Notes for Callers
I offer this material in the spirit of community. If you use it, please credit me (or the relevant participants) when and where possible - and let me know!
This page brings together interviews, workshops, and other material in both transcript and video form.
- Dancing the Whole Dance: Positional Calling for Contra (link to published book)
- 5 Benefits of Positional Calling (and one challenge) (video)
- Positional Calling I for English Country Dance (video)
- Positional Calling I for Contra Dance (video)
- Positional Calling II: Practice (ECD and contra) (transcript)
- Queer-Friendly Folk Dance Spaces: Nine Tips
- Caller Websites -- with guest Colin Hume (video)
- Zoom Calling -- with guest Cathy Campbell (video)
- Starting New Dance Groups -- Bernie Culkin and Louise Siddons (video and text)
- Working with Musicians -- with guests Chip Prince and Jacob Chen (transcript)
Are you here because you're interested in positional calling?
You might enjoy the discussion on the Shared Weight Positional Calling email list!
Dancing the Whole Dance: Positional Calling for Contra
"I just started reading your booklet ... I appreciate your approach and voice. There is a fairness, concern, thoughtfulness, and flexibility that puts me at ease, a good frame of mind for learning something new!"
In 2022, I worked with CDSS to put all of my material on positional calling for contra dances into a book, which is now available here. All proceeds from sales support the outstanding work of the Country Dance and Song Society.
"Dancing the Whole Dance: Positional Calling for Contra" provides an in-depth look at how to be successful calling contras positionally based on her years of success in a wide range of settings. With thoughtful commentary on the how and why of positional calling, as well as detailed introductory workshop and notes for specific dances, this booklet has everything you need to start learning positional calling for contra."
5 Benefits of Positional Calling (and one challenge)
Positional Calling I for English Country Dance (video)
This workshop was sponsored by the Friends of English Dance, formerly Friends of Cecil Sharp House.
Positional Calling I for Contra Dance (video)
This workshop was sponsored by the Friends of English Dance, formerly Friends of Cecil Sharp House.
Positional Calling II: Practice (ECD and contra)
This workshop was sponsored by the Friends of English Dance, formerly Friends of Cecil Sharp House.
These notes include input from two separate Zoom workshops (12/19/2020 and 1/16/2021) with a total of 30 attendees. I am grateful to everyone who came for their enthusiasm and thoughtful participation. We are also grateful to the attendees who donated to our charities of choice: the Albert Kennedy Trust, which supports LGBTQ+ youth at risk of homelessness, and The National Youth Folklore Troupe of England.
Throughout the notes, I use "I" and "my" when I'm reporting on my own beliefs and opinions; all other comments were made by participants in the workshops. Keep in mind that participants had 15-20 minutes to devise these walkthroughs, and no time to practice them! What's more, we were all calling for ghosts rather than real people. As a result, none of these walkthroughs are perfect, but they do offer a lot of extremely useful food for thought.
Would you rather participate in this workshop than read the notes? Ask me about organizing a workshop for your group.
In this workshop, everyone has the opportunity to think through teaching a dance positionally (either contra or ECD) that has traditionally been taught using gendered terminology. Brooke Friendly, who is a leader in the field of global terminology in English country dancing, calls this "translation," but I'm going to encourage you to think about it as interpretation. I think of positional calling as not just changing the words we're using (which isn't a great definition of translation in any case!), but as intentionally making decisions about how to convey choreography to dancers. This is part of a bigger picture of decision-making during a dance; the musicians and dancers are also making decisions, and so the experience is collaborative.
As callers, we learn choreography in a variety of ways, from original sources to videos online, and then we interpret it as we offer it to dancers. We don't get a choice about how dancers, in turn, interpret a dance. Although I don't believe we should erase or deny the gendered history of dance (although it's often more complex than many people realize), over the past few years -- longer, in some communities -- dancers have increasingly been rejecting gender as a contemporary interpretive lens. In other words, they are disregarding gender in their own choices about roles, partners, and style. The result is that as callers we've lost a piece of information: we can no longer look out at the dance floor and make assumptions about what is happening based on gender presentation. This fact was part of my motivation for turning to positional calling: if that information isn't there, why use an interpretive system that depends on it? (Note that alternative role terms, like larks and robins, replicate this failure: neither we nor the dancers can know by looking if a dancer is a lark or a robin, so it's a minimally useful tool -- especially when people are confused.)
