One of the recurring themes in my contemplation about contra dancing, over the last year or so, has been community building and how to treat newer dancers. My first opportunity to call BIDA last Sunday had a variety of ways to demonstrate.
First, before the dance even starts, before the day or even week of the dance, as the caller, I was in touch with the organizers and the band. I was impressed with BIDA having a clear set of community values that emphasized safety and feeling comfortable and welcomed. I received this information weeks before the dance happened. BIDA also clearly promotes these on their website. Walking in the door Sunday evening, I had an expectation of the crowd, how the dance organizers and community wanted them treated, and values to promote.
Second, there were new dancers. About a dozen showed up for the beginner’s lesson, and about another dozen or more showed up during the first dance of the evening, and possibly more trickled in after that. For a dance with about 100-ish dancers that evening total, that was a significant portion of the total feet on the dance floor. And people weren’t sitting out, and, happily, not a lot of people left during the break.
Immediately, I had to change a few things with the program to compensate:
- While I had a mostly-easy program of dances planned, I eased up, and slowed down the overall progression of the night’s difficulty.
- Until dance #7, I taught two walkthroughs for each dance. The second half only had one two-walkthrough dance. (Chuck the Budgie). I did a floor demo for the roll-away-swing for Notorious First Date.
- I called longer, and kept keener attention, especially the first half of the evening.
I did have two experienced dancers indicate that they spent a lot of time helping new people out through the evening. That is, frankly, to be expected with 25% new people. Even to a veteran caller like George Marshall at a experienced-dancer venue like Greenfield, Massachusetts, I’ve danced times when there’s been a lot of new dancers, and I’ve had to pay a lot of attention to keep my hands-4 moving along. It is what it is.
Third, my beginner’s lesson is already similar in the values I teach to what BIDA wants to convey. I make sure I emphasize having fun, safe ways to physically connect with other dancers, and the freedom to ask anyone (and of either gender) - or politely say no to anyone.
Fourth, I incorporate safety and good connection in my walkthroughs of dances.
Here’s my program from the evening:
- A Nice Combination, by Gene Hubert
- Cascades, by Orace Johnson
- La String Bean, by yours truly (a circle mixer variation on La Bastringue)
- Box the Gnat Contra, by Becky Hill
- Centrifugal Hey, by Gene Hubert
- Fairport Harbour, by Paul Balliet
- The Missing Piece, by Bronwyn Woods (last before break)
- Pedal Pushers, by Bob Dalsemer
- Chuck the Budgie, by Rick Mohr
- Notorious First Date, by Steve Zakon-Anderson
- Poetry in Motion, by Lisa Greenleaf
- Trip to Peterborough, by Rick Mohr
No dance fell apart. Some couples had some issues early on, but nothing too serious. The most amusing thing was, perhaps, was in Trip To Peterborough, where two couples in the most new-dancer-heavy line interpreted:
Gents Allemande L 3/4, Pass neighbor by Right,
Ladies Cross by the Left, swing partner
Gents Allemande while Ladies orbit, swing partner.
Which works, so I wasn’t exactly going to stop the dance or change my calling because of it. I did, however, get stopped as I was walking off the stage, en route to try and find a waltz partner, from one presumably experienced dancer who decided that it was imperative that they inform me that my calling was wrong, and that it was indeed an orbit. They politely prefaced it by indicating, of course, that they knew I was probably on my way to a waltz.
*sigh* No second waltz for me.
Dear dancers: Please do not ambush a caller right before a waltz! If you feel the need to criticize a caller, unless it’s related to safety, your choices are:
- Wait til after the waltz
- Contact the caller the following day via e-mail or Facebook. Then you have extra time to, say, look up the dance you thought was called incorrectly, and see, in fact, it was fine. :)
I’m happy how I called. I flubbed parts of the first two dances’ second walkthroughs, which ultimately weren’t a big deal but were embarrassing to me, nevertheless. The band sounded great. The BIDA organizers were super together and helpful, and the dancers stayed and had smiles on their faces. I’m going to chalk this one up as a good experience.
I have video, but it’s now far-too-late and I need sleep. I’ll post video once I have a chance to review it, edit, and upload.