Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thoughts on Wordiness in Calling

Transferring the Contents of One Brain into Another

It has occurred to me that the reason callers get wordy is that they somehow think that if they can just transfer the contents of their brains into the brains of the dancers, the dancers will understand the WHOLE DANCE and will, therefore, dance better.

Understanding the Whole Dance is, of course, the job of the caller, and there is work involved in gaining that understanding. Furthermore, the understanding feels good to have once you get it. It is reasonable to want to share it with others.

But I say, to myself and others: DON'T DO IT!

Just tell us what we have to do, one thing at a time. When you share the whole dance with us, no matter how simple, after the first six words it sounds like "Mpkent dfiel djiow..." and we cannot follow it any more. When we DO it, however, our kinesthetic memory helps us understand and remember what to do.

I went to a dance a while back where a caller took ten minutes to teach a simple dance that, when danced, lasts less than two minutes. If it had been walked through, just telling us the next move, exactly three times, it would have taken about two minutes, and we would have had it. And by "had it," I mean all the moves AND the understanding of the Whole Dance. Even the newbies.

Instead, we became more confused as explanation piled on explanation after we had listened to a blow-by-blow description of the Whole Dance.

Eventually, we got it (it was a simple dance, after all) and had a lovely time for two minutes. And another lovely time for another two minutes.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Gig available

Matthew Keefer, who used to dance w/ Childgrove, is interested in having a dance for an All Parish Conference (on May 15). It would be a mixture of ages and mostly beginners. Neither Mac nor I is available for this event, but I wanted to see if any of you can help.

When we were learning to call, we often tag-teamed (Mac/Ted/Jeanette/Andrew/and myself) for events such as this to take some of the pressure off. It's not a place for contra dances, but for simple mixers, squares, and whole set dances.

Matthew needs a band and caller(s). If you can help, please email him at keefer (at) umsl (dot) edu

I hope some of you can take advantage of this great opportunity. I'd be happy to give you feedback on any particular dances or programming questions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dan and Karen's on December 9, 2009

Lovely time at Dan and Karen's extra apartment tonight. Bob and Dale called some dances, there was jamming with Dan and Alice and Dale and Jan. Dan had an old violin that I played since I didn't think of bringing mine. The hair was half gone from the bow but the fun was still left. There was gluhwein and lovely eats and good folks. Happy holidays.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Waiter, There’s a Duck in my Soup

A most interesting thing happened the other night.

I called David Kirchner’s dance “Duck Soup”, which has, as one of its many charming features, the opening move “circle right”. I remember David calling it when he lived in St. Louis, and his admonition “to the right, to the right” rings in my ears any time I’m giving directions when I’m the navigator in a car (“Turn right at the next block. To the right, to the right.”)

It’s not for nothing that experienced contra dancers consider Circle Right the hardest move in contradancing. We circle left so often that to circle right really takes a mental effort. So I reminded everyone of the reputation of this move when I started the teaching – “The dance begins with the hardest move in contra dancing,” and I made a special effort to remind people every time through the dance, as well.

Yet after the dance was over, a friend of mine said “Nice calling – except that you confused us by calling ‘circle left’ a couple of times.” “Oh no!” I said. “@#$%!” I said. “But I tried so hard to make sure I called the circle right,” I whined. His view was corroborated by my husband, and later, at a gathering after the dance, by several other people. And it wasn’t just once or twice that I made the error, they said, it was several times, maybe three or four.

I checked to see if the evening had been recorded. It had been. “Okay,” I thought. “This is seriously weird that I don’t remember having done this, but it’s better to know the truth. Maybe I can figure out why I did this.” So I got a copy of the recording and prepared to be depressed.

I listened all the way through, nervous, worried, waiting for that awful moment where I screwed up. And I waited. The little blue bar was getting near the end, and I still hadn’t heard it. There was a moment when you could hear the crowd shouting “to the right, to the right” but I went back and double-checked what I had said in the moments before, which was “New Neighbors circle right.” I got all the way to the end and hadn’t heard a single “circle left”.


I sent an instant message to my friend about what I had heard. “The recording lies,” he said.

