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the teaching of dancing

08 Dec 17 - 10:58 PM (#3892911)
Subject: the teaching of dancing
From: leeneia

I'm looking for insights on the teaching of country dancing to young people, by which I mean from teenagers to about age 30.

Every two months I play music for English country dance, and it bothers me that so many people come once and never return. Our leaders teach about ten dances a session, and I believe that that is too much for learn. I remember how hard it was for me to learn a new dance (back when my knees were still good), and I think the new people are being driven away by the mental strain of it all.

Any suggestions from experienced teachers?

09 Dec 17 - 03:50 AM (#3892917)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: GUEST,FloraG

For youngsters start with a non partner dance. Try to make the dances as non sexist as possible in any talk through. eg tallest person on the left. Boys dance with boys in clubs these days - show no surprise if 2 boys dance with each other. It takes a bit of doing to rethink what language you would usually use - avoid ' man and lady'.
Demonstrate rather than try to explain if possible.
Try to make the dances progressive in that each dance has only one new bit. eg bridge of Athlone has a cast. The next dance could have a dip and dive and a cast.
Do dances at 2 speeds or gradually speed up- the second speed as fast as you think the dances can be sensibly danced. Youngsters can dance for longer than we oldies.
During the break give them enough time to put the date of the next dance in their phone
Finish with something like a 2 person down strip the willow ( no other moves ). One long set - with several couples going down at the same time. Expect laughter and mayhem.
Have fun.

09 Dec 17 - 03:53 AM (#3892918)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: BobL

Ten dances a session - sounds to me like a lot, but it depends on the length of the session and how active the dancers are. I regularly called 12 in an evening for keen dancers who, as soon as one dance finished, started forming up for the next. At most clubs it was more like 8 or 9, fewer if a "workshop" dance was on the programme. Whom are you teaching - evening classes, youth organisations, school groups?

It's the caller's job to see that people enjoy themselves, they won't come back if they don't, and learning will follow if they do. Choice of dances has a lot to do with it: standard ceilidh fare should be OK, plus some of the simpler historical dances just to show there's another side. No A-level dances with beginners!

Are you playing solo or in a band? The quality of the music is more important than you'd think, both musically (but you'll have to be the judge of that) and, with amplification, technically - at least these days we don't have to suffer cassettes or scratchy vinyl.

Wish you all the best.

09 Dec 17 - 05:37 AM (#3892933)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

not an experienced teacher, but a publicist and popularist.
My advice to newbies at our regular series in Stroud, Gloucs, England is:

"There are only two rules. 1) Smile 2) Keep moving."
They get it.

It helps that we have nationally known live bands and experienced callers, but these things vary. I do say listen to the caller, but my emphasis is on having fun, and that has to be conveyed. We do get a healthy crop of young people, and an age spread despite the demographic tending to those nearing (or teetering) towards retirement. We have a policy of asking anyone looking like they need a partner to get a few dances with the organisers. And, because this is my forte, I go round before and during the break and hand out flyers for the season. That is my opener for speaking to people. We don't have a Morris/song spot in the break because this is social dance and we want people to socialise, get their drinks, and anyway Morris dancers might represent 8 tickets we didn't sell. It is not the profit that worries us, though we aim to not make a loss (over a season). ie Sustainability.

If I get the time to mention to newbies I will point out that learning is like a language: You think in letters at the start, then you recognise words, and sentences start to be familiar. I am at the paragraph stage, but like all stories, that varies with the storyteller

And, as publicist, I do a fair amount of taking posters to willing shops, libraries, tourist offices etc in an area maybe 16 miles radius. And as festival goers may (ha) have noticed, at Festivals.

Maybe the man all dressed in red adds an aura that removes hints of stuffiness. Who knows, but it can't do any harm.

09 Dec 17 - 10:28 AM (#3892987)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: leeneia

The dances are on a Saturday night. Any big person (i.e., not children) can come, from complete beginner on up. Age 16 and up. The band is good.

The problem is that people come once and never come again. I think they are overwhelmed by too much to learn and the attendant embarrassment at being in the wrong place during a dance.

What are the names of easy English country dances? I have read that new dances are all hard because the easy moves have been used up.

09 Dec 17 - 12:07 PM (#3893017)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing

From the terminology I am guessing that you are American so your repertoire is what in the UK we would think of as "club" dances.

If you are teaching complete dances as opposed to teaching moves and calling dances then you have an underlying issue. Regular attendees will want new and more complex material while newcomers need it simple and made fun.

Fora is right about structuring the teaching but I would disagree on gender neutral calling. I have never seen it done well and is of course a micro agression to trans people by deliberately removing the recognition of gender from a pastime which has been structured around gender identity.

09 Dec 17 - 12:48 PM (#3893028)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

Horses Branle/Horses Brawle Horse Branle description @ Webfeet
Andy "Scarf" calling but the jumps should be pronounced. This, I am sorry, is the best YouTube video I can find that demonstrates it as a Ceilidh Dance, rather than a display dance. But it is 300 years old - but don't tell them until they have made it their own.

I champion it because it is easy, doesn't need a partner, can be done with 8, or 7, 6, 9 or 10.

Bands and callers don't like it because it is easy, but what better way to get a wallflower off the seat - a non partner dance. Boys will have to hold hands with boys but that can generate laughs. It involves a simple leftwards step & jumping several times which young people can do. Then there is a "do something unsual" bit which really gets their creative juices flowing. And finally a weave for one person, which is designed to allow someone to get closer to someone they want to show off to.

I love the tune too.

Another good one is Chapelloise (there are better tunes - but YouTube again). Strictly speaking it is French, and at any Fest Noz they would dance it at least twice. We might even dive in after the dance has started, you can time it easily.

