These notes are aimed at callers for 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”!
Please use the Feedback button at the bottom of each page (or Contact me if you don't want other people to read what you say) with any disagreements, questions and suggestions, and I'll update these notes as required. And even if we don't get through it all in a term, at least some teaching is a lot better than none!