Should you call dances?

This page contains material intended for contra dancers thinking about starting to call dances. It contains many opinions and thoughts. Not everyone will agree with all that it says. However, I hope that it provokes you to think, and to have reasons to agree or disagree with what I say.

I write for potential callers of contra dances, not because other forms of dance or calling are inferior, but because I don't know them well enough to teach or write material about them. If you find that you truly, deeply love old-time square dances (for example), please find someone to help you learn to call them. We need variety and choices, not uniformity.

Job description for a caller

A caller's job is to help everyone have a good time. People come to a contra dance with the tacit agreement that paying attention to a caller (you!) will help everyone have fun together more easily and quickly than having doing something else. Doing a good job calling an evening of dances is much more than "turn up, open your box of cards, and away you go." A good caller will

Become a good, solid dancer

Before considering calling, I think that every potential caller should first learn to dance well. When I started, I was told that "no one should call who has danced for fewer than five years." (I probably heard "three", "seven", and "ten" years also.) Every caller needs a good sense of timing, a feel for the "moves" used in contra dancing, and the feel of transitions between moves. If you don't know what you're doing on the dance floor, and don't know what dancers need from a caller, I maintain that you have insufficient background to start calling.

Although I have known someone who started calling as a means of understanding dances better, and thereby becoming a better dancer, it seems that such a course leverages the pateince of the community for the benefit of an individual. If perhaps your community has a need for callers, and you seem best suited to the role, you can consider bending this rule.

Understand WHY you want to call

What motivates you to want to start calling?

I maintain that some of these reasons may be better than others, but that regardless of the reason you start calling, if you do it well, and respectfully, that your calling can improve the community, and make for better dancing opportunities for all. Do devote some thought to your motivations.

Develop opinions about callers and dances

If you don't have opinions on what other callers do and call, you won't have enough opinions to make the decisions you need to make. You need to know what dances you like and why you like them, which callers you like better, and why, and which callers and dances you do NOT like, and why you don't.

Understand WHAT you want to call

The world does not revolves around contra dances. Your life may not either. If you decide to call, you need to decide where and to what you wish to devote your energies. You can consider these options, amongst many: I focus on calling dances from the "modern urban contra" repertoire. While these dances may not provide as much variety as a selection chosen from a different (possibly broader) category, they will suffice to convey the basics of calling.

Decide WHERE you want to call

If you want to call dances for your local community, in the place where you regularly dance, you will probably know what the community expects for dancers and from callers, and these expectations match your goals reasonably well. However, you may find that the opportunities are somewhat limited, forcing you to travel to other communities. Note that a selection of dances that works well in one venue may not work at all well in another. A dance that one community enjoys as fun and playful, another may deride as "dorky" or dated.

Understand HOW you want to call

Who do you wish to emulate? What callers do you respect and admire? Why? What do they do that you want to do?

Return to my contra calling resource page