When I'm teaching a new dance, I have a process: I dance it myself (that's usually how I collect dances), I watch videos to learn how dancers interpret the dance, I listen to other callers, and then I workshop a walkthrough. Every time I get new input, it contributes to my interpretation of the dance. As a caller, I want to convey three things to dancers about any individual dance: its pattern, elements of style, and how to enjoy it. Underlying the individual dance choreography is the overarching structure I'm using to teach every dance, and that also involves interpretation. How do we invite dancers to think about their relationship to the other dancers?
If we start with an example, The Hop Ground, we can see what I mean. At the beginning of The Hop Ground, dancers need to know
who and where the corners are. Here's how one might hear that taught using gendered terms:
(Participants stood up as though they were going to dance, in order to follow along.)
- "First corners -- that's first gent and second lady -- and second corners -- that's first lady and second gent." But in order to be able to say that, you need to have identified the ones and twos, the gents and the ladies. In an evening program you might already have taught those things, but it's still a lot of information that dancers -- particularly inexperienced ones -- need to process in order to understand who is being described. That processing is made even more challenging when dancers are not standing up in gendered lines -- again, their interpretation affects ours. It's also a description that speaks to individual dancers rather than the group, which discourages dancers from thinking about the dance in terms of pattern -- and makes it harder to remember. (Brooke has noted in the past that the phrase "global terminology" derives in part from the goal of speaking to as many dancers as possible with each call, rather than speaking to individuals.)
If we were to teach the same concept positionally, we might say instead:
- "Face your partner across the set, and take inside hands with your neighbor. Now use that same hand to take hands with the dancer diagonally across from you. Is it your right hand? You're first corners, on the first diagonal. Left hand? You're second corners, on the second diagonal."
One strength of this description is that no matter where the dancer is in their hands-four, in this dance or a future one, they can use the same logic to determine which corner they are. Another strength is that because we're speaking to all the dancers, we encourage them to understand themselves in relation to one another, and the choreography as a geometric pattern -- which helps them remember.
And because we're talking about both English and contra in this workshop, I also want to point out that we already teach corners positionally in contra dancing. For example, when teaching contra corners, one of the most common techniques is to say, "Use both hands to point to your partner, across from you. Separate your hands so that you're pointing to the person on either side of your partner. Your right hand is pointing to your first corner (wave to your first corner); your left hand is pointing to your second corner (wave to your second corner)." Both contra and English use a lot of positional logic; any time you say, "with your neighbor..." or "on the side," for example, you're using positional logic rather than gendered logic. It's not new, we're just expanding it.
Small groups: participation time!
Four dances were circulated ahead of time:
- The Homecoming (ECD): directions and video
- Zag It Back (contra): directions and video
- Jack's Maggot (ECD): directions and video
- Not a Figment of Your Imagination (contra): directions and video
We split into small groups, so that 2-4 people were discussing each dance. I asked each group to devise two walkthroughs of the gendered parts of each dance (as noted above, elements of most dances are already taught and called positionally, so we didn't spend time reinventing the wheel). We then reconvened and taught each other each walkthrough, working together to improve them.
Why two walkthroughs for each dance? Because there's no one right answer when it comes to positional calling. Dancers, like all humans, have a variety of learning styles, so as a caller, it's really useful to be able to explain something two -- or even three -- ways. Along the same lines, these notes don't conclude with a script for each dance: I invite you to consider each walkthrough offered, and the points of discussion they raised, and make your own decisions about what will work for the group for whom you're calling.
I gave some advice and instructions to the workshop participants ahead of time:
- The key to positional calling is thinking about the dance as a whole pattern, rather than trying to replace individual figures or phrases.