And at any Fest Noz they will do Circassian Circle at least three times in an evening. The French make it progressive - "as male" dancers move anticlockwise to the next "as female" person and indeed they start with partner on tother side so that the first progression is to your partner. And they love clapping as the "other" goes in. But in the UK we do it once (if called), usually as the last dance. And clapping is infra-dig in the English Ceilidh. I don't care I muck about clapping and it always gets a laugh.

I would have thought the "Dashing White Sargeant" is simple enough. And "Gay Gordons" maybe if you have got them polkaing by then. But there is always the girl turning under man's arm instead. A bit like Chapelloise with its forward backward move.

One I would avoid is TAG written by Richard Whynott (?) an American Contra caller - a wonderful dance but takes some understanding.

Any dance that includes a "if there's time swing your partner" helps them take stock.

09 Dec 17 - 01:29 PM (#3893034)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: GUEST,Morris-ey

10 dances a session for beginners is far too many. 1 would be enough for absolute beginners to learn. I am not surprised few come back.

10 Dec 17 - 03:28 AM (#3893119)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: GUEST,FloraG

Sometimes I shorten dances - Just do 2 or 3 different moves.

Mr Guest - the gender neutral language is for beginner boys who sometimes do stand up together - and you don't want to make them feel they got it wrong. You may not need it. If you have more boys than girls you might introduce an all male morris dance.

But -I agree, fun and getting the next date in their phone is the main thing. If someone is willing, collect emails/texts and send out a reminder. How does your law stand on that?

Consider having a social time with an activity where they talk to people they have not met before eg People Bingo.

Do you charge? If so you might introduce some ' next entry free' coupons, with the dates of the next few printed on them, and give them out for a variety of things like ' first set on the dance floor' for a particular dance.   

I think a snowball would be a good dance to do. You can put in any move you like as long as the top couple end up at the bottom of the set at the end of each turn.
eg Ist couple turn right and left hand
   top 2 couples make a star
   top 3 dance in a circle
   top 4 forward and back
   top 5 cast and arch
Start again but couple 2 have to then remember what couple one did.


10 Dec 17 - 04:36 AM (#3893128)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

gender neutral calling comes with its own problems, but young people would cope with it better.

I find having to translate Lark and Raven (ie) quite a slowdown and I may know the dance anyway!

If there is an imbalance in genders avoid suggesting waltz hold. Cross hand hold works for same gender partners. Gay Gordons/Chapelloise have a similar asymmetric hold.

Have you considered the Breton farandol (snake) style dances? Andro (a bit more tricky) and Hanter Dro link left arm under, right over, choosing the right music is the difficult part. Wot I calls dancing to go to sleep by.

And there is a Swedish farandol style dance that just requires the right music, and lope along in a limp then the leader (you) get two to raise their arms and you thread the needle. you can thread as many needles as you want. It is a silly dance but I defy anyone to remain po faced.
come to think about it, any music and snake walking in time would be an English farandol. Needle threading, mandatory!

I would recommend using it early on to get people buzzing. Teaching it? NO! Tell them to hold hands in a snake and pull from the front.

And the Slang Polska (Swedish) couldn't be simpler. The way it was taught to me was two people walk around each other (in time to the music) but it is who takes the lead, which will change at will, and which direction, putting in a few twirls. It is the interplay and tussle for leadership and changes willy nilly that makes it fun. As a dance it is so simple. this Youtube video. is the more advanced version but you get the idea. The structure is free form. No holding hands, so gender neutral. Music choice best as Swedishish.

Maybe showing the right video would help to demonstrate. At English Ceilidh often you see a demonstration set. Video is an alternative.

10 Dec 17 - 09:40 PM (#3893262)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: leeneia

It's agreed, then, that 10 dances is too many.

Does anybody know what are the easy English country dances? Swedish, French, Bretan, etc are no help, I'm afraid.

Last time they tried a mixer to Indian Queen which was a complete bust. The dancers simply couldn't learn it, and it was cancelled in mid-dance. Embarrassing...

11 Dec 17 - 04:51 AM (#3893295)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: BobL

I grade dances in 4 levels of difficulty (and, incidentally, 4 energy levels), the easiest having figures that shouldn't actually need to be taught, e.g. forward & back, lines cross, stars, circles, back to back, cast, arch at the bottom and everyone else through. Such dances as:

Alabama Jubilee
Bridge of Athlone
Caerphilly March (fancy clapping)
Nottingham Swing
OXO Reel
Upon a Summer's Day (Playford, just to be different)

The next one up, I show my age by calling O-level. Here we meet figures like poussette, gatepost, figure-8, any kind of hey including Rights and Lefts. But once learned, they usually work automatically. Dances:

Arkansas Traveller (Rights & Lefts)
Do-Si-Do Square (Grand Chain)
Leaving of Liverpool (Gatepost)
Serpent Without Corners (Poussette)
Twelve Reel (Reel of 3)
Willow Tree (Strip the Willow)

The other two are A-level, which need a bit of technique to make them work, e.g. by arriving in the right place at the right time, and Brainbender, which speaks for itself. Neither are normal Barn Dance fare.

Good publications are the Community Dances Manual from EFDSS, and Hugh Stewart's English Country Dance Club Book. I'd also recommend Norfolk Capers by the late Peggy Hazell, who had a remarkable ability to compose interesting easy dances. If you need calls for any I've listed, please feel free to PM me.

11 Dec 17 - 04:51 AM (#3893296)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

Circassian Circle is English. Horses Brawle has been English since 1571 - its in the EDM, though we now dance it in a Horseshoe and was re-written by Eddie Upton and he called it "City Brawl". Simpler than that you have to think Farandol (snake) which is also English.

John Chapman's Clopton Bridge (hornpipe stepping is not entirely necessary) - it is the bridge in Stratford upon Avon.

Mike Baraclough's Country Bumpkin if they can get the U shaped grand chain.

Stoke GoldingCountry Dance if they can strip the willow. Strips are unphrazed so sets will be going at different times. This is normal.

