Youth dancing, spring 2011

I’m happy to write about two touching events consistent with my vision that I helped organize the last few months: teaching middle schoolers folk dance, and organizing a youth-led contra in Santa Fe.

Rob Campbell invited me into his 4th-5th-6th grade class at the Montessori of the Rio Grande Charter School to teach folk dance.  As a dance leader, I’m still pretty green, but I have a real passion for bringing dance to the next generation.  So without any preparation, other than thinking about how to help kids dance together, I went in with my headset mic, my battery-powered amplifier, a few index cards, and my enthusiasm and positive attitude.  Rob had already done some great preparation with the kids, letting them know about calls that are in 8 beats and so on.  He’s a long-time dancer and does the sound at many of the Albuquerque dances.  His wife, Deb, has been a pivotal figure, too, organizing “Boo camp” and many other things in our community.  When I arrived, the kids were ready to dance.  I talked a bit about music and the structure of a dance, but got them moving pretty quickly.  I wasn’t expecting some of the challenges, such as reluctance to hold hands between selected people and social structure (friends, not friends, etc.) that would be a powerful force for who was willing to dance with whom.  However, calling dances where the kids kept their partners (reels, circle mixers without the “mix”) usually worked just fine, and having the partner anchor I think was helpful for beginners.  Oh, and the word “partner” — I quickly starting saying “pair” because they didn’t want it to sound like they were dating or anything.  Rob reported back, “The children loved it, and I even got some feedback from parents because their children are talking about how fun it was at home.  A few children were even practicing some of the moves yesterday at school!”

We had several weeks together in school, but we both wanted the kids to dance to live music out in the world.  On March 5th we had a 6-7pm pre-contra dance in Albuquerque with his class, and some of the parents danced, too.  The McPapenhagen’s played for us (Gary Papenhagen, Scott Mathis, and Linda Mathis).  The kids loved, loved, loved the live music!  We danced several dances, concluding with a donut dance one of the kids wrote!

Donut formation dance
Anastasia
and Erik Erhardt
Type: Reel
Formation: Donut (longways set, bent into a circle)
Level: Beginner

A1 ———–
(8) Partner allemande Right 1X
(8) Partner allemande Left 1X
A2 ———–
(8) Right-diagonal Do-si-do
(8) Left-diagonal Do-si-do
B1 ———–
(8) Partner two-hand turn 1X or 2X
(8) Right-diagonal right-elbow turn 1X
B2 ———–
(8) Left-diagonal right-elbow turn 1X
(8) Partner Do-si-do
C ———–
(32) Sashay the donut

Notes: C: Sashay the donut – choose a couple, they sashay between the lines, each subsequent couple following them, backing out when they return home.  It effectively turns the donut inside out.

Rob wrote, “Thanks so much for hosting a fabulous dance for my class last Saturday!  Everyone loved it, and parents are still talking to me about how fun it was.  They also can’t stop talking about what a great job you did, and that they think you should be working with children all the time.  Several families have expressed interest in coming to more dances!  Woohoo!”

The Mullanys (Riley 14 and Maddy 17) and Lauren Soherr (11) rock my New Mexico contra world!  I hosted a youth-led dance, Sat March 12th in Santa Fe, that featured the young Mullanys as the band with Lauren and I calling.  Riley (guitar) and Maddy (fiddle) worked all day on sets of tunes.  There included a few particularly challenging tunes, but all were played with character and feel, personality.  Riley’s including more walking bass in his guitar playing, and Maddy playing has a cheerful, spirited lilt.  They are an easy-going band to call to, and a delight to listen and dance to.

Lauren is a natural and able performer.  Lauren has called a few dances, and her dad David has been encouraging for her.  She showed up at the dance with a dance or two prepared, but had this sheet of dances from the CDSS website.  I asked her how many she wanted to call, she didn’t know, but I knew she could do more than two.  So we stepped to a quiet area and I had her call a couple more off the sheet.  She had them immediately.  So it was decided.  I’ll call one, she’ll call one, and we’ll do that until she has to go home.  I helped her get started and finish the first two, but I handed her the mic on the third and forth and let her go.  She can go as far as she can dream.

Maddy and I called a six-dance medley (four times though each one) with a set of six tunes that Marj (mom) and Riley worked up.  It was really exciting.  We followed the NEFFA format, where the last time through each dance is called by the next person so the new caller’s voice is familiar for the change to the next dance.  The music was awesome.  We called easy dances because the novelty is in the no-walk through, what’s-coming-next? form of the medley.  I would really like to do this again.  Oh, yeah, Maddy’s a solid caller, too.

Laurel Wilson, of Wilson family fame, led a song to end the night.  She had learned the song that day and brought her guitar, which she’s been playing for less than a year, to accompany herself.  She’s becoming a confident performer and I hope she’ll help close our dances regularly with a song.

I’m excited to see what we can do when we have all our talented youth together.  Lauren Lamont, Mia Bertelli, Karina Wilson, Leticia Gonzales, and many others bring my evenings to vibrant life when they’re there, too.  I really love my young contra family.

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