David's Blog

How Complicated Does This Need to Be?

I've written elsewhere about the push toward ever-more-complex choreography on the contra and square dance floor. The short story is that the number of figures one might expect to meet today in a few nights of dancing has nearly doubled from the early 1970s when I started. Some of the push comes from those avid dancers whom Ralph Sweet, writing in the 1960s and referring to ardent modern Western square dancers, dubbed the "overactive 10%." That's a whole separate discussion, but some of the responsibility certainly falls on the shoulders of callers, present company included.

We callers spend so much time with dances, looking through our ever-growing stack of cards, that we're hyper-alert to a new wrinkle: "Ooh, this is different. It'll be fun!" And so we introduce a different figure, in much the same way that MWSD callers of an earlier generation created such a vast complex of dance moves that CALLERLAB was created to bring order to chaos.

The last few summers, I've had some opportunities to counter that trend.

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All You Ever Need To Know About Relationships Can Be Learned in a Dance Class

This list comes from a group that's far removed from the country dance world—"bop" is an inclusive term for related couple dances including swing, lindy, jitterbug, and shag—but it's fascinating how so many of the guidelines offered here apply to contras, squares, or English country dance.

ALL YOU EVER NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
CAN BE LEARNED IN A DANCE CLASS
Published by American Bop Association in November, 2003 Newsletter

  1. Lead her GENTLY and she’ll follow you anywhere. (For every ACTION there is an equal and opposite REACTION.)

  2. Never CRITICIZE YOUR DANCE PARTNER. The only person you can even consider fixing is YOU. (The person who is responsible for making the adjustment is the one who knows an adjustment is needed.)

  3. A lead is an INDICATION of some desired direction. (It’s a SUGGESTION, not DEMAND.)

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A Night to Remember

Wow! What an evening THAT was!

Northern Spy finished our monthly series with a gala 35th anniversary party on November 14, 2015. Tracy Hall was packed on Saturday night, as a large crowd turned out to celebrate the end of our dances. Included in the mix were eight former members of the band, and many, many dancers from years gone by. Spurred in part by the great publicity given the event by the Valley News, we also had a good number of beginners present.

The evening started with a potluck supper attended by more than 75 people, with entertainment provided by the Revels Teens from Revels North. Dancing began promptly at 7:30 PM, half an hour earlier to make it possible a) to squeeze more dances into the evening and b) to have plenty of time for the dessert break. (Yum! Thanks for all who brought goodies.)

We should have thought of taking a photo at the peak of the evening, but we didn't until after the break, by which point the crowd had thinned out a great deal. Still, here are some of the folks who remained, with others cleaning up the food downstairs.    Download hi-res - 2483 x 1845 pixels - 3.6 MB image here.

Group photo 2

Last spring, when Cuckoo's Nest announced the end of its dances and when Northern Spy decided that it, too, was tired or organizing its own series, we were concerned that this might spell the end of Norwich dances. As we had hoped, though, many community members stepped forward and the dancing will go forward. There's now a new website promoting dances on 2nd and 4th Saturdays, as well as an active Facebook page. The organizers are interested in presenting a mix of programs, some featuring local musicians and callers and some the bigger-name traveling bands and callers. I'll still be calling locally from time to time, including some summer dances at the Pavilion, and the various musicians from Northern Spy may appear in different configurations. In the meantime, support your local dances!

Thank you, everyone, for making the evening such an uplifting experience. Saturday night's program included a number of dances written by Ted Sannella, since that month marked the 20th anniversary of his death. Dances marked with an asterisk are shown in this video sampler from the evening. Here's what we danced:

Scout House Reel (Ted Sannella, contra)
To Turn a Phrase (Bob Isaacs, contra)
Ted's Solo Mixer (Ted Sannella, scatter mixer)
* Ted's Triplet #3 (Ted Sannella, triplet)
Young at Heart (Steve Zakon-Anderson, contra, written on the occasion of Bob McQuillen's 63rd birthday)
* Deep in the Heart of Texas (from the calling of Ralph Sweet, singing square)
* Whatchagonnado? (Erik Weberg, contra)
* Scatter Threesome (Ted Sannella, mixer)
Birdie in the Cage and Seven Hands Round (square, traditional)
Rock the Cradle Joe (Ridge Kennedy)
waltz

-- break --

hambo
tango
Ramsay Chase (Joseph Pimentel, contra)
* Fiddleheads (Ted Sannella, contra)
* The Devil's Backbone (William Watson, 4 face 4)
Chorus Jig (traditional, contra)
waltz

Fisher's Hornpipe - Four Hands!

Wonderful piece of piano wizardry, captured by Doug Plummer and his iPhone: it's musicians Aaron Marcus and Julie Vallimont jamming on the classic Fisher's Hornpipe, four hands on one piano. Enjoy!

Good Contra and Square Dancing Defined

I recently came upon a well-written and decidedly opinionated piece about good dancing. Since the opinions reflect much of my own thinking on the subject, I'd like to draw your attention to it. Written some twenty years ago by a respected caller of contras and squares, a choreographer ("Al's Advice" is a classic contra written by Paul) and a fiddler (Volo Bogtrotters), the article presents six concise points.

"A good dancer has complete awareness of how it all fits together: the music, the calls, the figures, his/her partner, neighbor, corner, opposites, etc., the whole set, the whole floor, and, maybe most importantly, his/her own body and all its parts. There are lots of things that the good dancer does that are seemingly unknown or totally unimaginable to many twirl and barf dancers."

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David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH

603-448-2950

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