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!

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