When I invited people to this week’s Calling Party, I mentioned the oddity and got these comments back:

Several of us learned later that the recording bore out Martha's pristine calling, and we were openmouthed. We compared notes, and we all remembered the same experience, repeatedly, occurring in our different places in different lines -- a whole foursome going left, muttering (or exclaiming) "right" as we corrected, and people complaining about the caller getting it wrong. So it wasn't just us! Mass hallucination? We talked about it, and figured that just hearing "circle" was enough for us, en masse, to default mentally to "circle left" if the caller didn't specify otherwise. That blows my mind, personally, as I frankly haven't been dancing *that* long and am surprised I already have that visceral a reaction.

What we expect definitely influences what we perceive – it’s a well-known psychological fact. We can also create false memories that seem to us as real as anything we ever actually experienced. I guess that callers need to work earlier to create the proper expectation!?

Ever see the emails in which we are asked to read a paragraph in which letters are missing in words and our brains fills in the gaps? I think that’s simply what’s at work here… If we fill in the gaps (correctly or incorrectly), that’s what gets filed away in our memory.

Here’s what I actually said, as captured on the recording:
Intro:With the music, circle to the right."
1. circle to the right, to the right, 3 places
2. new neighbors, circle right, to the right
3. new neighbors circle right…right!
4. new neighbors, right, to the right, to the right, to the right
5. new neighbors, circle right, right, to the right
6. circle to the right
7. new neighbors, circle
8. …(nothing)
9. to the right, to the right, 3 places

At the Calling Party we tried to find an explanation – any explanation – that would make this apparent mass hallucination go away. It was suggested that it could have been another dance – but the only other dance with a circle right was called right after Duck Soup by the very friend who initially told me I had goofed. It was suggested that someone was calling in the line – but the misperception happened to people in all lines, even to someone who was sitting out. It was suggested that the sound was echoey enough in the hall so that people confused “right” with “left”. And so on. Nothing terribly convincing.

One person did suggest that, if the dancers were not listening when I said "next neighbor circle right", that they might have interpreted my iteration of "to the right, to the right" as a correction instead of an emphasis. That almost makes sense, actually, or comes closest.

What do you think could possibly have happened?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Looking for Mrs. Beveridge...

Does anyone have the instructions for the dance Mrs. Beveridge's Triumph? It was published in the CDSS News 196: May/June 2007 but on the website there are no archived newsletters--just some articles.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Program review for Childgrove dances

I realized that I have not set down any specific guidelines on what we expect from the Hatchling callers at regular Childgrove events (not at the Saturday Caller’s Choice dances). I don’t like a lot of rules – but this should allow the callers to know what is expected and provide some consistency:

Hatchling callers guest calling with one of our ‘regular’ callers:
Proposed dances must be presented to the scheduled caller in advance for their review, comments and approval.

Monthly dance where 2 or 3 Hatchlings are the scheduled callers:
Entire program must be submitted to one of the ‘regular’ callers (me, Ted or Deborah). for review, comments and approval. I have not talked to Ted or Deborah about this. You can ask them if you wish – but I will be available for all the events if you want me to do that.

Hatchling callers scheduled for a whole evening themselves:
Not required to have their programs reviewed, but it is not a bad idea. Ask any of the other callers or even other Hatchling callers - the more input the better. Callers are welcome to offer one or 2 dances to a guest caller – but are then responsible for reviewing the dances their guest will call.

Most of the Hatchlings have reached a level that they can call and teach effectively. As you know – programming is a whole different skill and it is good to learn from mistakes the rest of us have already made rather than repeat them.

Feel welcome to contact me if you have any questions.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What happens when you get too busy

You make no blog posts!

So much has been happening that it's been hard to find the time to keep our faithful readers up to speed...

We can work from the outside in:
1. The High Tea and Whiskey Dance Weekend
2. The new name for the Hatchling Dances
3. The 4th of July dance
4. Everything else - will have to wait

High Tea and Whiskey
Kay and Bob and Missy and John and I have wanted for some time to have a weekend with Joseph Pimentel calling, so we (with good support from Deb and Bea and Mark) got ambitious and decided to just go for it and just figure out how we could do it. We put together a business plan, we rented the hall, secured a band, and then went looking for some help. The Childgrove board again demonstrated its openness and willingness to support events which are well-thought-out and support its mission of promoting the folk arts (particularly community-style dancing) and agreed to provide full sponsorship. The Dance Discovery board and the leadership of the Webster Groves English Country Dancers were willing to provide a hefty financial cushion, should it be needed, and St Louis English Country Dancers agreed to help with advertising and promotion. Wow.

