancers who are waiting for the walk-through to continue?
As a dancer, have you ever felt that you could save a nearby
dancers from quite a bit of confusion if the caller on the
stage would only offer a brief opportunity? [Once, during
the walk-through of a dance that I was sitting out, I heard
a newish dancer ask aloud--not shouting to the caller, but
audible to me in my nearby chair--"What's a box the gnat?"
As it happened, it took a while after the walk-through ended
before the band was ready to start playing, and I used the
opportunity show him (with me taking the lady's part and
making it clear both that move resulted in us trading places
and that we ended up facing each other). He thanked me and,
I believe, went on to enjoy the dance more than he would have
without my intervention. Of course I realize that there are
also cases where ad-hoc "teaching" on the floor has less
Have fun and make sure the dancers and the band know you are having fun. If the dance
is executed perfectly by dancers who are annoyed or insulted, it's a failure. If
mild chaos ensues but (most) everyone is enjoying muddling thru anyway, life is good.