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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.

  1. Dancing the Whole Dance: Positional Calling for Contra (link to published book)
  2. 5 Benefits of Positional Calling (and one challenge) (video)
  3. Positional Calling I for English Country Dance (video)
  4. Positional Calling I for Contra Dance (video)
  5. Positional Calling II: Practice (ECD and contra) (transcript)
  6. Queer-Friendly Folk Dance Spaces: Nine Tips
  7. Caller Websites -- with guest Colin Hume (video)
  8. Zoom Calling -- with guest Cathy Campbell (video)
  9. Starting New Dance Groups -- Bernie Culkin and Louise Siddons (video and text)
  10. 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.)

If we were to teach the same concept positionally, we might say instead:

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:

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 Homecoming:

Points from the small group discussion:

Walkthroughs and feedback:

Zag It Back:

Points from the small group discussion:

Walkthroughs and feedback:

Jack's Maggot:

Points from the small group discussion:

Walkthroughs and feedback:

Not a Figment of Your Imagination:

Point from the small group discussion:

Walkthroughs and feedback:

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!

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:

Bernie Culkin and Louise Siddons on starting new groups, with host Colin Hume

Watch the video of our webinar, and then enjoy the follow-up conversation below, where we answered some of the questions we didn't get to in person.

This workshop was sponsored by the Friends of English Dance, formerly Friends of Cecil Sharp House.


Thanks to the Friends of English Dance, formerly Friends of Cecil Sharp House, for organizing this webinar. See their full schedule of online events on their website.

Workshop 5: Working with Musicians -- with guests Chip Prince and Jacob Chen

How do callers work with musicians successfully?

This workshop was held on June 27, 2020, for the Scissortail Traditional Dance Society (Oklahoma). Before the workshop began, I sent Jacob and Chip a list of questions that we might ask:

But, predictably, the conversation took its own path!

Louise: I invited Chip to join us because in addition to being brilliant, he also recently described himself as still feeling new to playing for dances — and I thought, that's exactly the right person to have a conversation with emerging and experienced callers — because he might still remember what surprised him at the beginning. Jacob is also relatively new to playing for dances, and he's had to learn our quirks as callers — and doubtless has some insights about them! So I'd love to start with a question to both of them: what do you wish you'd known about working with callers when you started playing for dances, and what do you still wish more callers told you/did for you (without you having to ask)?

Jacob: I didn't really interact with callers much at the beginning, because I was so focused on what I was doing — am I keeping a steady beat? — and all these things in my own musician world, and so it was the six-month mark when I started interacting with the callers, asking them for things and asking them to ask me for things. I think the thing that really helps, first and foremost, is being a dancer, because for both English and contra you know how some figures go and what the overall energy or mood of the dance is. Specifically starting out, dancing was a very large help.

Chip: I was really glad that I danced before I played, and one thing — and this gets down to a basic that not many people think about — is just the range of metronome markings between which steps can happen. You know, you get as low as 80, and it's just, ugh, you're going to fall over, because you can't keep your balance. And you get up as high as 130 and oh my gosh, I can't go that fast. Musicians who don't play for dances don't necessarily know this. Not only does tempo need to stay regular, there's a sensible place for it to be. And then learning, within that range, which dances need to be a little slower, either because of the figures or the style, or because the music requires it. These are things that having danced, I know — and even as a dancer, I was beginning to form opinions about, "oh gosh, I wish I could hear the beat better," or "I'm having trouble doing this dance as fast as they're playing it" — that sort of thing.

Louise: Like you said, too slow is also hard to dance to. In the moment, often the way I communicate tempo is to dance and then tap it out — but even then, there's a range you can do inside that suggestion. It can be fun for dancers when musicians change the tempo as the dance progresses. How do you, as musicians, think about that? Do you go in to a dance with a plan about tempo change?

Chip: I want to ask Jacob this, actually: you play piano, and do you play dances alone? Do you have one or two other musicians with you?

Jacob: I usually have two or three other musicians, although I have done solo gigs.

