Monday, April 23, 2012

My First NEFFA

This past weekend I had the honor of attending AND CALLING at NEFFA (New England Folk Festival Association) for the first time.  I was slated for 2 1/2 sessions: 2 family dances and a shared slot calling to the Youth Festival Orchestra.  Big thanks to Linda Leslie, who was able to answer my many e-mails with great advice for the weekend!  She is amazing!

Saturday morning, I wandered around the schools getting a grasp on what I had gotten into.    I found where I needed to be for my first family dance (All Join Hands I).  The fabulous band was Loco Mojo (Linda Henry, Amy Larkin, Shirley White).

The dances for Saturday morning:

Rally of the Two "Cardis", traditional (adapted a bit for kids, substituting hand turning for the box the gnat figure in the original dance)
Penguin Dance, traditional (this is GREAT with kids, and this bunch took it VERY seriously!  Here is a video on youtube so you get an idea.  The tune is "Lobster Quadrille")
Easy Sicilian Circle
Haste to the Wedding, traditional (I LOVE this dance and the tune!)
Prince of Orange (has lots of stamps and claps, my favorite part was watching a 2 year old's face light up when we got to that part!  She was awesome!).

Saturday afternoon, I headed for the middle school dance hall to call to the Youth Festival Orchestra led by Emily Troll and Josh Van Vliet.  I have NEVER been on stage calling for so many people, this was such a crazy experience for me!  But everything went well.  The music was phenomenal - there were about half a dozen in the band, and Emily and Josh were SO fun to watch as they conducted the group!

The dances for Saturday afternoon (2 dances I knew I couldn't possibly mess up!):

Push the Button (starting off easy, and I'm thankful!  This really was such a crazy experience, I'm glad I called something I could do with my eyes closed!)
Happy Ending by Chris Weiler (great variety of figures, but still simple enough that I knew I could call it with confidence).

Sunday morning, I felt much more comfortable going into my second family dance of the weekend (All Join Hands II).  I sort of knew what to expect AND I had old friends in the band - Stunt Double, featuring Christopher Jacoby, Laurie Tupper, Julie Valimont, and David Casserli.  The best thing was I had "repeat customers" from Saturday!

The dances for Sunday morning:
Photo courtesy of Bill Wadlinger

La Bastringe - sort of!  I changed the balance and swing to two elbow swings and everyone kept their same partners.  The kids LOVED yelling when they went into the middle!
Kid's Chaos Mixer #3 by Chrissy Fowler
Haste to the Wedding (I was originally going to call "Monkey in the Middle", but I had several children 3 and under, so I decided not to do mixers)
Grandmother's Cabinet (the highlight of my weekend!  There was a lead couple featuring a girl who just turned 12 on Friday.  Everyone got a chance to walk through the tunnel of couples.  I told everyone they could do it however way they wanted.  Big points to the adults - one gentleman was crawling on his hands and knees most of the time around!  A few kids got really into it, pretending to be animals, practically giving each other piggy back rides.... VERY fun time!)
Sicilian Circle of Fun by Linda Leslie (a great way to end the time together!  I did change up the A1 section so that it was different each time they started the dance.  The kids really enjoyed it!)

My favorite moments of the family dances were the conversations I had with some of the kids.  I will treasure them always!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Project Update

I'm in the initial stages of a little art project. Phase 1 is gathering as many little squares of fabric as I can covered with the thoughts of dancers. I'm gonna need a whole lot more, so please feel free to contribute at the next dance I'm calling!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering Tori

What a hard time for the dance community! We will miss our friend, Tori Barone, who was a shining star in the dancing world.

While creating a program for tonight's gig I found a dance I had nearly forgotten about. It was written for me on a Thursday night when Tori had accidentally called the dance I was going to call that evening. Tori and I worked it out together in the lobby area and had a grand old time! The title is called "For Melissa (Because of What Tori Did to Her)" by Jim Kitch. Please contact me if you'd like the figures!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Of the People

Two important people in my life have said essentially the same thing: "Every good work of art/contra dance has a story behind it."

I do believe this is true. I also believe we all want to be part of that story.

How can we be a part of the story when we're contra dancing? Well, one way is simply knowing the title and background of the dances, which give us a glimpse into the "why" behind a dance's construction.

I am inspired to go even deeper. Does knowing those facts about a dance affect how you dance it? Does the music play a role? Do you FEEL a story (beyond what the title suggests) while you are dancing? What IS that story?

