I started calling contra dances in Texas in 1992, and have called roughly one full evening of dances every month since about 1994. (I enjoy dancing too much to call more often.) I mostly call "Modern Urban Contra Dances", evenings of dances where a goodly fraction of the dancers have danced contras before. I do call some "special occasion" dances (200 sixth graders in a field? A "campus ministry barn dance?") once or twice a year.
Over those years, I've called evenings of contra dances in Ashland, Bend, Coos Bay, Corvallis, Eugene, Newport, and Portland, Oregon; Austin, Bryan, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas; Olympia, Seattle, and Tacoma, Washington; Santa Cruz, California; Gainesville, Florida; and Vancouver, BC. I've organized and led callers' round table discussions, callers' open mike dances, and workshops for new callers. I was one of the original three organizers of a contra dance series, one of two instigators and lead organizers of an in-town dance weekend series, and main committee member of another for several years. I book the talent for the Corvallis dance series for five years, and now serve on the board of the Eugene Folklore Society and as treasurer for the organization.
At regular contra dance evenings, I usually try to start with a fairly straightforward dance, both to help ease the new dancers into the experience, and also to help "warm up the brains" of the experienced dancers. From there out, I try to ramp the difficulty level and complexity up in a sawtooth manner for the first half of an evening. This means that dancers challenged by one dance will usually find the next one easier, and conversely, dancers who find one dance too easy will find the next a little more engaging. Another advantage of this strategy is to allow me to substantially adjust the degree of difficulty of the evening program. If the proverbial bus of foreign exchange students arrives, I can rake out the more difficult dances and swap in much easier ones, leaving the original easy dances as the new challenging ones. (Again, I could do the converse to bump up the difficulty, should some reason arise.)
In the second half, I attept a similar sawtooth, but this time ramping down the complexity. I try to have the last dance fairly straightforward, perhaps done without a walk-through, as the dancers brains "are full", and need no further challenges. (Also, bands often like to end with a powerful set of tunes, so the dance should not "get in the way" of the music.)
Within the framework described above, I try for a few additional points. I like to start each half with fairly straightforward dances in order to get everyone moving again with a minimum of talking. I also like to know where the organizers plan to make announcements, and follow them with an easy dance, for the same reason. If the evening has a substantial number of newer dancers in attendance, I like to feature a "mixer" dance to ensure that the newcomers and the regulars dance with each other, and don't just dance with folks they know.
"William Watson, a resident of Eugene, OR, danced his first contra in 1989 and began calling in Texas in 1992. Having called numerous contra events in cities coast-to-coast, William's extensive experience and soothing voice project a calm confidence. His vigilant and thoughtful dance programming ensures a variety of figures, transitions, and sequences to entertain and support new dancers while offering the occasional challenge for the more advanced. His calling proficiency and sensitivities ensure everyone has a good time."
I moved my listing of resources to its own page so that anyone interested doesn't have to wade through my personal material when they want more general information.
William J. Watson
"william calls contras" at gmail dot com
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