- Look for symmetry -- particularly in English dances, symmetry is your friend.
- Look for momentum and flow: useful in both ECD and contra, but particularly in the latter.
- Be aware that any new language will generate resistance: how much can you work with vocabulary that dancers already know?
- Use all your skills: demonstrations; awareness of transitions, momentum, and flow; programming (you can spread out your teaching over several dances); and concision.
- Assume a mix of experienced and inexperienced dancers who have lined up arbitrarily; assume also that this dance is happening in the second half of an evening, so dancers know who partners/corners/neighbors are, how to line up improper, how each figure works, etc. (This was a concession to our time constraints; it's useful to think about all of these elements of teaching from a positional perspective as well!)
Points from the small group discussion:
- A demo would be useful, but it is important to have words to accompany the demo.
- Corners versus diagonals: how do you decide? Are they positions or people?
- Does it matter that the dance is improper? How do we address this as callers?
Walkthroughs and feedback:
- This walkthrough was offered in the hope of feedback, as the group wasn't satisfied with it: "Top left diagonal, followed by partner,
cast down and begin to cross the set below second couple. Just listen: dance up to each other's original places, the leader dancing outside the set,
and follower dancing inside. Now go: dance up to each other's places, leader dancing up the outside and follower dancing up the inside."
- It took some people a while to figure out who was starting the dance. How could that description be clarified?
- The group considered labeling the sides of the room ("clock side" and "window side"), but weren't sure that counted as positional calling. In my opinion, if it's a useful tool, use it -- would it be useful here?
- It might have been useful to tell everyone that they are dancing clockwise? With that information, the question of who casts and who follows is answered.
- This is a figure that is familiar in square dancing; could one borrow those calls? "Gent 'round two and the lady cut through" could become, "Leader 'round two and partner cut through."
- Mentioning that it's a chase figure might be useful.
- What if we think about the whole A pattern? There are two chases, led by the second corners.
- Some discussion ensued about corners versus diagonals. This isn't well codified, so callers have to be clear about what they mean.
- Would it be useful to say that the ones are leading the figure, before you launch into who, specifically, is leading? This question also points toward the value of recognizing the whole pattern of the dance.
- What about B2? This wasn't covered in the group's walkthrough, but after you do the two-hand turn, how do you describe where people end?
In a gendered call, one might say, for example, "the lady is on the left.""
- David Smukler offered the description, "You're with the wrong person, facing the wrong way, on the wrong side" -- and several people noted that everyone elds progressed. Experienced dancers would doubtless enjoy the humor of the former (as we did in the workshop!), and the latter is very clear. I might say "the ones are now below" rather than referring to progressed place.
- One could also say that it's a 3/4 two-hand turn, which will help some people.
- In the A2, ending up in the right place in the line of four might also be challenging. How might a caller explain it?
- If you've established who the leaders are in the chase, then you can say they're in the middle of the line.
- It might even be useful to point out that this is where they'll end at the very beginning of the walkthrough: "Second corners will lead a chase, at the end of which you'll be in a line of four with them in the middle."
- This walkthrough was prefaced by the observation that The Homecoming is improper, but that this caller felt that was irrelevant, and her
inclination would be not to mention it. "Dancers, I have an ID to relay to you, but you'll only need it briefly. Face your partner, and think
about which shoulder is closest to the head of the set. If it's the right shoulder, you're in the right file, and if it's your left shoulder,
you're in the left file. The dance begins with the ones chasing each other, and it's the right file person who is the leader. Right file person,
cast down. Leader, dance straight across the set below the twos, and up behind one person to the top. Follower, follow the leader across the set,
loop around one person to the top part of the set, and that's your chase. Twos, you're going to do a chase, but your chase has an extra piece of
excitement to it. You're going to end in a line of four, so twos, take a look at the ones above you. Left file person, you're going to end up
between the ones. Right file person, you're going to end up on the far end of that line. So: left file person, cast up, go all the way around the
ones, cross to the other side, loop around one person -- all the way around -- to end up between the ones. Follower, go across the set, loop all
the way around one person, and end on the far end of your line of four."
