BackEnd effects



These notes were used at Chippenham Folk Festival in 2014 and again at Eastbourne Folk Festival in 2015.

End effects are the strange things which happen when you reach the end of a longways set.  Before the twentieth century there were no such things as end effects because everything happened within the minor set; you were only dancing with one other couple (two other couples for a triple minor) in each turn of the dance.  This was true of American contras, Playford-style English dances and Traditional English dances such as Nottingham Swing.  Any time you do an old dance such as The Collier's Daughter, The Punch-Bowl or Chorus Jig where the ones are working with their own twos and the next twos, you can guarantee that somebody has condensed it from triple minor to duple minor.

Actually there was one end effect even then — the strange fact that standing out for one turn of the dance is enough to make many of us forget the dance!  Admittedly there are Playford dances such as Mr Beveridge's Maggot where the ones and twos do very different moves, but in most modern contras the ones and twos do exactly the same — yet there's still confusion and the excuse of “Well, I've just changed numbers”!

Jack Mitchell brought the topic up on the Callers List at sharedweight.net in June 2013, asking what should go into an “End effects” workshop.

Sometimes the caller will remember to say “If you're neutral, stand with the man on the right”, but he may not.  And in my experience, even if he does, a lot of people ignore him — they think of an end effect as something which happens to other people, not to them, like a train wreck.  Maybe that's why some contras end up looking like a train wreck!  So in this session I'm going to give some general rules which people can apply in any situation.  I think dealing with end effects is a skill which needs to be learnt, just like contra corners.

Rule 1:  Treat your partner as a neighbour.

Suppose the dance starts “Allemande left your neighbour 1½.  Allemande right next neighbour 1½.  Swing the next”.  Many people get to the end of the set, stand still for four bars, and are then surprised when a person of the same sex tries to swing them.  But if you use your partner for the allemande right 1½ it keeps you dancing and you're in the right place for the swing.  A classic example of this is Steve Zakon-Anderson's Three Thirty-three Thirty Three where you need to go round the end of the set and back again.

Rule 2:  Your shadow needs you.

If your shadow is still dancing, they will expect to do the do-si-do or allemande left or whatever with you, so work out where your shadow is going to be and be there for them.

Both of these rules could simply be stated “Keep doing as much of the dance as you can”.  That's also a good rule in triple minor dances: if you don't have a third couple you can just dance with ghosts — it keeps you moving and the ones will automatically end up below the twos.  And it applies to double contras (four-facing-four): in my experience you can always adapt the dance (on the fly) to do it with just two couples.

Rule 3:  If there's nobody there, stay put.

This doesn't contradict Rule 1, which says if you have no neighbour use your partner.  If there's nobody at all, don't do anything.  For instance in Herbie Gaudreau's Bucksaw Reel (Becket Reel) there's a right and left through on the left diagonal.  If there isn't a couple there, don't try and be clever — just stand still.  The same applies to diagonal ladies' chains.  And in Dan Pearl's Beneficial Tradition the rule applies to you as individuals, not as a couple!

That's fine if it's a double progression dance with no-one neutral at the start.  But if there are people out they have to decide whether to stay out or join in — and they must be consistent.  Ken Bonner's dance Falling in love again has a ladies chain on the left diagonal followed by one on the right diagonal, so if the man who is out wants to join in he must chain a lady on the left diagonal and then immediately wheel round with the lady he has received to do a chain on the right diagonal.  The man is now out with his shadow, but they still need to stay awake because there's a second shadow to do-si-do and a partner to swing!

Rule 4:  Go where you're wanted.

I see this as the fundamental rule, and the others as specific cases of it.  In fact it applies wherever you are in whatever dance, but I'm talking about people who are standing out at the end.  Stay awake and be prepared to move as required.  Often you just want to face into the set with the man on the left and the lady on the right, but there are cases where you need to be the other way round, or to stand facing on the right or left diagonal.  Indeed you may need to be in different places during the same turn of the dance.  If the dance is improper all the way through, you can expect it to be man, woman, man, woman all the way down the line, which should give a good clue.

The corollary to this is “Know when you're not wanted” — sometimes a lady chains out to a neutral man and still wants to be involved in the next figure, in which case he needs to hold her back!

Assume that the people actually dancing are in the right place — don't force them to switch over to suit the way you're positioned.  Equally if you're dancing and the people out at the end aren't where you want them to be, go to where they should be and (gently) try to get them there.  But if it's a quick move like “allemande left your shadow and swing your partner” it isn't worth trying to persuade them.  Similarly if you're the one waiting out and you get an unexpected person for an allemande left, just go with it — by the time you've switched places the move will be over anyway.  And if it's Rory O'More balances in waves, again just go with whoever you get rather than trying to switch places with your partner two or three times.

Rule 5:  If there's a whole set move, join in with it.

For instance four bars into Paul Balliet's Fairport Harbour everybody promenades in a big oval.  If you're neutral and you don't join in, next time there will be two neutral couples!  Similarly there are dances (often in Becket formation) which involve sliding to the left with your partner to meet the next couple.  If you're dancing and this move takes you out, stay facing in (usually with the man on the left).  Next time it happens, slide round the corner and you'll be in.  Another example is Sue Rosen's Rhinestone Reel or Gene Hubert's Song in the Night where couples promenade across the set and then round one place — in fact in Gene's dance you do it twice.  If you're out, you don't join in the half promenade (because there's no-one to do it with — Rule 3) but you do join in the move round one place because that's a whole set move.

I would say that the choreographer who specialises in end effects is Michael Fuerst whose dances you can see here — I've danced at least one of his where I thought “This is perfectly straightforward” and then got to the end and been totally lost — but to my surprise he said:

Actually this strikes me a bad idea for a workshop.  Dances with challenging end effects have such because of the interesting stuff within the dances.  Dancers will not be enlightened by the end effects.  I will plead innocent to specializing in weird end effects — all the dances were written without consideration of what the end effects might be.

There's also the more subtle effect that once you swap roles, every swing is on the other side and you are progressing in the opposite direction.  I know this should be obvious, but it's certainly caught me out.  For instance, ¾ hey then swing partner can turn into ¼ hey then swing partner by accident.

And one final hint — if you're near the end of the set and the people out at the end are in the wrong place, it's probably an indication that you will be in the same situation very soon, so profit by their mistake!

My thanks to Jack Mitchell, Ryan Smith, Alan Winston, Chris Page, Bill Olson, Michael Fuerst and Linda Leslie for their contributions to the discussion on Shared Weight.


Enough talking — let's do some dancing.  I want the sets to be across the hall, otherwise some of you won't experience the end effects, and I may ask for an odd number of couples in each set!

The dances I called at Chippenham were:

TitleAuthorLink
FiddleheadsTed SannellaLink
Song in the NightGene Hubert
Beneficial TraditionDan PearlLink
Where's Alex?Michael FuerstLink
Buffalo StampedeTom Hinds
One Shy of TwentyMichael FuerstLink
I also have the following spares:
Falling in Love AgainKen Bonner
Rhinestone ReelSue Rosen
Maybe you should write an easy danceMichael FuerstLink
Three Thirty-Three, Thirty-ThreeSteve Zakon-AndersonLink
Geometric DiscretionMichael FuerstLink
BananasBecky Hill