I'd like to hear from YOU about what a dance invokes IN YOU as you dance it. Think of the music, the environment, the people, the motion.

So... find me at the break, or catch me at the end of the evening. Tell me what story YOU hear when you dance. And, with your permission, I'd LOVE to record you and possibly put your story together with others'.

To find out where I'll be next, check out my website.

See you on the dance floor!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The First Ever Philly Area Techno Contra! Oh my!!

It's official! October 22 is the first ever Philly area techno contra! Yours Truly has the honor of co-calling the evening with Donna Hunt to the music of Double Apex.

So what is a techno contra? Well, if contra dancing were like bowling then a techno would be the cosmic bowling version. Except no throwing of heavy objects is involved (unless you're overly enthusiastic with twirling your partner).

So now I step into the unknown and think about programming. I'm personally glad I'm doing this gig with someone! Donna is a great caller and a great person, and it's gonna be a GREAT evening!

Below is a teaser video of Double Apex. Don't forget to visit the event page on facebook for more details! See you there!

Friday, June 3, 2011

My first time as Coordinating Caller

To sum up the entire evening, I would like to quote J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"

Briefly put, calling an entire evening by myself is small potatoes in comparison to wrangling together an entire army of callers for one evening! I still feel like I don't deserve this honor, but thank you to all the Glenside callers who found me worthy!

Coordinating is truly an art form unique to calling! How does one put together a fun, diverse program that fits the group and that includes dances suggested by the callers themselves and not necessarily chosen by me? It was challenging, like one of those puzzles where you have to slide one piece so you can slide another, and so on, to form a complete picture.

Last night was officially a "dry run," and I do hope I will get to experience the honor of leading the charge sometime soon!

One of my favorite moments was having my own calling mentor there as well as my own padawan learner. 3 generations of callers in the same room, how amazing!

Oh, and did anyone else catch my brother's AWESOME guitar solo??

To all my calling, dancing, and musician friends, thank you for your patience, energy and support!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Swing your partner." "Who?"

I've had a great time calling for groups that don't have a lick of dancing experience. The smiles I see are a great reward and are proof to me that community dancing actually does something it's supposed to do - it creates community!

Having just come off calling a barn dance recently I thought I'd share some of the most successful dances I've used for these venues and what's so great about them. My goal with programming is to call a bunch of really simple dances that have the potential to get a bit silly or crazy so that people can relax and enjoy themselves. Here ya go!

Opposite Circles

Composer unknown

Circle Mixer

A1 16 Partner promenade

A2 8 take 2 hands, gents pull ladies into center

8 walk back (gents take hands, ladies take hands to form 2 large circles)

B1 16 Everyone circle Left

B2 16 Swing whoever is in front of you. If no one there, run into center

I wrote a blog about this dance, but it's awesome because of the "no one knows what's going on" feeling in the B2. I've had dancers running and screaming in the center even if they DID find someone to dance with! A great way to end an evening, but you need a big group of people to pull it off. It gets REALLY crazy if there are TWO circles in the room, but it's doable. I like to remind the ladies that if they feel stretched during the circle they don't have to take hands but can simply walk around in the circle instead.

The Virginia Reel (simplified)

Traditional 17th Century Contra

Sets of 4 to 6 couples

Lines F & B (8)

Partner allemande R (8)

Lines F & B (8)

Partner allemande L (8)

Lines F & B (8)

Partner two-hand turn

Lines F & B (8)

Partner do-si-do (8)

Top couple sashay down/back (16)

Top couple cast off, make arch at bottom, all others follow and go through arch (16)

Great if you'd like to give them a taste of contra dancing without having to teach many rules. This is a VERY simple form. I also encourage people to clap hands with their partners when they go forward. Dancers particularly love going through the arch.

Lucky Seven

Composer unknown

Circle Mixer

A1 16 All circle L

A2 8 Into the middle and back

8 Into middle and back

B1 16 Grand chain (partner pull by R, next by L, etc. until reach 7th person)

B2 16 Swing #7 (or two-hand turn)

A WONDERFUL mixer if you can get them to do the grand chain correctly (remind them to always go the same direction!). It REALLY gets exciting when the dancers start counting out loud in B1! VERY simple, and a great alternative to La Bastringue.

Circassian Circle


Circle Mixer (gents look to L, that will be new parter!)