- It was very helpful to know ahead of time that the twos are aiming for a line of four; it would also be useful to know which way the line of four is facing: up or down.
- Likewise, one might note that both leaders end up in the middle (as noted above).
- "The Homecoming begins with a chase figure, first for the ones and then for the twos. Ones: at the end of the chase you'll be in each other's
place. Second top corner cast down, followed by their partner. They continue all the way around the twos, ending in their partner's place, while
the follower dances across the set around one person and cuts through, ending in their partner's place. Now it's a chase for the twos: the
bottom second corner will lead the chase and they will be ending between the ones in a line facing up, while their partner will end at the left
end of the line of four. Bottom second corner, cast up, all the way around the ones and into the middle of a line of four while their partner
follows across the set, up and around, cutting through to get to the end of a line of four."
- This caller felt that it would be helpful to be able to identify who you're dancing around. It's hard to keep track of corners because everyone's been moving around.
- This walkthrough does a great job of describing the whole pattern before anyone starts moving.
- Some people found the "Second top corner" concept challenging; consider simply saying at the beginning of the walkthrough that the second corners will be the ones who cast each time. Then when people are moving, you can simply say "Ones, cast and chase." It may also help to observe that the chases are all clockwise.
- It was helpful to think about the fact that I was going to end on the right- or left-hand side of my corner in the line.
- We've spent a lot of time on this first part of the dance, but the two-hand turn later on is also worth discussing: "You're in a line of four
next to your corner, and you dance up and down the set, and you end facing your corner. You dance half a hey, and meet your neighbor on the other
side of the set. Two-hand turn your neighbor until you're in progressed place, facing out. Lead out and back in. Second corners cross; first corners
- It's technically first corners on the second diagonal who cross first; how do you make that clear? You might say, "on the second diagonal, change; first diagonal, change."
Zag It Back:
Points from the small group discussion:
- Can one use ECD-style corners in contra calling? This is a difference between the US and the UK/Canada; in the former, it's likely to go badly.
- Describing people in terms of their relation to their partner versus in terms of free hands: "If you're on your partner's right" vs "if your right hand is free." Which is easier to understand?
Walkthroughs and feedback:
- This walkthrough was offered with the caveat that it uses the concept of corners, which may be confusing for contra dancers: "This dance is
in Becket formation: you're holding hands with your partner on the side of the set. Look on your left diagonal; slice toward the left
and fall straight back so you're facing a new couple, and in that new couple [having already taught the concept of first and second corners], second corners
allemande right once and a half to your neighbor: balance and swing."
- Is the concept of corners valuable? What if it was introduced in a program that included contra corners?
- I think it's unlikely that contra dancers will embrace corners anytime soon.
- The conversation about whether or not to use corners at a contra dance was interesting; it seems evident that there's a lot of resistance and that callers should think carefully about whether or not it's worth pursuing. How often will corners be the most effective/useful way to teach a dance? The second walkthrough this group came up with avoided corners:
- In this walkthrough, we assume (according to the rules of the workshop) that dancers know how to do each individual figure. "The dance is
Becket. You're standing next to your partner; the person on the left is the left-side person, the person on the right is
the right-side person. You'll be a left-side and a right-side person throughout this dance. Long lines, slice to the left and fall
back in place. The right-side person allemande right, go once and a half. Neighbor balance and swing." The rest of the dance is straightforward.
- A brief conversation about teaching the slice reminded us that context matters: what can you be confident the dancers know, and what will you have to teach?
- A participant asked, can we find words that are like "corners," rather than saying "right-side person" and "left-side person" -- which feels
like translating? You know, all of us will say "oh, right-hand person, we know what that means." If we really want to move to a more
geometric idea, then corners would be something we should maybe encourage contra dancers to start learning. On the other hand, right now it would
confuse a lot of people -- perhaps especially in a Becket dance.
