The Round (the Cambridge University Folk Dance Group) who want to teach the basics of English and American dancing. Others may find them useful, but be aware that I'm talking about dancing in England for a lively group of mixed ages, and some of it may not apply to your group. It's just my way of doing things, and other people will tell you it's all wrong — that's the beauty of this kind of dance! Let me also say straight off that if you don't want to follow this plan you don't have to! I'm not trying to prescribe what callers at The Round (or anywhere else) ought to be calling, just making some suggestions that I hope you will find helpful. And I realise there's far too much in some sessions, so I'm not expecting you to teach everything; I've just put it there so that you can select what you want to use each time.
I recommend starting with Session 1 — after that it's up to you what order you teach things in. My suggestion is that you call a dance or two first, then have a teaching session with a dance to illustrate the points being taught, then one or two dances which don't need much teaching, then a second (shorter) teaching session, then go on to some different dances — and maybe finish with a dance which uses some of what has been taught. There are times when this won't work of course — for Session 1 I would dive straight in with the first Sicilian Circle, and if you're teaching four or five different steps then you will need a dance to illustrate each one.
If you aspire to being a Caller and a Dance Teacher, rather than someone who just reads from a card or book, you've got to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and show people what you mean, rather than just throwing words at them. You need to be able to demonstrate and explain a hey for three, or a rant step, or whatever it is you're teaching. Don't panic if you're not up to that level yet — just bear it in mind, and when you're watching another caller, ask yourself “Is that how I would teach it? What can I learn from this?”.
At The Round there are usually two callers with about an hour each. I suggest that the more experienced caller does the teaching in the first hour, and the less experienced caller does dances which use what has been taught without needing any further teaching — together with other unrelated dances.
I'm giving plenty of dance instructions in these notes, and if you're looking for more I recommend Hugh Stewart's “The Country Dance Club Book”, or start from the Dance and Music Resources page of The Round website.
I've written the dances out as I would call them, rather than in a technical language which each caller will then have to translate into English. I've tried to make the instructions clear without being too pedantic. Unless otherwise stated, each paragraph is eight bars long. A full stop marks the end of a four- or eight-bar phrase; a semicolon marks the end of a two-bar phrase. I find this very helpful when I'm calling a dance, but some people think I'm going out of my way to be difficult. All turns, circles and stars are once around unless otherwise noted.
Don't labour the teaching; make it fun. People have come to enjoy themselves, not to be lectured, but if they enjoy the teaching and feel they are progressing they will probably come back for more.
It would be good if all these topics were covered at least once a term — of course some need to be covered several times. I've grouped them into sessions because I think some of them belong together, but you can teach items from several sessions if you wish.
I have a whole set of notes on The Caller's Attitude, but here's a quick summary: Be entertaining, and come across as “You'll enjoy it much more if I give you a few hints on how to dance better” rather than “I'm here to tell you what you're doing wrong”!
The Perfect Caller on The Round website.
I'm using “she” and “her”, but of course it applies to both sexes. Perhaps the most important thing is:
People like her and enjoy dancing to her.
Many people don't think I'm a good caller because they say I criticise and humiliate them. That's not how I see it, but their perception is what counts — no matter how technically proficient I may be, they won't come to one of my workshops or dances. I know callers who are technically bad and yet people love them!
She gives the dancers confidence in themselves.
Calling is a strange job. You're up on stage, possibly trying to be entertaining, but if you were a singer, magician, comedian or whatever you'd be performing to an audience who were just sitting there taking it in. As a caller you're telling people what to do — and your success generally depends on how well they manage to do what you ask of them rather than how charismatic you are. A good caller should have the attitude of “Of course you can do it”, and that inspires dancers to overcome their fears and dance better than they thought they could.
She calls the right programme for those dancers.
You should be able to judge the level of dancing in the first couple of dances, and be flexible enough to scrap your programme if you can see it isn't going to work. It's no good saying “I've planned this great programme — why can't they do it?”
Then of course we come on to the technical stuff which most people might well put at the start of the list:
She walks the dances through with clear instructions.
She takes the time needed, watching all the sets to make sure her instructions are getting through to them.
She calls the dances sufficiently ahead of the music.
People need enough time to assimilate the call and then react to it.
She knows when to stop calling, rather than calling solidly all the way through every turn of the dance.
You won't please all the people all the time. Some dancers just don't want to memorise dances — they want a caller who calls solidly, and they're dancing to the call, not to the music. Some dancers are getting old and starting to lose it — they're no longer able to keep the moves in their head, though they may dance well enough while the call keeps going. You just have to use your judgement.