There are many versions of the Virginia Reel and one can be seen in "Gone with the Wind". It can't hurt to point out some of the history. People take different things from stuff. You think it is a dance, some think it is "old", some like the music, some like the socialising. It all counts.

11 Dec 17 - 07:18 AM (#3893306)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

There is another dance called Snowball.
Starts small and grows. Could be just the caller and 3 other people on the floor, or the caller could ask for circles of 4 people. Star Rh & L hand, Circle L & R, Swing someone for 8 bars, promenade that new(?) partner anywhere for 8 bars to find another 2 people (either sitting down or on the dance floor).
The caller should stress that you can join in at any time and that the circle can contain 2, 6, 5, etc as well as 4 to avoid leaving people out.
The caller may vary the call if people have been warned to keep listening. Circle left, star right, star left, circle R, swing, promenade and find x couples to make a circle of x+1. Maybe finishing in one big ring with a big circle L & R, into the middle & back twice.

11 Dec 17 - 07:50 AM (#3893318)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller is a good site with instructions for what the English call Ceilidh or Barn dances. Also the Community Dance Manuals mentioned by BobL

Do you have a regular core attending as well as the floating newcomers?
If so it is important not to patronise or bore them.

Would it be possible to suggest - dance one, rest one for the beginners. With the between dances for 'those who've been before' so that more interesting dances can be learnt.

Most of the CDM dances use a few figures arranged in different orders so things build.
And in the 'rest one' dances you could tell people to watch the e.g. Ladies Chain because they will need to dance it next. Then call a dance where that is the only new figure.

11 Dec 17 - 09:47 AM (#3893335)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: leeneia

Thanks for the help. And I like the dance- one, rest-one idea for beginners.

Question - is it possible to dance a dance to any tune, as long as the number of measures and repeats remains the same? I think it would be fun to teach a new dance, dance two others, then repeat the first dance with new music. It would give the brain a rest.

I've been thinking about the differences between these young people and me. The young people want to learn and to socialize, but up till now their free time has been spent glued to a phone. And they have probably never memorized anything. Now they are being asked to make moves, remember the order, be in the right place at the right time, and look good, all at once.

A few days ago, the DH and I were at a red light in front of a major hospital. A woman about 25 years old stepped into the cross walk just as the light turned against her. She jay-walked across four lanes, glued to her phone, and a small black car almost hit her. The car started up when the light turned green, then the driver slammed on the brakes as she stepped in front of him. I saw the car lurch and jerk. And she never even noticed!

That's the kind of mind we might have to work with.

11 Dec 17 - 09:58 AM (#3893341)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

Speaking only from experience in England. There are several types of dance setting and several types of dance.
1)Ceilidh / barn dances at parties and fundraisers, for absolute beginners.
2)Ceilidh series and clubs for regular dancers + newcomers (often monthly for part of the year)
3)Dance clubs where new members are welcome (and helped to learn, but will need to come for a while to get the hang of things).
At (3) there will be a mix of dances; ceilidh, squares, contra. and Playford, gentle or lively (depending on average age!), easy or harder (depending on average ability / experience)
At 2 things will be more lively, at 1 from simple to very simple (depending if they are once a year or never before dancers) and usually fairly lively depending on age (with some gentle ones too). Both mostly English (Irish, Scottish) ceilidh (community) dances maybe an American Square.

A) Dances in a circle or sets of 3/4/5/6 couples (ending with 1st couple at the bottom, the rest renumber) with simple figures (stars, circles, forward & back, cross over, galop down, arch, cast, R hand turn etc Do-c-edo)
B) as A with interesting figures (dip & dive, Strip the willow) that are fun and give a sense of achievement. If the caller tells the dancers where they need to finish and the other dancers don't insist on things being exactly right the dance carries on fine.
(A) & (B) are useful at (1) & (2)
C) Duple minor progressive longways dances. Where you dance in a long set but also in rings of 4. 1st couple starts above the 2s but ends below them (after 32?bars) then dances with the next. Most callers for (1) and many for(2) avoid these
D) harder figures like Right & Left through, ladies chain. Fine for (2) but at (1) people would need too much thinking time in the dance and teaching time unless they were mostly people who knew.
D) Playford dances with 3 introductions then a chorus. Not usually danced in UK at (1) or (2), but OK once you realise that the introductions are regular.
E, F G...
H) unforgiving dances with a lot of moves in of a few bars each e.g.half ladies chain, half hey, half right & left etc and no 'thinking music'
I) unforgiving dances where if one person get into the wrong place you are lost, and the others can't help. e.g. Trip to Bavaria, Papplewick Panic.
x) fun dances where you can have a laugh if you go wrong
Y) silly dances. Need to gauge the crowd, sometimes breaks the ice at (1), sometimes would put people off.
z) Change partner dances. Useful to get experienced and beginners dancing together, if people would be willing to keep that partner for the next dance.

11 Dec 17 - 10:14 AM (#3893347)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

Ah, just seen your post.
Yes for most Ceilidh / barn dances the caller will just ask for the kind of tune e.g. any 48 bar jig, any 32 bar reel or jig. Some have their 'own'usual tune but even if the band starts with that they often play a set of tunes (twice or 3 times each, then back to the top)
Some tunes work better than others, e.g. the Saint Bernard Waltz has a tune of the same name but any waltz with a long note at the end of bar 4 (& 16) works for the 2 stamps (after 3 chasees); I have to find out if the rest of the set also works.

Playford dances now are usually danced to there own tune but historically publishers just put a set of instructions to a popular tune of the time and called it by the name of the tune. So you get several sets of instructions for the same name (Tom Jones) and several names & tunes for the same sets of figures.
Cecil Sharp then published some of Playfords dances with tunes (also from Playford) that he thought superior (The Bishop to tune Miss Dolland's Delight).
So why shouldn't you? Maybe tell people which tune it is usually danced to.

11 Dec 17 - 10:16 AM (#3893348)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

I'm not convinced it's just young people who are absent minded. I have many senior moments.