The weekend is partly contra, partly English, and we're at 72% capacity already — not that hard, since the hall won't hold more than about 60 people doing English. We'll open up another 30 places for folks who want to come to the Friday contra dance later. Here's the web site: High Tea and Whiskey.

The New Name
We've been a bit worried about the attendance at the Hatchling Dances, and, in Hatchling style, figured we had to learn what to do to make ourselves more attractive to dancers. I put out a quick survey and got back the message that we shouldn't change the format - the people who come really like the English/contra format and the music. Changing the day from Saturday to Friday turned out not to be an option, so what was left? A name change! The Hatchling name is adorable, as are our little winged egg-born creatures, but it seems to symbolize "caller practice sessions" rather than "callers who have practiced". So our dances are now First Saturday Callers' Choice Dances, or, as it's already gotten shortened to, Choice Dances.

Yeah, I know the real reason for the smaller attendance figures is that we're trying to get contra dancers to do a bit of English, and English dancers to do a bit of contra, and very few people like to do things outside their usual habits. The number of people who like to do both contra and English is smaller than either the number of contra dancers or the number of English dancers. But we persevere, and the number of "crossover" dancers is slowly but surely increasing.

The 4th of July dance
We were almost forced to cancel this one, but for reasons WAY too complicated to go into, we're not canceling, and we're glad of it. If just 16 people show up, we'll be fine, and we'll have moral boasting rights for months. So if you want to come to a small, just-us-chickens dance, come dance around our virtual kitchen this Saturday.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Square dance move

So what's the real name of the square dance move Mac called last night? It sounded to me like "Dos Pasos" but I can't find a move of that name?

Mac was feeling very brave (foolish? confident?) with the dances he called when there were so many first-timers there.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More on the Double Grand Square

I have to admit, I was really thrilled when we walked through the double grand square yesterday. I was lucky, of course. There were exactly 16 people at the Calling Party. All but one of them knew already how to do a Grand Square. They even thought it would be fun. Everyone learns fast when they're having fun.

Here's a picture that kind of begins to explain - the red couples are the heads, the purple couples are the sides, the green couples are the centers, and the blue couples (yes!) are the corners. The heads and sides face up and down, the centers and corners face across the set. The call is "heads go forward, sides divide." The centers follow the call for the sides, and the corners follow the call for the heads. Click on the picture to see it animated.

This didn't happen all at once, of course. It started when I played music for John Ramsay's high school class doing (?) Easter Morn (?) in his living room for a video. It has a grand square with an extra couple. Hmm...I thought. When I got a chance to dance the dance a few months later, when I got to be the center couple, I inadvertently pissed off my partner by walking the opposite corner, just to see if it worked. Later, thinking about it, I realized you could do the dance with six couples, and started working out how it would be done. I noticed that only three of the four corners of the small squares were occupied at any one time, and my dear husband Bob said, "Well, the last two couples go in the corners." "But, but..." I sputtered, "they won't be standing next to each other!" "Good observation," he said.

I started showing anyone who would listen about the double grand square. Kimmswick was great - all those smart people with nothing much better to do, thought it was pretty cool. ("Nah nah" to all of you who just think I'm nuts.) I got a little better at explaining it each time, and then I got challenged to animate it. I fired up Flash and had a good time, pushing little dots around the screen. Then I added noses and (slightly) better colors on another night.

And then, yesterday, miraculously, sixteen people walked through it twice, almost flawlessly.

I am so psyched.


Martha's Double Grand Square

For those of you who missed the calling party last night -- it was a great one. In addition to celebrating Kay's birthday, there were 16 of us there so we had the honor of being Martha's live salt and pepper shakers as she tried out the Double Grand Square (or as I like to think of it Martha's Great Grandsquare) with live dancers.

It works.