- My solution for this is to use the "stay connected" theme that I highlight in my beginner lesson/walkthroughs. In the slice, you're only connected to your partner, so I say, after the slice, "two of you have a right hand free: allemande right once and a half." It's more concise, it avoids identifying individuals/roles in favor of inviting them to consider the whole hands-four, and within a couple of times through the dance you can simply say "allemande right" and they'll know who should move. The call would start as "Slice left; two with a right hand, allemande right -- go once and a half and neighbor swing," and then become "Slice left; two allemande right. Neighbor, balance and swing." If one were teaching style, this would also be an opportune moment to point out that the connection allows their partner to give them some connection, bouncing them into that allemande.
- The question was raised, what if this was long lines instead of a slice, so no one had a right hand free? In that case, I might use "right-hand person," but I would first look back to the previous figure: before they take hands in long lines, do they have their right hand free? If so, I'd say: "two of you have a right hand free: in a moment, you'll allemande, but first, long lines go forward and back., Now, two: in the middle, allemande right."
- It is helpful to be aware of redundancy: "left-side person" is descriptive, rather than jargon, so is it necessary to say "the person on the left is the left-side person"? Note that in some cases repetition is actually useful -- while experienced dancers want concise walk-throughs, new dancers are often grateful if the caller repeats information, because they're trying to process a lot.
- "This is a Becket dance; you're on the same side as your partner. With your partner, slice left to a new neighbor and then fall back.
Keeping hands with your partner, whoever has a right hand free, give it to the person across the set who also should be sticking out a right hand.
Allemande right once and a half, to your neighbor; balance and swing. Hands four, circle left three places. With this neighbor, zig left,
zag right... etc."
- The only adaptation was "person wit a right hand free" -- simple.
- This walkthrough was rejected by the group, but presented according to the workshop rules as their second idea: "With your partner, slice
on the left diagonal; fall back. Now if you're standing on your partner's right, allemande right once and a half."s
- It was felt that the wording/thought process involved in sorting out if you are on your partner's right was cumbersome.
Points from the small group discussion:
- Context matters: at a ball, a demonstration would be inappropriate for a dance this basic.
- Brian Stanton noted that he teaches this dance with the heys on the diagonal -- in small spaces, this gives dancers room actually to dance the figure. In contrast, the American callers in the group call the heys along the sides.
- This is a dance that rewards thinking about the whole pattern, as we think about how to teach positionally. What happens if you try to describe the opening of the dance positionally, without thinking about the whole A-part pattern? Sam Rotenberg offered this parodic walkthrough: "The top first corner crosses the set, passing right shoulders with their corner, initiating a hey for three on the right file, dancing back to place at the end of the phrase." Accurate, yes, but it violates every principle of minimalist calling!
Walkthroughs and feedback:
- "First couple, face down on the right diagonal: those three people are going to do a hey. First corners pass right to start the hey. Finish
the hey with everyone at home; now the first couple faces on the left diagonal, and those three people will hey; second corners pass left shoulder
to start the hey, and end with everybody home."
- And a second option, with the heys on the diagonals rather than on each side of the set: "Top first corner starts a hey by passing bottom first corner right shoulder, and the top first corner's partner crosses over, and the hey is on the first diagonal line. Everyone finished back in home place." And then obviously the second half is similar wording.
- Doing the second walkthrough, it became clear that the first walkthrough wasn't explicit about the heys being along the side of the set.
- Does it matter where the hey happens? What do the sources say? How "authentic" do we want to be about our interpretations?
- For me, personally, the priority would be that all the dancers do it the same way, which would motivate me to find clear language.
- It's easy to tell the first corners how to enter the hey, but it's harder to tell that third person how and when to enter the hey.
- "The first half of Jack's Maggot is a hey for three on one side of the set and then the other; the first couple is in both these heys. First
corners start by passing right shoulders to enter the hey; at the end of the phrase, everyone is home. The second hey starts with second corners
passing left shoulders, and ends with everyone home." And the rest of the dance is straightforward.
- Often when we teach this, we'd need to give a little more information about the hey: teaching it, basically. For the purposes of this workshop, we assumed that the dancers knew how to do a hey for three.
- A demo would be helpful here; how do we know when a demo or other teaching is needed?