11 Dec 17 - 03:40 PM (#3893399)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: BobL

With regard to "any tune", the Common Metre of ECD is a 32-bar jig or reel arranged as 4 "lines" of 8 bars each. Other (less) common formats are 40 and 48 bars (5x8 & 6x8). Many dances - especially American Contras - aren't fussy in the least what music they are danced to, as long as it fits. Other dances do seem prefer particular tunes, especially if they were originally composed for them. Some dance/tune associations, though, are nothing more than long-established custom.

I think it's a good idea to stick to these associations, partly because of "conditioned recall": it's easier to remember things in the circumstances under which you learned them (which is why a lot of Morris sides practise at pubs, or so they claim). Remembering a dance is thus helped by hearing the same music every time. Incidentally I was once in a display side which made a point of occasionally practising dances to "wrong" tunes, in order to disable dancers' autopilots so they had to think. Newcastle to a Steeleye Span instrumental, anyone?

11 Dec 17 - 04:28 PM (#3893404)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Tattie Bogle

For people who are complete novices, a few moments just spent teaching the basic steps may pay dividends: ideally this should be done at a class BEFORE you get to a ceilidh, but if that hasn't happened, then a few minutes at an actual ceilidh may help. Some people will just walk everything anyway, but at least if they do it in time to the music, that's not so bad!
And use EXTREMELY simple language, demonstrating what you mean before launching into a dance: no fancy dance terminology if they are newbies: it really is incredible what strange interpretations some people will put on even your simplest instructions! Never assume.....!

12 Dec 17 - 04:23 PM (#3893607)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Steve Gardham

You haven't really told us whether you are a dancer yourself or not. We are told you are a musician, fair enough, but I would say you are biting off rather a lot trying to teach others to dance or even enjoy a dance if you are not an experienced dancer yourself.

If this is the case I certainly admire your pluck.

13 Dec 17 - 04:09 AM (#3893653)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

If Leeneia dances Contra or Irish Set, it would serve.

The nomenclature differs. Strip the Willow, and Dip & Dive are rare to the point of absence with Contra & Irish Set.

It would take a translation list. These might be approx equivalents.

EC ~= Contra ~= Irish set

polka around ~= ? ~= House (around)
turn ~= allemende ~= high turn
basket ~= ? ~= Christmas
Star ~= Star ~= wheel
Ladies Chain ~= Ladies Chain ~= Chain
Grand Chain ~= Grand Chain ~= Grand Chain
Back to Back ~= Dosi Doh ~= Back to Back
Left & Right Through ~= multiple descriptions ~= Square
Kerry Square ~= ? ~= Body
Swing ~= Swing ~= Swing

Plus a few Faux amis

an EC circle is nearly always circle left/right, in Irish is is almost never left or right, usually in and out. Contra has a (Grand) Square the Set which Irish has adopted but is so new its name escapes them. Not seen it in EC and suicide to do it in Barn Dances.

For EC I would point to Webfeet for written instructions, mainly because Mr Webfeet is an excellent dancer, a highly experienced IT man and thinks his website through from the dancers and callers perspective and lists a fair number of dances. His web-bot garners events from all over the UK, he lives in Austria! The website is a sort of substitute because he only gets back to the UK about twice a year.

Another tip is demonstration sets. If you have a set that you think know the dance, use them to show the moves as well as a walk through.

NOW (being impishly contentious)

Is the plural of walk through:
walks through or
walk throughs

Given the nature of the American (English) spellchecker in FireFox - the second one has a red line through throughs!

13 Dec 17 - 07:22 AM (#3893689)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: GUEST,Malcolm Storey

Nice to see a thread on dance.

Over the years I / we have been mainly facilitaters of dance although we both enjoyed dancing when we were younger and less involved in wider things.

We have started again (in our seventies) by getting to the monthly sessions on Sunday evening in York when we can.

Teaching from the off is always going to be difficult and one of the best at it is Madeleine Smith / Hollis but she is in our age range and not as active as she once was.

The one move per dance method is certainly the most productive. More than ten type of dances in an evening is probably a little too adventurous - especially when keeping newcomers within some sort of comfort zone.

Perhaps seven or so progressive dances and then two or three at the end suitable to what you have taught. Make a promise that all will be welcome at the next session where what they have learnt can be added to - and now that they are experts they can help with any newcomers!

As Mr Red and we say - keep dancing.

13 Dec 17 - 05:40 PM (#3893837)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: leeneia

No, I don't dance anymore - knees won't let me. I'm looking for ideas to pass on tactfully to our callers because far too many people come once and are never seen again. I think they are overwhelmed and embarrassed and we need to develop better teaching methods.

13 Dec 17 - 09:04 PM (#3893858)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Tattie Bogle

Well, Leeneia, it does help enormously if you are, or ever were, a dancer, as you'll the know what is required, as Steve G suggested in his most recent post, and whether you can still dance or not. Within the 2 bands I play with, we have some very talented musicians, but not all of them actually understand the format of how a dance is arranged, e.g. how many bars before you change tunes, how many bars fit one run of the dance (or even how many bars in each tune!!) Those who DO understand all this usually are dancers themselves and know how the respective dances go.
My background is having a Scottish mother, who taught Scottish Country Dance sets to a mix of Scottish ex-pats in England and anyone else who wanted to learn, from when I was maybe about 6 or 7 years old. (Good time to learn while the brain cells are not starting to die off!) Now, after 30 + years back in Scotland, (and 50+ years older!) I play in 2 Scottish Ceilidh bands. In my mother's day, callers were unheard of, as you'd have been going to classes long before " the big dance" to learn all the moves. And if you were still clueless on the big night, one of my Ma's pals would literally push you through it! But now we have callers for most Scottish ceilidhs, tho maybe not for Royal Scottish Country Dance Society clubs, where, as in my mother's day, they will have learned the dances at club nights beforehand.
And finally, you may know a particular dance inside-out,upside-down, and like the back of your hand when you are dancing it yourself, but it's entirely another "can o' worms" trying to tell others how to do it. Apart from anything else, you've always got to be a couple of bars ahead of the next move.

