BackAwareness and Consideration

Are you aware of your partner as you dance?  Or could it just be a sack of potatoes on the end of your arm?  And the other people in the set — do you realise you're all dancing together socially?  When you dance a reel of three (hey), do you look at the other people you pass — or are they just moving objects that you have to navigate round?  It annoys me when it's “First corners set and turn single, and a two-hand turn” and the woman stares at the floor the whole time, or over my shoulder.  I might say “Smile at me” — and then perhaps she does, but sometimes she's really taken aback, as if a waxwork at Madame Tussauds had suddenly tapped her on the shoulder, and I can feel her thinking: “What a nerve — who does he think he is?  He's not the caller — he can't tell me what to do!”  Even when I am the caller and tell people to smile at each other, some of them quite obviously resent it.  Smiling changes it from a mechanical activity into an interaction with other human beings — and a lot of advanced dancers don't want that.  I remember the leader of a “Playford” Club saying something about socialising, and one woman remarking in disgust: “I don't come here to socialise — I come here to dance!”

Scottish dancers are much better at smiling and looking at each other: they're aware of the other five members of the set.  Watch them doing rights and lefts.  And when the working couple separate and dance reels of three with the other two couples, not only do they look at people in their own reel, they're also aware of their own partner, and may touch hands as they pass.

Look at your partner.  Look diagonally right, and left.  Now look at your neighbour.  Does this embarrass you?  Why?  Perhaps it's not a very British thing to do — but you're not standing in a bus queue; you're dancing together.  On the other hand, beware the fixed Playford grin: that can be awful too.

Moving up

You need to be aware of what's going on when you're not the leading couple, and this shows when it comes to moving up (or sometimes moving down).  If the ones need to get into your place you need to get out of their way — not with an awkward shuffle as if you've just realised you're in the wrong place, but equally not with an attitude of “Look at me moving up with tremendous style”.  In my opinion it's meant to be positive but unobtrusive.

There's also the question of when to move up.  Suppose the sequence is “ones cross and cast and half figure eight up”, or “ones set and cast and half figure eight up”.  I see these as separate movements, so I almost always prefer the twos to move up as the ones cast and then stand still as the ones do their half figure eight.  Otherwise it's not really a half figure eight, because you're starting it from the threes' position and finishing it in the twos' position.  In Holborn March for instance I would say “Ones set.  Ones cast and twos lead up.  Ones two-hand turn.”  And the final move: “Ones cross, go below the twos who lead up.  Ones half figure eight up.”

One exception is Delia, where I get the twos to move up the first time but the threes to stay still the second time — simply so that there's a space between the twos and threes for the ones to use.

Some people like to delay the move up so that they can then immediately move into the next figure rather than start-stop — and they've obviously been taught to do so and will do so regardless of the caller!  I understand the principle, but that's not how I see things, and it loses sight of the fact that the other couple is moving to accommodate the ones, not so that they can take the limelight.  I feel the same way about the twos spinning as they move up — no, that's not what moving up is about!

Nicholas Dukes published “A Concise & Easy Method of Learning the Figuring Part of Country Dances…” in the early 1750's and has this to say:

When you cast of below a Couple they are to move up to your place, likewise the same if you Cast up above a Couple they are to move down to your place and so the same in Crossing over or figuring in or in any other part where you move down or up, the other Couple is to shift as the Case requires.

Regardless of all this, if the caller specifically tells the twos when to move up you should do it that way whether you agree with it or not.  Otherwise you get a longways set where some of the twos move up at one point and some at the other point, and that's totally unsatisfactory.

On Tuesday, January 31, 2012, Mo Waddington from Cheshire wrote:
I tend to agree that it would make more sense for the 2s to move up as the 1s cast even if they are doing a half figure eight next. But that doesn''t seem to be the accepted way round here.
The instructions in Everyday Dances for Holborn March  actually say "....and do a half figure eight through the twos who have moved up". But people KNOW that they have to wait and then move up (possibly singing "and the twos move up").
If half the room know that you always wait then move up after a half figure eight and half aren''t sure you get very gappy lines. Would you tell the dancers when to move up every time?
When did the idea of waiting come about? And would you suggest that an average club caller goes against accepted practise?
On Wednesday, February 1, 2012, Colin Hume from Letchworth, Herts. wrote:
Mo -

I don't know when the idea came about, but I agree that some people have been taught to move up at the end; I see them determinedly standing their ground and then moving up with a look that says "And THAT's where it comes".  If most people in your club do it that way, it's pointless making a fuss about it.  I might encourage them to move up a few times, but if they're obviously going to ignore me (and be annoyed at me for trying to get them to do it wrong), what's the advantage to anyone?
On Tuesday, April 26, 2022, Janet Porter from North Lincs wrote:
Thank you Colin for all your really useful and supportive information and advice. There is such a lot to consider when dance calling and you are aware of all the potential pitfalls and the right approach to take. Thank you for sharing it.