Not a Figment of Your Imagination:
Point from the small group discussion:
- How does one teach a courtesy turn positionally when it isn't associated with a chain? We can come up with ways, but we can also use this dance to think about programming: one could intentionally put this dance after a dance or two that have had chains, so that you can use dancers' knowledge/muscle memory of the rotational direction, person on the right moving forward, etc.
Walkthroughs and feedback:
- "This dance is in Becket formation; you're on the side with your partner and your neighbor is across from you. Note which side is your home side;
that will be important throughout this dance. With your partner in courtesy turn position [which has been taught earlier in the evening], it's
a promenade across. This is the progression, so you 're going to promenade across passing left shoulders with that neighbor on the diagonal. You're
now opposite from where home is. Everybody, it's a left-hand hands-across star until you are on the side with your neighbor. One of you is on your
home side: if you are that person, turn back, and with your neighbor right-shoulder 'round into a swing. End that swing facing across and stay
connected with that neighbor. Two of you are about to do a thing; the other two will get a chance later. Right now, if you have a left hand free,
allemande left once and a half to find your partner: swing. Face across; right and left through. The other two, allemande right, once around and
back to your partner. Connect with your partner in courtesy turn position; do a courtesy turn and you're ready to begin the dance again."
- The goal of this walkthrough was to use the idea of home to help orient people.
- People generally found this walkthrough very clear.
- There were a lot of words in the teaching; how does that translate into calling? With a thorough walkthrough, your calls can be correspondingly minimal -- although one has to be prepared to support the dancers if/when they need you.
- How useful is the concept of a "home side" if one is role switching within the dance? In a Becket dance like this one, if you and your partner switch it doesn't change your home side, and if you're doing chaos switching (with other couples), you're all either ones or twos, so the same is true. In my opinion, dancers who engage in extrachoreographical play are to some extent responsible for themselves! Positional calling can, moreover, be helpful in chaos because regardless of your role, you can respond to calls that highlight momentum, free hands, etc.
- David observed that the right-hand allemande into a courtesy turn is analogous to a chain, except instead of pulling by, the people in the middle go all the way around, which could be a helpful teaching point.
- Some alternative for the walkthrough (but not a complete walkthrough in itself): in B2, there's momentum for the two people going into the
right-hand allemande, so one could use that flow. In B1, the person who turned back in the star is the person who allemandes left. After the right
and left through, you're on your home side (and you stay there).
- One of the challenges of positional calling is that dances that you used to think of as easy can be surprisingly tricky the first time you call them positionally. The opposite can also be true! But we need to be comfortable reevaluating our comfort level with individual dances.
- This group offered one basic walkthrough, and then some alternatives: "This is in Becket formation, so you're on the same side of the set as
your partner, facing across. Note the couple that's across and one
couple to the left -- your left diagonal. That's the spot you're going to end up in, in just a moment; those people are also your future neighbors.
It starts in promenade position with your partner, promenade across and then loop around left into that spot that I just told you to make a mental
note of. Then we're going to do a left hands-across star three places. Now you're on the side of the set with your neighbor and the next thing is
going to be a meltdown swing with that neighbor. If your back is to your neighbor, turn over your right shoulder to face your neighbor, and then
go into that meltdown and swing. End the swing facing across, connected to your neighbor. If you've got your left hand free, reach out to the other
person who's reaching out their left hand: allemande left once and a half until you're on the side with your partner. Swing your partner. End that
swing facing across; do a right and left through. Now if you have your right side free, do a right-hand allemande once around, and courtesy turn
with your partner, staying in that promenade position to start the dance again."
- And here's the alternative: "You're with your partner in courtesy turn position, looking on your left diagonal, where you'll see your future neighbors. Promenade across, looping wide to meet that other couple. Star left three places until you're on the side with your neighbor. If your neighbor is behind you, you're on your home side. Turn over your right shoulder and meltdown swing -- end facing across; you're looking at your partner. The people with a left hand free -- the ones who rolled back -- allemande left once and a half. Partner swing on the side. End facing across; right and left through. Two of you are moving forward: use that momentum to allemande right once around; courtesy turn your partner and stay in that position to start the dance again."