14 Dec 17 - 03:40 AM (#3893894)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

One thing that is not obvious is the effect of the person that grabs or pushes a learner. Best to ask for people who know to desist. Pointing is the best way.

The act of more than a gentle contact is a danger signal. We are hard-wired to react to danger with a complete wipe of our short-term memory. So all our logic and reasoning in trying to make sense of the last 7 seconds and what we put in there as relevant has no data, and we fill it with attention to the moment. Loud bangs do the same.

If it happens in a walk through then we aren't registering what the caller says. Ditto talking at this time.

A lot of callers explain the move during the walk through but precis it with a simple phrase in the dance. eg there are dances where 2 couples star and the outer two do a grand chain around. The short form usually becomes maypole.

Consistency of jargon is essential. When learning we need the same cues. When I started Irish Set it was confusing but imagine going to the Irish Tent at a French Festival and having to translate from the French word to the Irish to the ECeilidh move! It was a disaster. The caller was Irish so it was his second language (or maybe third!).

I noticed a couple of things in the English Tent: They were so enthusiastic, dare I say mad, even parents and children, and they dance sober. And they knew the dances pretty well, so much so their local flavours had some interesting variations eg Snowball (?) the bottom couples did the 1, 2 3, etc couple moves in reverse as the tops did their moves. Back to entusiasm they wanted to move all the time.
For learners it is actually better to have some standing around time to observe and digest.

I just spotted Orcadian Strip the Willow. In ECeilidh we start the strip from about every 5/6 couples because with longways sets there would otherwise be a lot of standing around at the start. Scottish calling wouldn't call for that. But either way it is a simple enough dance once people have the idea of stripping. And it can get frantic if the music speeds up. Scottish does call for that! Young people love it. And Stripping is unphrased so you can't loose your place. If you want to teach Stripping, OStW is ideal.

14 Dec 17 - 09:53 AM (#3893961)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

The most difficult part of Orcadian SW is avoiding everyone ending up in a heap at the bottom of the room.

If Mr Red means the figure where the caller says 'Sides face, Grand Square' how about this from 1665? , OK it doesn't reverse directions.

14 Dec 17 - 10:27 AM (#3893971)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: leeneia

Mr. Red, that's good to know, though I have never seen anyone push or grab a learner at one of our dances. I was pushed myself, once, long ago, but the woman who did it was an acknowledged kook, and people sympathized with me.

When I folk-danced, we met once a month. It took a couple years for the brain pathways which remember dances to develop. I fear that ourcallers, who have been dancing for decades, have forgotten the period in their lives when they struggled to remember the moves of a dance.

14 Dec 17 - 01:33 PM (#3893989)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Tattie Bogle

I was certainly not advocating the push-around technique that my Mum's pal used to use so frequently all those years ago, far from it, but just saying that that what she (unfotunately) used to do!

As part of the walk-through, it can be invaluable to have one or two experiemced couples of dancers to demonstrate certain figures to lesser mortals, on the basis of "actions speak louder than words", and indeed may save many words!

In Scottish ceilidh, we very often have Orcadian Strip the Willow as the final dance befire Auld Lang Syne, and we usually get the second couple to start dancing as soon as the original top couple have reached the third or fourth couple down the set, so you will have, in a very long set, possibly 6 or seven couples dancing before very long. (But not quite the same as Mr Red's description, where I think he means that he gets couples further down the lin dancing from the outset: some of our dancers will do that spontaneously anyway). No heap at the bottom either, as we tell people to keep moving up.
We will often have done a standard 4-couple Strip the Willow during the earlier part of the evening, and the easy rule, "right hand to your partner, left to anyone else" may help, except for those who don't know their right from left!

14 Dec 17 - 05:40 PM (#3894021)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

The thing about Orcadian StW is that there is essentially only one move repeated for as long as the line. In terms of assimilating information and sequence you can't get simpler. And it comes in handy for future dances with StW in them.

And inevitably some beginners get out of phase with their partner and the sequence goes one to couple 3 and the other goes to couple 4 etc all down the line. That just adds to the humour. And there are variations more bizarre to be seen.

Telling them to move "up" is necessary because they are concentrating on the StW not the set (per se).

15 Dec 17 - 03:54 PM (#3894190)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: leeneia

Don't worry, Tattie Bogle, I understood what you meant. All is copasetic.

About knowing right from left: once I started a thread that asked people if they knew instantly which was their right foot and which was their left. About twenty people responded, and only one person had that instant awareness. That person was probably the born dancer of the crowd.

Once I suggested that our callers have an experienced couple demonstrate the moves, but I was rebuffed. Told that the learners must learn by listening. (Why, I wonder.) But now I see that sometimes complicated moves by are being demonstrated. I've decided to say nothing further and see if things keep going my way.

Thanks for the encouragement, the dance names, and the suggestions.

Now I'll go on YouTube and watch Strip the Willow.

15 Dec 17 - 04:39 PM (#3894195)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: GUEST,Tongue Firmly in Cheek

Sid Kipper used to mention a Norfolk dance called the Dashing White Privates that featured a move called Strip the Widow!

Not sure how that would help your cause but it might raise a smile!

16 Dec 17 - 04:42 PM (#3894237)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Steve Gardham

I was a dance caller for many years and retired about 15 years ago. I was doing 2-3 dances a week for about 30 years mainly to non dancers, i.e., the general public. Before that I was a band musician and a demonstration/competition dancer. Throughout all my calling I only had a regular repertoire of about 25 simple but varied dances. I have seen so-called experienced callers trying to call a complex dance to beginners and taking up the time of about 4 dances and the dancers still making a mess of it. I would only include a movement like strip the willow if I had a set of dancers to demonstrate or in extreme cases where I was vehemently pressed to do so. Actually you only need 1 couple with 3 other volunteer couples to demonstrate how it works. With couple dances it saved a lot of time if I found a partner and demonstrated.

