A Collection of Tips, Hints and Advice collated by email.
Please feel free to add to this page as you see fit. I have attributed comments as much as I can.
Regarding some of the points made below, there is a spreadsheet of tunes that we have on CD available to callers (if you don't have it, ask someone on the committee for a copy) that makes tune selection much easier.
Ron and others have kindly donated spare books of dance descriptions, which hopefully we can collate into a club reference library soon.
- Always start with relatively easy dances. Everyone then succeeds, and a 'can do' attitude results. If you start with something complicated that takes ages to teach or falls apart, you will end up with a brain-dead flock that can't be bothered.
- Always learn the dance yourself before trying to teach it. Very few dances can be taught well by just reading the instructions out.
- Don't say 'the next dance is difficult..' - much better to say it needs concentration, or is great fun if it works.
- It would be a good idea for Mondays if there were a few dances done regularly so people learnt them and could just get up and go. Most groups have some kind of repertoire to fall back on without teaching. If you do all new dances every week it may be great fun for the mentally agile, but will be tiring for the others, and no one will actually LEARN any dances.
- That produces a problem now evident, where even at a Ball the dances have to called or walked as no one knows them. Fine if you have a new dance or the likes of MacDonald of Sleat, but not otherwise. It's supposed to be a BALL not a souped up class.
- Do describe figures properly. Several things are now being given the wrong or confusing names. e.g.:- In the Irish Rover it is 'half diagonal rights-and-lefts twice', NOT diagonal rights-and-lefts, which would not be the same figure. In square sets 'interlocking reels of four' are sometimes described as 'banana reels' - but the term 'banana reels' ought really to be for dances like Sloane Square, where they don't go right round. Another one is saying 'set and link' or 'set and link for three' without saying once or twice, because both can happen. Not kind to leave the dancers counting bars and wondering if they're right.
- Please use the proper music if you have it. The wrong tune can confuse people or be quite inappropriate.
- You really shouldn't need a microphone in a room the size of the one at the Wesley. Most people are not good at using one, and get distracted from teaching the dance which is the important bit. Well behaved dancers should be quiet and listen anyway!
- (paraphrased) Callers not watching all sets when walking through can result in confusion when they rattle on, leaving a set behind. This is particularly hard to avoid with more than 2 sets.
- It might help to make sure the least experienced set is always nearest the caller. They tend to be most diffident and furthest away.
- I really enjoy the more challenging dances - one of the reasons I prefer Scottish to English - but it might be a bit rough on beginners. Perhaps the RSCDS beginners/intermediate classes could be given a bit more of a plug.
- I feel one or two dances do get repeated a bit too much.
- As an outsider, I've no business to join in. But to me, the vital point is to have someone in charge..for the evening, or at least for half an evening. That way there is some continuity, some possibility of building up an atmosphere...some possibility of getting organised in advance. I realise this is hardly likely to help you persuade novices to try their hand...but a compromise for novices could be arranged.
Peter Giles (numbering in response to Donald's points above)
- I hope that most of you have found the first dance of the evening to be an easy one for some time now (it has certainly been the intention of the programme makers to do this I know). However for those of you who are interested in helping out the club you could perhaps volunteer to look over the upcoming programmes published on the Wiki site and give feedback so that we can adjust things? I think Jacob will be emailing details of that later.
- A VERY good point. What we are going to try and do is to get the cribs out much earlier (before the weekend at least) so that callers do get a chance to prepare properly. I for one have found less than 24 hours notice insufficient to prepare to my liking. As above, Jacob will be contacting you asking for volunteers to help us make choosing and publishing the cribs go more smoothly.
- Likewise a good point. Be encouraging as much as you can about the dance you are calling. I know I find this hard sometimes.
- We have tried in the past to reduce the amount of calling in dances reintroduced from the previous week. Sadly this doesn't work well on Monday nights due to the irregular turn out and constant influx of new faces. However I do hope you have found by now that there are a core set of dances that appear regularly (i.e. once a month or more).
- Currently we do have a large number of trickier dances to fit into the programmes so that people will know them in time for the Highland Ball. Whilst the HB will have recaps as a reminder, most dances will NOT be taught, so please do take the time on Mondays to learn them ;o).
- Again, callers take note. Please prepare your dances and be consistent in your descriptions.
- It's very unfortunate that the club had its large CD collection stolen over the summer break. We are in the process of replacing them, but that has reduced the choice of music for some time. Things are improving rapidly. Oh and IVFDF is coming up which is usually a good opportunity to find new and exciting CDs ;o).
- I'm afraid I disagree slightly with Donald on this one. There should indeed be no need to use a microphone in a small room like the Wesley, however it does help for several reasons. The most important reason is that it makes the caller less comfortable and slows them down enough to be understood. Mondays experiment demonstrated this to me again. Callers take note, if you don't want to use the microphone you don't need to BUT TALK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY please. The other main reason for using a microphone is for those of us who do get to call the more tricky dances and have to pick up the call throughout the dance as a reminder for those who have got lost. Calling over music and the general hubbub of 2-3 sets trying to recover positions is hard on the voice, especially if you need it for work all day too. Sadly mine is rather hoarse today as a result. Having said all that, whilst Monday is a fairly social occasion it is still pretty impolite to talk throughout a callers attempt to explain a dance. I have noticed 3 problems
- People in sets explaining what happens next to their partner before the caller does. Can you all please stop doing this? It's unnecessary, ruins any preparation the caller has tried to do and slows the entire evening down.
