Some dancers can understand the pattern of a dance just from reading the instructions — callers tend to be good at this. Some benefit from seeing another set dancing it; some find this no help at all. Some have to walk it through, and can then do their own part, but haven't a clue what the other members of the set are doing. For instance, how many men can dance the lady's part in a ladies chain or a swing? It's much better to get the full picture — or you end up as one of those people who can only dance “Newcastle” from head positions. Some callers can get like this — especially Display Team (Performance Group) leaders! If you want to shake up a group of dancers who think they're good, try calling “Levi Jackson Rag” (Pat Shaw — Pinewoods Collection) and then do it the second time with everyone improper. You'll be amazed at the ensuing chaos! Most men haven't a clue where they're going, even if you tell the women to be really firm with them. Some are convinced that when you're dancing woman you rotate the other way in a swing, and most are incapable of finishing the swing on the right-hand side. But they'll all have a great time (remember what I keep saying about enjoyment?) and it may make the men look at things differently. Men expect women to be able to dance the man's part at the drop of a hat, and have no idea how confusing it is. I remember dancing an American Square as a woman while calling — I was fine until my partner twirled me at the end of a promenade, then I went to pieces! (I'm more experienced now and I think I would cope with it.) If you're a male caller you need to dance the woman's part some of the time. You'll discover that the women have most of the awkward moves — presumably because most dances are written by men.
Many dances are full of “zero-movement” figures — they get you back where you started. Right-hand star, left-hand star. Ladies chain over and back. But “Circle left ¾, pass through” — suddenly you're unsure of yourself. You have to trust the caller (assuming he's trustworthy) and not automatically drift back into a standard formation. If you're in lines and the caller says “pass through”, English dancers automatically about turn to face into the set. But that's not what a pass through is. And if there's a lady on your left, gentlemen, and the caller says “two-hand turn” — what's the betting that she'll finish the turn on your right? You'll see that in the Playford dance “Fain I Would” — it's a square, so she should be on my right. I've seen men do the movement correctly, then panic and shuffle back to the left side because surely that's a safe place to be. Not always!
Most dances have points of repose, at which you're in a standard formation, before zooming off somewhere else. Look for these in the walkthrough; they'll help you when the music starts. For instance, many triple minor dances get the ones into middle place — where they can do figures with both the twos and the threes — and that's effectively their home place for the rest of that turn of the dance. Think of “Fandango” or “Green Sleeves and Yellow Lace”, both of which have been converted from triple minor to a three-couple set. In “Fandango” the first half of the figure ends with the ones leading up to the top and casting to middle place, and that's where they start all the later moves. In “Green Sleeves and Yellow Lace” they effectively get there after the first quarter of the figure, when they start the figures of eight, and again that's where they start all of the later moves. If you notice this in the walkthrough you can get there quickly if things go wrong, and carry on with the next figure.
It's often a good idea to know where you finish each figure before you start it. In fact it can speed up the walkthrough if the caller tells you where you're going to finish — and sometimes even gets you to stand there — before explaining how you get there.
Above all, don't panic, and don't just stand rooted to the spot; that's usually wrong. If a woman is pushable I can do all sorts of things with her. I mean — get her into all sorts of interesting positions — you know what I mean.
On the other hand, you don't want to be over-confident! “I don't need to listen to the caller — I've been dancing for forty years”! There are times when I've danced with confidence and the entire set disintegrated — they all followed me because I looked as if I knew what I was doing! That's the down-side, but the up-side is that I can often help my partners through complicated dances because they have confidence in me, and that's got to be a good thing.
As I always say, your attitude determines how successful you are. If you have the attitude of “I've reached the end of the set — I'll have to change numbers — it's all going to go horribly wrong”, you'll probably fulfill this prediction. On the other hand if you think “I've watched the ones while I was dancing as a two; I'll keep a close eye on them while I'm neutral and I expect I'll be fine”, you'll probably fulfill that prediction too.
Here are some of the dances I've used in this session.