Here's a list of dances that I used regularly for 30 years and people always came back.

I want to be near you
Swedish masquerade
Bridge of Athlone
Cumberland Square 8
Nottingham Swing
Gay Gordons
Oxo Reel
Flowers of May
Circle Waltz
Drops of Brandy
Pat-a-cake Polka
Silly Threesome
Texas Schottische
Circassian Circle
Hokey Cokey
and a few of my own.

Hope this is helpful.

16 Dec 17 - 05:11 PM (#3894240)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Tattie Bogle

Sid Kipper alos parodies "Lord of the Dance" with his "Bored of the Dance" - very funny, and in the DT.

Our standard list of ceilidh dances in Scotland differ a bit from your list, Steve, and that's before you get to all the many (and often more complicated) Royal Scottish Country Dance Society ones. A typical list (from which we'll not necessarily get them all in!) would include:

Gay Gordons (maybe second time in second half with different tunes)
Dashing White Sergeant
Canadian Barn Dance
Strip the Willow (4-couple version)
St Bernard's Waltz
Virginia Reel
Circassian Circle
Haymakers' Jig
Pride of Erin Waltz
Flying Scotsman (4 couple sets)
Britannia Two-Step
Eightsome Reel
Scottish/Gaelic Waltz Set
Orcadian Strip the Willow
Auld Lang Syne followed by 'We're No Awa Tae Bide Awa"

The Eightsome Reel is the one that often gets dropped because of time/teaching constraints: it takes a while to teach it to novices and is quite a long dance too. On the other hand, if we don't put it on the list it's sod's law it will get requested!

We also do Swedish Masquerade: more tricky for the band than the dancers in getting the time changes all kept together! And of family dances with kids present, Hokey Cokey and Grand Old Duke of York.

17 Dec 17 - 05:27 AM (#3894292)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

I'll stick my tongue out at Guest and mention a Cheshire caller Reg Holmes who accurately described Str t W as "Men go to the Ladies and ladies go to the Gents". Does that have the same meaning in the US?

At family ceilidhsI call Swedish M as 'Trip to the Zoo' with regal lions, swaying elephants and cheeky monkeys.

But I think you have to judge the crowd. Yes at a drunken Wedding stick to the simple and a few stupid ones. But if you can see (by the way they line up for the first dance usually) that a good proportion have some idea then mix in something interesting. "This is the one with the Strip the willow" might get people onto the floor who haven't bothered all evening. With instructions to tolerate alternative versions (deliberate or accidental) Then a simple one to follow if they found that hard.

17 Dec 17 - 06:00 AM (#3894301)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Tattie Bogle

Ha-ha Mo! Love the lavatorial humour!

However, there seems to be an increasing trend, especially at ceilidhs with younger people involved, to go "gender free". Instructions that mention men and ladies, boys and girls will not work for the dance when you have most of the boys partnering boys and girls dancing with girls!

Yes, and certain dance names will get people who have sat around most of the night on to the floor, with a big "Oh yes, got to do this one". Some tunes have the same effect, e.g. Atholl Highlanders, Turkey in the Straw.

17 Dec 17 - 06:11 PM (#3894430)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

Most easy ceilidh dances are the same whichever side of the set you start. I might ask 'couples with 1 man, 1 woman' to put the man on the inside circle if I was calling a 'promenade and move on to the next'.And if they have naturally been lining up man facing woman it makes a Strip easier to have all the men on the same side. At a family ceilidh it's gender free or 'big one twirl the smaller one under your arm'.

18 Dec 17 - 03:51 AM (#3894462)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: BobL

Leeneia, the person who said that "learners must learn by listening" was talking out of the back of their neck. A picture is worth a thousand words. Although listening to the music is important.

I'll remember that "ladies to the gents" instruction for future use. Another in the same vein concerns 3-couple dances such as Fandango (popular but definitely not entry-level) where the working couple is in middle place and move to opposite ends. More often than not the rule is "skirts up, trousers down".

Incidentally, in this day and age shouldn't Gay Gordons be for same-sex couples?

18 Dec 17 - 04:28 AM (#3894467)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

I invariably say "the music will inform your feet".

It may not, but at least they have the mechanism. We have a regular dancer, he is on the committee of our series and he organises Contra. His feet never seem to match the rhythm, but he is enjoying it. So what do I know?

When I was a lad, any community dance night/wedding/birthday included the St Bernards Waltz and the Gay Gordons plus the usual Hokey Cokey (Pokey) and others I don't remember like maybe the Valeta.

I would expect the Gay Gordons to have fallen out of favour from associations. And on a Pedants' Point:
given the nature of the word gay how recent is the name of the dance? Gay has been associated unfavourably with sexuality since, maybe, time immemorial, but heterosexually in bygone days. Would they have used the word in polite company then?

18 Dec 17 - 05:28 AM (#3894474)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Tattie Bogle

The "Gay Gordons" refers to the Gordon Highlanders regiment which was formed in 1881 by the merging of 2 other regiments, and "gay" in this context of course means bright, strong, happy but not the modern meaning! The dance was invented late 19th Century, and is usually played to 2/4 and/ or 4/4 marches, but a lot of Scottish ceilidh bands like to give the dance an extra kick by switching to a dotted 6/8 march halfway through, such as "Cock o' the North" - the regimental march of The Gordon Highlanders. (And yes, it was a dotted 6/8 march originally, before it got turned into a 6/8 jig, along with other 6/8 marches such as Atholl Highlanders.)
We've got more sense than to let it fall out of favour, especially with all that history behind it: very often the first dance of any ceilidh in Scotland, and expected to be so.

I also remember (now thread drifting) one of the songs Hamish Imlach used to sing (think he wrote it?) : "I was a gay spark in my time" - again meaning happy, carefree.