A1 8 Into middle and back

8 Into middle and back

A2 8 Ladies only into middle

8 Gents into middle, turn over L shoulder and go to that new partner

B1 16 New partner swing

16 Partner promenade

VERY easy (although I do have to explain a little bit about where the men need to go when they turn), but I encourage everyone to show off their gender when they go into the middle. Men particularly like to grunt and flex during this one :)

Rali'r Ddau Gardi (Rally of the Two "Cardis")

traditional Welsh dance

Couples, no formation

32 bar reels

A1 16 Ladies skip around, men follow

A2 8 set, switch places (OR bal, box the gnat)

8 set, switch places (OR bal., box the gnat)

B1 16 Ladies skip, men follow

B2 16 Men catch up, swing

Ok, I added the box the gnats in the A2 myself, but that's so that there's more physical connection with your partner instead of eye contact. I'm not saying eye contact is bad, but it IS hard to remain connected in that way unless you're experienced. Well, this is a GREAT dance if the room is full of kids and if you just want to get people out on the floor dancing right away. You can also use the following variations:

A1 - Men go first

B1 - find a new partner

B1 - find original partner

Canadian Barn Dance


Circle mixer, starts in open waltz hold (only has an A1 and A2)

A1 4 OWH* forward 3, kick on 4

4 walk backward 4

4 Separate, walk 3 steps away, clap on 4 (Gents go L, ladies R)

4 Ladies walk 4 steps to L, Gents walk on R diagonal to new lady

A2 4 (2 hand hold) sashay (gents L, ladies R)

4 Sashay back

8 Spin once around, OWH at end

Wow, when newbies get it they love it!! One recommendation - if there's alcohol at the event try it a bit slower! I'll tell ya, this is an AWESOME dance and really lends itself to people getting a bit goofy once they're comfortable. Two thumbs up for this one!

*OWH = Open Waltz Hold. I merely call it "snuggling up" next to your partner with one arm around him/her. I literally call during the dance "Snuggle up!"

Suicide Square

Composer unknown

“Square” around the walls of the room/edge of dance area

A1 16 “heads” take hands, gallop into center of room and back

A2 16 Sides gallop in and back

B1 4,12 Bal, swing partner

B2 16 Men make inner circle, Ladies outer circle all circle L, find a new partner to begin dance again.

It's exactly what it sounds like. However, for smaller rooms (basically anything that's NOT danced in a dance hall) I recommend doing shorter sashays like this...

A1 8 Heads gallop into the center and back

8 Sides do the same

A2 8 Heads gallop into the center/back

8 Sides same

Grandmother’s Cabinet

Composer unknown

Circle facing partner with men inside, ladies out.

A1 8 RH turn

8 LH turn

A2 8 Two hand turn

8 Do-si-do

B 32 Lead couple takes two hands, gallops through all the other couples, stops when there are no more couples, drops hands, other couples do the same. (Lead couple can change each time)

This dance is GREAT for weddings, assuming the bride and groom actually have time to dance! It's very similar to the VA Reel above. However, this one is done in one big circle so you don't have to limit the size of the dancers. I also think it would be fun changing the couple that leads the others each time, but I haven't tried that yet. Warning: the timing might not work out exactly as written depending on the number of couples. BE FLEXIBLE!

Waltz Mixer

Composer uknown

Circle mixer

Step in, step out, ladies roll away in front (4 bars) (Repeat total of 4 times, 16 bars)

Waltz with the last lady who crosses over (16 bars?)

Great way to end an evening (if there are enough people left!). Really wraps things up nicely, especially if people don't really know how to waltz.

O How Lovely Is the Evening

traditional German melody

2- or 3-part round, no partner needed, 2 or 3 circles

Circle L “O how lovely is the evening, is the evening

Circle R While the bells are sweetly ringing, sweetly ringing,

Stand & Swing arms F&B Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding dong”

Go HERE for a pdf of this traditional German melody!

I saw this done for a wedding and tried it out myself. We did it at the end in a three part round, it was very moving! You do need to know how to carry a tune, but it's very teachable (just have them repeat each line after you, then try putting it all together. The hardest part is only doing 3 "ding dongs" at the end of the tune). You can also ask band members if they can help out as well since it's usually done a cappella (just voices). I did this at the VERY BEGINNING of a dance for a group of changeringers as an homage to bell ringers everywhere. Turns out most of the adults knew it, one woman even knew the German! VERY cool!