Chip: And that's hard, right? Because you have to cover the melody the whole time, so there's less you can do to improvise around it. I mean, that's part of the equation, is the other musicians. What are they capable of? What prejudices do they have in terms of tempo and style, etc.? One of the reasons I describe myself as a relative beginner is because even though time has passed and its been almost twenty years now, I still feel like the new kid on the block in New York, because there are people who have been doing this since the '70s and '80s, and those are my mentors. And then there are people who have grown up, like Naomi Morse, who grew up in a dancing musician family, and she knows all of the tunes, and she has opinions about them. And she doesn't push them, but I want to hear what she says and know what she feels. And so as expert as some people might say they think I am — yeah, I have opinions about things I know about, but there's so much more that I don't know, and I want to be able to learn from the Naomis, and the Jacqueline Schwabs, and the Karen Axelrods — the superstars. Kate Barnes, you know, all of that.

Louise: While you were talking about the opinions musicians have, I was thinking about communication between musicians and callers. And when I'm working with a band for the first time, the first question I ask is, "who do I talk to, and what do you want to hear from me?" And so I wonder, inside the band, how do you decide who is in charge? Especially in situations where individual musicians are hired, like Pinewoods, rather than complete bands, is this something that you negotiate ahead of time? Or does it rotate? And then how does the caller fit into that?

Jacob: Well, at Pinewoods the musicians are the cream of the crop — they know what they're doing and they're very good at working it out organically. In my own band, I'm the head; we rehearse and I'm in charge of slowing down and speeding up on purpose, for example. In Panda Stomp, it's defaulted to me taking over everything and we're all okay with that; in Merry Mayhem, we're all kind of — I don't think any of us are really the leader, although if it's anyone, it's Shanda. But even with that, it's open, we just feel the vibe and so it's a little harder to say. We're all kind of in charge.

Chip: You could argue that because the piano is the biggest instrument, and makes the most sound, then if muscling the tempo one way or the other has to happen, then it's the piano that can do that. Having said that, I find that I'll defer, within reason, to other musicians, tempo-wise. Obviously it depends a lot on how strong a musical personality they have and how experienced they are — with some newer musicians, I need to guide them, and then I hope I know what I'm doing. If it's a brand new tune that I've never played before, then oh boy, I'm going to need that information from the caller. They'll tell me if it's smooth, bouncy, sprightly — you asked for adjectives, and those are some of the adjectives I like. "Sprightly" describes any number of eighteenth-century jig tunes. But then, you'll look at the dots — the music — and something looks like it's going to be a sprightly tune, and the caller will ask you to play eight bars, and they'll come up to me and say quietly, "it's actually smoother than that." And it's okay, because everybody forgives everybody, you know — we're all learning. But the dots tell you so little. You've got this lead sheet, and you have to read between the lines. And/or listen to a recording, something like that.

I've found in the last year or so, as I'd get scheduled for dances, and a couple of days before I'd get the program, I'd look it over and say, "I know that, I know that, I know that… oh, I don't know that, what's that? Oh that's going to be a ball dance, so I want to know what that is." And I'd go to YouTube, and maybe I'd find Bare Necessities playing it, or Karen Axelrod with somebody, or a video from Gainesville, Florida — and I would say, "okay, that's an interesting dance, it has that, and this style would help that move…" and I'd listen to the musicians and I'd say oh, they're playing that really well, or (and again, I'm opinionated) I'd say, "I think that's too fast for the dancers," or whatever.

Louise: Occasionally, I think, this is a dance we haven't done before, and now I'm asking Jacob to do it for our Zoom dances, and each of the four members of Merry Mayhem has to record a track without even hearing the others. And I think, I could send an MP3, but I don't want to imply that I want Merry Mayhem to replicate Bare Necessities — but on the other hand, it gives information about tempo and style. Is that helpful, or is that overbearing?

Chip: I think it's helpful.