18 Dec 17 - 06:47 AM (#3894480)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Will Fly

We start the Gay Gordons off with "Cock o' the north", then switch to "Scotland the Brave" halfway through, with the change giving the dance a musical "lift".

I've never danced in a celidh in my life (I was a keen jiver many years ago!), but watching dancers and listening to good callers while playing in a ceilidh band for the last ten years or so has certainly taught me the moves.

18 Dec 17 - 09:43 AM (#3894506)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: GUEST,Ebor Fiddler

One thing that we do at one or two club dances I frequent is to split couples, if both are learners, for a few dances at least each dances with an experienced dancer and we make new friends. Needless to say, don't pair either of them with Miss Grumpy Who-knows-everything!

18 Dec 17 - 04:39 PM (#3894586)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Tattie Bogle

Ebor, I take that personally!

Can't resist posting this as it's come up on another concurrent thread. How it's done in Scotland again! (Hope I'm not boring you! And all those question-marks should be either apostrophes or quote marks!)

ROOM FUR US A? IN THE DANCE                                Ian Davison
Main Tune: Back O? Bennachie
(other common ceilidh tunes played between chorus and next verse)

Wi? Phil oan the boax an? Aly on the fiddle,
We birl at the tap an? we dash doon the middle,
An?, ?Whit she sees in him is a riddle?,
But there?s room fur us a? in the dance.

1.        There?s some o? us no even startit yet,
             An? some of us are up fur every set,
                 An? some o? the faces shine wi? sweat,
             An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.                                Chorus

2.        They?re a? in noo, wi? the Sergeant Dashin?,
             An? the elbows up, an? the partners clashin?,
                 An? the blood is up an? the eyes are flashin?,
             An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.                                Chorus

3.        The cry goes up fur Strip the Willow,
             The ties are aff, the dresses billow,
An? ah widnae mind her tae share ma pillow,
An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.                                Chorus

4.        Then airm-n-airm in rows we?re headin?,
                Steppin? it oot fur Mairi?s Weddin?,
                 An? some?ll no miss the weight they?re sheddin?.
             An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.                                Chorus

5.        Wi the Quarrie?s jig an? Autumn in Appin,
             The feet are gauin? an? the hands are clappin?,
                 An? the De?il knaws whit next?ll happen,
             An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.                                Chorus

6.        By the Duke O? Perth and the Eightsome Reel,
             Ye?d think we a? hud springs in oor heels,
                 An? a wee quick cuddle or a kiss we?ll steal,
             An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.                                Chorus

7.        Wi? the Hamilton Rant and the Kashmir shawl,
             Ye kin hairdly hear the caller?s calls,
                 Fur the din that?s echoin? aff the wa?s,
             An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.                                 Chorus

8. (Slower) But noo it?s time fur Toddlin? Hame,
                   An? maist o? the people are limpin? lame,
                       An? quite a few folk are lyin? there maimed,
                   An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.                               Chorus (A Tempo)

19 Dec 17 - 07:40 AM (#3894660)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

An? a wee quick cuddle or a kiss we?ll steal,
             An? there?s room fur us a? in the dance.         

have to be careful with cuddle nowadays, though the mock-flirtation is something I enjoy about dancing. Maybe I should be careful now I am alone, in case people think I'm a predatory old woman.

20 Dec 17 - 04:14 AM (#3894826)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

do you pre-date me?

(38 if you believe Fakebook)

20 Dec 17 - 05:27 AM (#3894834)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

Not telling. But I gave up going to ceilidhs at 72. Is this a pre-dating site?

20 Dec 17 - 12:19 PM (#3894932)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mysha


I have no idea about how specific styles of dancing influence what is needed to have a good time and want to come back. But:

- Invite people to come back, both on paper and as the speaker;
- Have a prominent list of when the events are;
- Tell people when the next event will be;
- Offer the possibility to get on a mailing list for announcements;
- Make sure there's always a special (e.g. themed) event on the list.

- Whatever you do, get people on the floor:
-- Do whatever simple dance you can as a snow ball (Works great on festive occasions.);
-- Have a specific group invite people to the floor - Women, men, those wearing [Interestingly, limiting who can take the initiative will raise the number of people on the floor.];
-- Triple dance: First demonstration group, second invite new partners, third anyone else who wants join in.

- Don't squeeze in all you can fit:
-- Have dances repeat instead, so they'll be familiar.
-- Give people time to breathe;
-- Mention the level of the dance. Fiendishly fast and difficult to so simple the only one who can't dance it is the wall;
-- Remember people are rarely there to dance, but usually are there to have a good time;

- Make sure there's always some fruit still out of reach.
-- Don't dumb down the entire evening to the point where there's no reason to come back;
-- Cater for the most experienced for at least one dance;
-- Occasionally do one-off-s, and make sure to announce them as special.

My turn for a question:
- How could someone not know right foot from left foot?


23 Dec 17 - 06:40 AM (#3895407)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

Well I know my right foot from my left - but sometimes I have to think about which is which. (I remember having to imagine holding a knife & fork).

"-- Remember people are rarely there to dance, but usually are there to have a good time;

- Make sure there's always some fruit still out of reach.
-- Don't dumb down the entire evening to the point where there's no reason to come back;"

Very true.

23 Dec 17 - 08:27 PM (#3895562)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mysha


Thanks Mo. It would never have occurred to me that someone might not know that immediately. Is this valid for left and right hand as well?
To me, left and right are as natural as front, back, up, and down. But Leeneia is right, of course: I dance.


24 Dec 17 - 01:46 AM (#3895580)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: GUEST,Malcolm Storey

Left foot from right!

Now that is a good question. Many years ago we (local committee) organised a mixed day to coincide with some EFDSS anniversary.

People were encouraged to try something new and I decided to give rapper a go.