- Using their momentum to guide dancers into the allemande right is extremely useful, because in traditional courtesy turn position they don't have any hands free!
- It was really helpful to foreshadow the meltdown swing so that dancers who needed to roll back over their right shoulder didn't turn left to face in.
- One skill that's useful to develop as a positional caller is training dancers to do what you say -- and only what you say. So with the left-hand star, for example, you might say "star left three places, and PAUSE" so that the dancers don't move in any direction until you've told them where they're going.
Queer-Friendly Folk Dance Spaces: Nine Tips
On June 5, 2021, I was honored to be a part of the first (we think!) ever UK-based queer folk festival, QOFF, conceived of by Lisa Heywood and organized/staffed by a host of brilliant people. Lisa asked me to give a talk about creating queer-friendly folk dance spaces. Here are my notes from that talk!
How can dancers, callers, and organizers make folk dancing a queer-friendly space? Here are some strategies for welcoming and retaining queer dancers -- and creating dance programs that foster a queer-friendly atmosphere. It's not hard!
1. Hire queer talent
This is part of a larger project of diversifying your talent generally. People appreciate seeing aspects of themselves reflected on stage, but they also understand that if the people on stage are diverse in many ways (age, ethnicity/race, gender, nationality) then it's likely a community that's open to diversity generally. We don't need to take a "one of everything, or don't bother" approach to our hiring to convey diversity as a positive value at our dances.
2. Never make assumptions
This was important enough to the QOFF organizers that it was included in our safety policy, and it's a fantastic guideline for everyone. Whether you're a caller, organizer, or dancer, please avoid making assumptions about who is dancing with whom, what role they would prefer, their pronouns, etc. This also applies to imaginary people: are all your figure descriptions cisgendered? Have you considered using "they/them" pronouns for single dancers?
3. Safety and consent policies
Have them, and be public about them. That means not just posting them on your website or having a print-out on the front table, but also mentioning them in announcements and reinforcing the values espoused in them during the dance. As a caller, you can work safety tips and consent reminders into your general patter; as a dancer, you can proactively solicit consent and initiate conversations about your safety with partners.
4. Model dancing with diverse partners
Again, this is not just about gender. Callers can encourage dancers to change partners throughout the event, and organizers can articulate that practice as a norm in their advertising and promotion materials. Framing dances as community activities encourages people to get to know each other and thus to feel responsible to one another, which makes the dance a safer space. Callers are often perceived as leaders even when they're "off-duty," so our behavior can make a difference.
5. Call gender-free
Regardless of what we call it -- gender-free, gender-neutral, alternative role terms -- calling without reference to gender is the easiest way to avoid heteronormativity at a dance. There are lots of choices about how to call gender-free, from larks and robins to positional calling. I like the latter because it also offers the potential to disrupt the binary that has come to dominate folk dance (see my next point). But also, gender-free calling is in some sense more historically accurate: Think about how many ceilidh dances don't need roles: is this an accident? In many small communities, everyone dances with everyone, and always has done. The dances have welcome built into them by design, and we can and should honor that.
6. Introduce non-binary choreography
Non-binary choreography can be really simple: in a circle dance where roughly half the group goes into the middle first and the others second, for example, consider using other ways of identifying each half: "everyone wearing blue, into the middle,"" "everyone else, into the middle," etc. It doesn't matter -- and can even be part of the fun -- if it doesn't work out to be perfect halves.
Consider replacing asymmetrical swings with symmetrical holds: ceili swings or basket swings, for example, when ending position doesn't matter. And in situations where dancers expect more complex choreography, consider 3-facing-3 dances or other formations that don't rely on binary pairs. If you're a choreographer, write non-binary dances!
7. Know your history (at least a little!)
Specifically, know some of the history of non-binary dancing and same-gender partnering, whether that's women dancing together in Regency England (due, historians have hypothesized, to the shortage of men during wartime; see also this excellent post by Susan de Guardiola), cowboys dancing squares together in the American West, or the evolution of single- and multi-gender Morris sides on both sides of the Atlantic.
