Hey Lindsey from Tacoma: Way back in the day there was no calling or even prompting of
the dances. Dances were “taught” by dancing masters. Dancers memorized the figgers. It
was considered rude to yell out the changes and it was considered a mark of esteem if you
could have the figgers down pat. (Some folks wrote the direction on their cuffs or on a
napkin which got stuffed in their cleavage. If there were no dancing master lurking
about, then the poor folk did what they knew...knees up mother brown, three hand reels and
Later, when calling (prompting) became acceptable, the task fell in the laps of the
fiddler. I have an old book of fiddle chunes and instruction how to play them and also
instruction on how to call the changes while sawing away.
Brits say that they started the ball rolling. Servants would have their dances Downstairs,
do the same dances folks Upstairs did, but, without the benefit of dancing school. Someone
needed to call out the changes. Lord knows why it took them all so long, but look how long
it took to invent the wheel.
But listen to this. Plantation party going full tilt. in North Carolina, black musicians,
fiddles, tambourine. Black fiddler would nod to couples when they reached the top, but
knew his place of silence. Next night the blacks have their own frolic. Fiddler shouts out
Git yer sets together. Make a ring now, up and back you go. Gentlemen turn your partners.
And there you have it.
Calling became necessary when the halls got bigger. Folks from other nationalities –
Poles, Germans, Swedes, needed assistance. Microphones were invented and calling became an
art unto its own. I never heard Ralph Page call without using a mic. Even in a small
room. He had a light voice. He sang and chanted his calls. He was inspired by the
calling of one Happy Hale. Happy could sing his calls without using a mic. He would even
go outside and call through the open window on a summer’s night. But he and Ralph never
stopped calling. They were part of the show. Part of the music. They liked the sound of
their voice. Reminds me of the preacher who said “We will now have a moment of silence
like in Quaker meeting.” It would last ten seconds and then he would launch into the next
prayer or whatever.
Most of the dances I do are whole set longways and circle dances, unphrased. I call
anyway. Seldom “drop out”. If I do, it is to share a joke with one of the other
musicians or quip with a dancer waiting at the top of the set.
Dudley from Canterbury where we have yet to have a killing frost.
Dudley & Jacqueline Laufman
PO Box 61, 322 Shaker Rd
Canterbury, NH 03224
Education book & CD at www.humankinetics.com
Performance Calendar at www.laufman.org