The people who had the most problems over left and right were the ones from the local serious dance group who had been doing complicated Playford and the like for years. We (and they) could only surmise that they had been enjoying the same dances so long that they operated on automatic pilot.

It was good fun though and nobody lost any bits.

24 Dec 17 - 07:21 AM (#3895631)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mr Red

Auto pilot

Yea how many times do you get the dance that goes: NO circle right, and star right there is a logic there but circle right first? And not circle 'tother way next?

IMNSHO this is not the way to treat beginner. OK we ceilidhnauts get a little irked that our own anticipation was triggered by experience rather than listening/short term memory. But for beginners you are laying down those long term memories and dances that muck about with that don't help them.

Though it is not the be-all and end-all. Getting it right gives pleasure. And beginners need that lift.

31 Dec 17 - 11:27 AM (#3896620)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

I think my right left confusion might be because I am not strongly right-handed. Don't know if I would have been left handed if I hadn't been taught otherwise or if I'm just ambiclumsy. But if I'm painting a wall (say) I use either hand and avoid moving the ladder so often.
A lot of children write numbers back to front 15 instead of 51 or the 5 reversed.

If you hold up your left hand - palm away from you the thumb & fingers make a letter L.

31 Dec 17 - 11:39 AM (#3896622)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

Mr Red. The unexpected call is part of the game in modern American squares.
"two ladies ch...change your minds"
I see your point about beginners, they wouldn't be dancing that kind of square without a series of lessons.

At clubs that dance a mix and have a mix of abilities it's not something I've thought about, but maybe if callers should give a warning 'this dance is unusual because ...' I wouldn't stop calling Bucksaw Reel aka Becket Reel , but I usually warn people to squeeze their partners L hand after the R&L through, to remind each other that the stars are L then R (for a good reason, as it flows into the next turn)

31 Dec 17 - 02:13 PM (#3896636)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: GUEST,Sheila

There are many wonderful suggestions for children of all ages in books by Martha Chrisman Riley, Marion Rose, Peter and Mary Alice Amidon (especially "Chimes of Dunkirk"). Novice adults appreciate learning something easily grasped and able to execute with satisfaction. For international dancing, you can't go wrong with materials by Sanna Longden.
Good luck. Sheila in NY

02 Jan 18 - 01:53 PM (#3896957)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: CupOfTea

I've been playing for English Country dance and contra for a dozen years, with as many callers, and with different mixes of novice/experienced dancers. When I was dancing, I very much enjoyed the tune & dance being paired consistently; the tune giving my memory a nudge to what move I was to do was a big reason I fell in love with dancing English.

The best callers do arrange their program so that moves are introduced one at a time in each dance. Most callers want to vary their programs, and have new dances each time, seldom repeating. Taken to the extreme, this makes only the caller and the most experienced dancers happy. Familiarity is a GOOD thing.

Starting the evening with the most basic dances, a very detailed run-through, with demonstrations of moves by experienced dancers, consistent vocabulary, and CHECKING to see if everyone has "got" it before starting the music gives the novices more confidence. Never assume everyone knows what the caller means. Making a point of having experienced dancers ask new folks to dance is the best way to build a dance community. I've seen people turned off by dance snobs who will ONLY ask known, good dancers to partner them. It becomes obvious very quickly who these people are. Varying the pace, and letting people know what sort of dance it is before they form up - graceful waltz - fast progression - some standing about - sprightly jig.   

In recent years, I've been playing for a group of older dancers, and their issues include memory, direction, dizziness, though most have been dancing for years. We play more slowly, and many of the dances are modified by our experienced caller (setting instead of turning for folks who get dizzy). Her most encouraging words are "if anyone messes up, it's the caller's fault- it's always the caller's fault" because she thinks her job is to make sure everyone has a good time.

Some of the dances I think of as basic:
Juice of Barley

Dances with great flow - and yes, I'm partial to waltzes.
Hole in the Wall
Duke of Kent
Waterfall Waltz

Wish I could remember more, but I've been off the dance floor too long, and don't have the memory of moves that caller friends do. Best of luck with growing your dance community.

Joanne in Cleveland (Toad in the Hole, Consensus & Mud in Yer Eye bands)

03 Jan 18 - 04:45 AM (#3897049)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: BobL

Newcastle? Basic??? I've always thought of it as an A-level milestone. I have to admit I don't call it much these days: Sharp's version is the one everybody knows but it's flawed, as later interpretations show.

I'm not knocking Sharp BTW, I think he did an absolutely brilliant job with what he had available, but he was a pioneer, and a lot more material has come to light since his time. And we ourselves also have the benefit of 100 years of dance experience and 50 of dance composition.

03 Jan 18 - 09:58 AM (#3897132)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: Mo the caller

Newcastle, like Fandango was certainly a 'core' dance 30 years ago. When I started calling I was more ambitious than I am now (or maybe just more ambitious than my ability to call clearly), and I soon learnt that if I'd called a 'hard one' and then put the tape on for Fandango there would be a sigh of relief and people would form 3 couple sets and dance with very little calling needed. At our club now neither are as well known. And they are not as easy for beginners as some.
Yes Joanne, our club sounds a bit like yours re age.

I have found that some of the Contra dances with the best 'flow' are dizzy-making. All the flow is clockwise!

As well as "it's always the callers fault", my other motto is "when in doubt, cheat" and our members might set instead of turning single, or do a half turn instead of one and a half. Whatever they need. As dancers gain experience they learn how to miss bits out to get back into time with the music and be in the right place to continue.

04 Jan 18 - 09:52 AM (#3897301)
Subject: RE: the teaching of dancing
From: CupOfTea

Re: Newcastle

BobL & Moe,

I realized after I posted the above, that the easy Newcastle I had in mind is actually a folk-processed dance that our caller has turned into a simple circle mixer & not sure how closely the moves correspond to the original. I'll see if I can get the calls from her this weekend, before she goes off on a photo safari.

Joanne in Siberia on the Heights