Where's the partner swing?

Adapted from a post to rec.folk-dancing in 2004

A few weeks ago, when one couple at the head of the set asked me that very question—I was happy to note that they were smiling as they spoke—I referred them to Section III, Subsection 2, paragraph A(5) of the Caller-Dancer Compact, which simply states that a pair of dancers who feel that a particular dance doesn't give them enough swings together may remain as partners for the next dance.

Callers (contra callers as well as modern western square dance callers) have been dealing with the overactive 10% subgroup for a long time; this is not just a contemporary issue. (I suspect that it's probably the same in the international folk dance community, where some folks who dance a lot are wanting programs with lots of more complex Balkan dances while others are content to have more variety.)

> actives crossing over before the caller says to do so

and others wrote to say, "What's the problem?"


It's not a big problem, of course... it simply shows that these particular dancers either have a certain set of preconceptions or a limited familiarity with dance formations.

Doesn't all this ultimately come back to the caller providing leadership? The buck stops there. Callers, guided by their own experience and vision and the expectations of the sponsor, should put together the sort of program that they think is appropriate for that particular occasion. Some folks inevitably won't like it and they're free to go elsewhere, speak to the sponsors, start their own dance, become callers themselves, or boycott that particular caller... it's a free market economy.

One older dancer wrote: "I personally prefer an evening of variety:  proper dances, improper, squares, schottisches, circle mixers, contras, and what have you." I heartily agree. The tentative program planned for the monthly dance I'm calling tomorrow night includes two duple proper contras (both older dances), five duple improper or Becket formation contras (all recent compositions), one mixer, two squares, a three-face-three dance, two triplets, a polka, two waltzes, and some zweifachers at the break. No triple minor contras on this particular night, alas, but we'll make up for that next month... so many dances, too little time... ;-)

Do I put together that same kind of program when I'm hired at a series that prides itself on offering an evening of zesty contemporary contras? Of course not. Will I use that program for the PTO dance I'm calling tonight? Of course not. But at my home dance, where I'm the caller month after month, I have the luxury of shaping the evening to fit my own vision of what makes a good evening of dancing. Most folks who come regularly to that event don't assume that they know what's next. (Besides, a good caller can alert folks, as one dance ends, what's next in store, to save the time needed to get folks into the correct formation.)

There's one point that I haven't heard addressed in the recent posts claiming "but the majority of dancers WANT active swing-partner swing-neighbor everybody move dances." Of course that's what they want... that's what they've been trained to expect! If callers at a given series continually provide that sort of program, of course the dancers who come to those dances will feel that way. It's a matter of self-selection. The series will over time shape its audience. The elementary and middle-school school children won't be there, dancers of all ages who react more slowly won't be there. In the same way, most dancers wanting an aerobic evening of swinging and complex dances aren't going to show up at one of Dudley Laufman's programs. Call it, and they will come... It's just that the participants at different series will be different.

By creating a program such as the one I mentioned above, I'm making a conscious choice to attract a wide range of dancers, folks who enjoy variety, who like having not all dances be fast and furious and complex but like having some that fit that category. And no surprise, that's who we do attract, a mix of dancers young and old. As well as newcomers, we get a large number of hard-core contra dancers who keep our dance on their regular calendar because they can get the variety that is missing elsewhere.

At the same time I know that we lose some who don't want that kind of variety in their evening out. Fine with me; there are lots of dances in the universe. We find newcomers joining our ranks each night. Some go on to become contra enthusiasts; others are content to have dancing play a more casual role in their lives.


David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


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