Demonstrations vs. Words

Adapted from a rec-folk-dancing post (1998) in response to a dancer who said that callers should stay at the microphone rather than coming onto the floor to demonstrate figures.

> The only figure that must be demonstrated is the courtesy turn. That's also the figure that's hardest for new dancers to learn.

Hmm...  it IS one of the figures I demonstrate most often, partly to show an alternative to the twirls and partly to demonstrate how folks can connect via eye contact to turn what might otherwise seem a boring filler for the men into a fun figure for all.

The most common reason I jump down from the stage to demonstrate a figure (which I do far more often than asking dancers on the floor to demo something) is to make a point about styling.

Take the sequence "Lady round two and the gent cut through, etc." as in "New Friendship Reel" or "Honor Among Thieves." I can talk people through the figure and most people get it, although it's harder for those newer dancers who are inactive halfway down the set to remember what to do when they become active. But after walking folks through the dance, I'll sometimes jump into the center of the hall and show people how to dance it. I often see it done as a humorous rat race with exaggerated scrambling and dashing feet, but I like it the way Ted Sannella wanted it, as an smooth figure with just time enough to slide easily into the following "Circle to the left." So, acknowledging that folks will dance it as they please, I demonstrate one way of moving through the figure that gives me great pleasure and invite the dancers to consider that as a possibility when it's their turn.

> And indeed, part of your job as a caller is to deliver those clear, concise, accurate walkthroughs in the shortest possible time. The dancers are here to dance.

This is just one part of the caller's job and that there are additional reasons why dancers are here. This varies from series to series, but at our monthly dance, there are avid dancers who can be found sitting out a dance or two happily talking with friends whom they only see at the monthly dance.

Another part of the caller's job, which conflicts with the piece you mention, is to provide entertainment, to be master of ceremonies, to be sensitive to the energy flow of the evening and to help establish a welcoming atmosphere. It might be to teach quickly and to get out of the way. On the other hand, there are evenings and crowds when dancers would appreciate a break, a joke, a story, a bit of dance history... Anytime a caller attempts to teach styling is necessarily time taken away from teaching dances "in the shortest time possible." But such teaching, applied judiciously, can be time well spent in improving the overall quality of the dance series.


David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


Email David