A first substantial contra dance calling experience

At the May 1st, 2010, Albuquerque contra dance, scheduled caller Richard Wilson handed me a special opportunity to call most of the evening.  The evening started with Karina Wilson and I leading a waltzing workshop.  Richard called the initial dance, gave me the rest of the first half, then Karina called the first dance of the second half and I called the rest.  Something that worked well was using the circle waltz mixer we taught in the workshop to begin the waltz ending the first half.  The mixer went around 5 or so times and by chance our original partner ended right in our hand, then the circle broke apart into a free waltz.

It’s a very special experience to come face-to-face with the things I can’t do while doing the very best I can.  It’s me failing for the greater good, and to fail in public for the dancers is a powerful opportunity. I’ve felt wonderful support from the people in the contra dance and music community, and for them I want to do better at everything.

I’ve performed a postmortem on the dances I called using a program planning matrix and learned a lot of things I wish I had known before the dance.  I did well to offer a lot of variety, we did a circle mixer, a scatter promenade mixer, a triple minor, the circle waltz, and tried to start the second half with a polska (but few people know how to dance the Scandinavian dances).  There is plenty I would improve.  I would not do a mixer in the second half again.  There were 4 dances without a partner swing, and one dance without any swing — ouch!  There were 5 dances with circling, 5 with chains, 5 with stars, 2 with down four in line, and an overwhelming 7 with do-si-dos.  The dances were overwhelmingly easy.  The matrix is really valuable for planning variety and for seeing all the I could have done better, just in terms of dance selection.  This selection of dances would have been better suited for lesser-experienced dancers, but not the Albuquerque regulars.

What next?  Call more, fail more, learn more, dance more, laugh more, love more.

The steps I’ll take until I learn something better are these.  1) Consider the dancers and musicians who will be at the dance.  2) Using the program planning matrix to improve variety and see how to build a program of dances that introduces new calls throughout the dance.  3) Practice calling with recorded music to decide on the words to use to teach and while calling.  4) Have some back-up dances if I need to modify for easier or slower-paced dances or up the complexity or pace.  5) Say less, do more, be brave and confident, trust and love the dancers, honor the musicians, sound crew, and everyone else who makes the dance great, ask for critical feedback to learn and improve, reflect, and go do it again!

Thanks to fiddler Gary Papenhagen and his band for their wonderful support of the waltzing workshops and making calling with them a fun and easy partnership.  And thanks, FolkMADS!

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