Weddings and private parties
I definitely call for wedding receptions, more than 100 such events over the years. I love doing weddings and other forms of private parties—celebrations, anniversaries, birthdays... Typically, you have a lot of people who aren't sure what they're getting into and who may be a little nervous about this, and they discover, to their great delight, that they're having fun! Dancing together is also a wonderful way for folks who don't know each other—families on both sides plus friends—to share an experience with a lot of smiles and laughter.
A few words about my philosophy for calling these events: At weddings and other private parties, the greatest number of people are not experienced traditional dancers. My aim is to get everyone moving as quickly as possible and as much as possible. In my opinion, this is not the appropriate venue to teach some complicated series of dance figures; people are not there to learn the latest hot, complex move. People are there to have fun, not to get a difficult brain workout! Consequently, unless I know that there will be a lot of experienced dancers there, I pick dances that can involve all ages, from youngsters through seniors. It's helpful to let women in particular know to bring some comfortable shoes for the dancing; swinging on a barn floor in high heels isn't fun!
One other note, about wording: many guest will have no idea what a "contra dance" is, and the words "square dance" can summon up images of fluffy skirts and men wearing string ties. Sometimes it's more helpful to say "traditional square dance" or even just "barn dance." This wording usually conjures up the right set of images—a group of smiling people having a great time with traditional fiddle tunes providing the music.
Musicians: I've worked with any number of official bands or impromptu groups of musicians. For many groups, three musicians is a good size, but a larger band allows for more variety in sound. We usually build a band around a piano player or guitarist, fiddler, and one other who might play clarinet or mandolin or second fiddle or flute. The quoted fee will also include a fee for an appropriate PA system; we are not trying to shatter eardrums, but we want guests to hear the calls clearly as well as an appropriate balance of all the instruments. All of this is arranged in consultation with the hosts who are, after all, paying the proverbial piper.
We'll be at your event in plenty of time to set up the PA system, typically an hour or so before you need music. If the dance is coming on the heels of a reception supper in the same location, we could play some music quietly during the latter stages of the meal. This isn't at ear-splitting decibels, but rather as background music to get folks accustomed to the sound of the band and to get their feet tapping. Some couples like to start out with a first waltz just as a couple, or a snowball waltz that gradually expands the number of dancers. Others prefer to skip the waltz and to start right in with a dance that involves all the guests; we often start off with a large circle dance called "Haste to the Wedding," a dance simple enough that elementary school kids can do it and enjoyable for all ages. All of these details are discussed in advance, and then I'll stay in continual contact with you during the party.
From then, we'd continue playing and leading dances for several hours. Often, a wedding couple will want to have the reception supper, then do some dancing, then cut the cake, and then resume dancing. In this case, I've found it helpful to ask that we plan on 45 minutes or so of dancing before the cake; the cutting of the cake is often the signal for guests to start to leave. If the guests' energy flags, we can continue playing music for listening as need be.
The single biggest factor in whether the dancing will be successful, aside from having an experienced caller and top-quality music, is the active participation of the wedding couple or the other hosts of the party. As a general rule, the less experienced the dancers—and this includes most wedding parties—the more you want a really experienced caller and really good musicians!
If you're interested in pursuing this, I'll be happy to contact musicians on your behalf, and can then quote you a specific figure.