- People in sets explaining the previous move to their partners whilst the caller is trying to move to the next figure. Again, please desist from this. Callers, watch carefully and don't move on too quickly. If the caller has moved on and you need more time, politely ask them to wait or explain better.
- People having loud conversations whilst the dance is being explained. This applies to those in sets and sitting out at the side. Sorry but this is just plain rude and unforgivable. Please stop doing this too.
- Write a reference to the CD and track number on your crib when researching the dance. It takes a lot of hassle out of setting up the CD player on the night. Could we perhaps have this done for us as a service by the person choosing the dances in the first place? It would take not a lot of time for one person to do, compared to each caller spending roughly the same amount of time doing their own dances.
- Hmm. I'd sort of turn this round - I agree that we should try and avoid this, but I think that if the caller is trying to do the next figure while people are still having the last one explained, that's often the caller's fault, not the sets. It's often a lot easier to learn something from people inside the set saying "go round Fred" and pointing than from the caller saying "go round first corner and turn right", and as a caller there's no shame in taking advantage of that. If people are still explaining, it's often a good idea to stop talking and let them finish.
- On a related point, it's often a lot easier & quicker to teach a figure to your partner than to an entire class. If you're calling a complex named figure like a pousette or an allemande and people don't know it, I would often recommend telling people "now do a pousette; your partner will show you how if you don't know", and then leaving time for that to happen, rather than trying to explain it from the front.
- Obviously, that only works if you don't have couples both of whom don't know the figure, though - if you're going to do this, scan the hall and ask people to change partners (either just for teaching this, or for the whole dance, as appropriate) first if necessary.
- always find it is easier to teach a complex figure to the whole class (e.g. the pousette) and then to immediately do a dance with it in. It means that people don't get lost (theoretically!) when they get to the figure in the dance.
- You asked about step teaching. When I danced with the Reel Club we did some step practice during the first half of the evening, interspersed with figures linked to the steps and dances. Those who didn't want to do the steps often arrived half way through.
- I would certainly argue against use of a microphone at the Wesley. When we danced at the Stoneyard Centre and had 6 or more sets it was sometimes useful, but as a teacher you want to be able to move around the room to check how all sets are doing, not just the ones near the music. This way you can also encourage people to be quiet and follow you rather than the 'helpful' people in their own set.
- The prime essential for good calling is careful preparation. Even the most experienced caller finds it difficult to teach an unfamiliar dance from a crib at short notice. Try to understand the dance thoroughly beforehand and express it in your own words. Do not attempt to read the crib verbatim. Only highly trained professional actors can read an unseen text aloud with being dull. Besides which you should be watching the dancers and you cannot look at the crib at the same time. Glance at the crib only occasionally just to check that you have things in the right order.
- The second essential is demonstrating. It is very much easier to show someone what to do than to describe it, especially when dealing with beginners who do not know the meaning of words like up, down, cast and corners. Also be careful with the word "turn" which has half a dozen meanings most of which are obvious to experienced dancers but incomprehensible to beginners.
- For a clientele like Monday's, figures are more important than footwork. Being in the right place is more important than how you get there. Therefore emphasise the standard figures. There are only about 20 of them and once they are mastered most dances become easy. In the past you sometimes had the "figure of the evening", taught carefully the first time it appears, but repeated several times in subsequent dances. This is a good way of teaching and could be used more often with advantage.
- But do not neglect footwork altogether. Make footwork more palatable by pointing out that you need reasonable footwork to enable you to do the figures in the allotted time and that grossly out of time Pas de Basque make the Poussette very uncomfortable for your partner.
- Always have a couple of very simple dances (preferably consisting entirely of set figures) which beginners can do with the minimum of teaching. This gives them a sense of achievement and boosts morale.
- It would be helpful if the programmes were circulated on Fridays so that the callers have a whole weekend to memorise their dances.
- The cribs that are circulated are brief aide-memoires and are often not explicit about details such as whether dancers should pass left shoulder or right shoulder. It is sometimes necessary to refer to other sources such as Pilling or (ideally) the full RSCDS descriptions of the dances. Unfortunately the latter are not readily accessible to most of us and not everyone will have a copy of Pilling. We should perhaps find a way to make the RSCDS descriptions available to potential callers.
- The suggestion of choosing dances to illustrate a particular "figure of the evening" could be useful, but if it is adopted callers would need to be told about it, since someone calling just one or two dances might not notice the common theme.
- And a practical detail: could the catalogue of music on the Reel Club CDs be made available to callers in electronic form, so that we could look up the required CD beforehand?
- Incidentally, I don't know where the cribs come from, but if they are taken from a source such as the MiniCribs, that should be acknowledged each time.