Daisy Black made an excellent comment to this point in the chat: "We know that the Inns of Court were one of the big customers (and inspirers) of Playford's dance printed editions, and those were communities of male students learning to practice law. There are dance tunes and names riffing on Grays Inn and Lincoln's Inn. Although Playford uses gendered terms in his dance instructions, in the Inns they were danced with men in all positions. So even in 1651 people were ignoring the 'printed' dance terms and dancing with whoever was there."
8. Use announcements and patter effectively
Announcements and caller patter can introduce and reinforce community norms ranging from choices of partners ("ask someone new to dance") to the presence of stewards, etc., who can be approached with questions or concerns. At the risk of repeating what I said earlier, consider your standard teaching/description phrases: are they gendered? Do they imply romantic intent between partners? How might you replace them with words or phrases that don't have the same effect?
Remember that dancers who have romantic intent can sort that out for themselves: no one has ever flirted just because a caller reminded them to, and no one has ever forgotten to flirt because the caller didn't mention it. What the caller can do is share the value of consent through the mic: both overtly ("some people like to make eye contact during this figure, but it's entirely optional"), and by (lack of) implication.
9. Queer-friendly is people-friendly
A welcoming dance is, by definition, welcoming to all. Talk to a diverse range of dancers in your community -- and if you know dancers who have left the dance, ask them why -- and then build on what you learn from them. Don't let yourselves be bullied: be confident that if your policy of being welcoming and safe makes someone uncomfortable and they can't explain why without being sexist/racist/homophobic, or using spurious logic, that's on them, not you or your dancers.
At the end of the talk, I turned it over to the group for their thoughts about how spaces have been welcoming.
We talked a bit about intersectionality: how does being a queer-friendly space intersect with being a safe space for disabled
people, for example? We also talked about badges/pins and t-shirts that say things like "ouch!" (for placement at an injury),
"I dance both roles," "Dance roles are a social construct," and "Dance with whoever comes atcha!" as tools for non-verbal communication.
Caller Websites -- with guest Colin Hume
Why do callers build websites?
In this online workshop with UK-based caller Colin Hume, we take a deep dive into the development of his website -- which leads us to a variety of other topics. Many of you know Colin thanks to his website (and if not, check out this ten-minute tour), as well as his dances, compositions, and calling.
What content do caller websites include, and why? What's the balance between website content and that published in other forms —- books, CDs, etc.? How has the internet changed social folk dancing?
After the workshop, Graham Foster began compiling a reference list of caller websites. Follow the link to find out how you can add yours to the list.
Watch the video of the complete workshop:
Several products, sites, and other resources were mentioned by Colin and others during the workshop. Thanks to everyone for your input!
- WebLog Expert Lite: A tool for tracking site visitors.
- Dance Kaleidoscope animations, by Keith Wood
- Hugh Stewart's Dance Finder
- Lambertville ECD video list
- Email lists: lists.sharedweight.net
- Favorite movie dance scenes: in the new Emma, and in Becoming Jane.
- Much of our conversation centered on Colin's dance organizer program, Dance Organiser.
- Crossover Mac: emulator for running Windows software on a Mac
- "The Dancing Master" by Transported Productions: available in the Apple App Store
- Ralph Canapa's application for managing dances (Mac)
- Caller's Companion, by Will Loving (Filemaker-based): primarily meant for contra, but can be modified for ECD
- Colin mentioned his barn dancing site, recently taken over by CDSS.
- The Amazing Slow-Downer, for slowing down recorded music.
- See also Tempo Slowmo (for phones) and Anytune, for adjusting recorded music speed.
Zoom Calling -- with guest Cathy Campbell
Watch the video of our workshop on Zoom calling with Cathy Campbell
We discuss Zoom dance organizing and calling set-up, attendance (and the pros and cons of Zoom as a community dance tool), adapting dances for solo and couple dancers, and more.
Several resources were mentioned in the chat, including: