Calling your first contra dance
Find or make an opportunity to call
You can start selecting a dance before you have a prospect of calling,
but you need to find a place to call before you can become a caller.
- Look for an "open mike" evening in your area
- Look for a late night "open mike" session at a nearby dance camp
- Look for a callers' workshop session
- Ask about a "guest slot" at your local dance
- Organize a dance party in your living room or that of a freind
Select a dance
For your first few times calling,
I suggest that you stick to "easy" dances.
But what does that mean?
Characteristics of easy dances
I have a small selection of simple, reliable dances on
Contain few moves (have a low "piece count")
Feature long moves or sequences (down the hall and back, balance & swing)
Use the most familiar, simple moves (circle, long lines, allemande, do-si-do, swing)
Use repetition (circle left, then star left or circle left, circle right)
Have most moves start on major phrase boundaries
Have clear, unambiguous timing
Involve dancers equally ("symmetric" and "equal")
Maintain connections between dancers most of the time
Learn your selected dance
While you could call a dance by reading it directly from the card,
doing so makes it hard to watch the dancers.
It can also deaden your vocal presentation.
While some master callers insist that every caller
completely memorize every dance they ever want to call,
few succeed in doing so.
For now, you need to study the dance you have selected
sufficiently well so that
you know what every more in the dance involves,
know what words you want to use during the walk-through,
and know the words and timing you'll use after the music starts.
Note that these will usually be different sets of words!
Practice the timing of your calls
You should finish each call just before
the music tells the dancers to move.
For most easy dances,
this means that you finish the call on the last beats of one musical phrase,
so that the dancers will be ready to dance
on the first beat of the next phrase.
Practice the timing with recordings.
I find this more difficult than calling to dancers
because a recording provides no visual clues
that can help remind you what you need to do next.
This may work better for you than it does for me;
I am a visual learner.
Organize a set
Walk through the dance
Start the band and the dance
Call every move at first
Drop out some calls, then all calls
Decide when to end the dance and inform the band
Get feedback on how it went
Make sure you have at least one person
to give you honest feedback.
Listen to them.
You can try to clarify the comments you receive
by asking for specific clear observations
("What did you see?")
instead of opinions or corrections
("What you need to do is ____" or "That last dance sucked!")
so that you can form or correct your own opinions.
Call dances with more complicated timing
Call dances with more complicated moves
Call dances with more moves
Select and call more than one dance in an evening
Work more closely with your musicians to seelct appropriate tunes
What I do NOT cover here (or cover elsewhere)
- Creating and organizing dance cards
- Becoming a good dancer
- Getting booked to call
- Selecting a program of dances
- Matching tunes and dances
- Creating great medleys of dances
- Calling dances that don't fit 32-bar AABB tunes
- Leading a newcomers' session
- Managing sets on the floor
- Adapting to circumstances that arise unexpectedly
- Building your repertoire
- Using microphones and other sound equipment
- Finding a hall
- Supporting your community
- Shaping your community
- Evaluating a caller, possibly yourself
Return to my
contra calling resources page