Jacob: I think it's especially helpful in English, because the tunes are tied with the dances, so in that scenario it's more appropriate. And for me, as Chip said, if I don't know English tunes or dances I'll look on YouTube to see how other people play it, how it fits with the choreography. Contra is quite different. In terms of English, I think it's appropriate to provide clues about what might be helpful, but still leaving it open for creativity's sake.

Chip: I think at one point in time we might have seen that as cheating — but there's no such thing as cheating; we all learn from each other all the time. And going to good sources — we don't have to copy them exactly, but getting an idea of the style or the gestalt of a tune, and then hopefully having the flexibility and the creativity to build on that is fun.

Noel: I usually try to coordinate with the band ahead of time, and give them the program and some ideas — smooth, bouncy, flowing, zesty (for the dance right before the break, where I want to energize people — Julia Delaney, Cold Frosty Morning, Dancing Bear, Tam Lin, I have a whole list of tunes that are great dances to end on. But I also try to give an idea of where the balance and swing is, or down the center, where you want something jaunty. Jacob likes to know all the figures, so I give him everything. But what helps you pick out a tune?

Jacob: When I'm picking a tune, I need to see the whole dance — I feel really strongly about this — because I need to know where tension and release points are. That's how I organize my tunes; my tune document has "build up to the As," or "bouncy Bs," etc., so for me everything is so much about tension and release. Let's take something like, the top of the A has a balance and the B has a full hey: that tells me that I need a tune that I can use lots of tension at the top of the A and then release in the B and everyone's happy and crying and world peace, etc. [laughter] So for me, I have to look at the entire dance so that I know where those points are. And, for example, with Petronellas, there's a difference between bouncy tunes where the beginning of the A has a nice bouncy part, compared to a Petronella where you typically have more than one in a row, so you need the bounce not only in the first part of the A but also where the second Petronella would be. And in most cases, it's the same—the same phrasing. And things with allemandes, or butterfly whirls—I've found as a dancer you need to take time with the butterfly whirls, or with heys — as a dancer you have a tendency to rush, so looking at the entire dance a musician can identify the important things, the places to play around, the tension and release moments.

Chip: When I play contra, I'm never the leader, so this isn't stuff that I do. I don't think most band leaders are as scientific as you are, Jacob! But I do find that as the pianist, if the tune is almost there for the needs of the particular dance but not quite, that I can make up that difference in how I play it. It may not be obvious in the tune that there's a balance in the dance, but I can put it there — and that's fun; I enjoy doing that. And then we'll do that trick with Petronellas where we drop out to make room for the claps — those are things that bands can rehearse, although we tend not to rehearse that much.

Jacob: Going off what you said, Chip, more recently I've found that you can force a style on a tune, and it's great — it's what I love about it. Some tunes might lean toward smooth or bouncy, but you can force things and I would say that in terms of callers recommending tunes, I would be cautious in the way you might do that. Because you can play the same tune smoothly or with bounce; if you know the musicians and their style, that's one thing, but it's good to know that every band might have their own mood for any given tune.

Chip: This brings up something that applies to English a lot. English is so interesting because the dances are tied to particular tunes, so it falls to the musicians to play the same tune over 11 or 13 times a) without getting bored and b) without being boring, and c) (and maybe this should have been (a)) keeping the tempo consistent — or ramping it up, if the caller says "this is going to be hard the first time through, but as they get used to it we can bring the tempo up to where it really should be." So it's about the musical form: theme and variations, like in the symphony and things like that. I think about English as "theme and variations." And I've seen other musicians do this and I think it's amazing, and sometimes I do it a little bit: we'll start in a certain style, and then we'll start to get a little bit adventurous while still, of course, making sure that the beat is apparent for dancers so they don't get lost. Maybe we'll leave the melody behind for a little bit, but we come back to it, because we want them to know the form — we want them to know where they are. But then maybe it's a staid, Baroque tune, or something like that, and we do something naughty, like we throw in a jazz chord or a jazz rhythm. And I remember thinking when I first did that, "ooh, is this okay? Am I going to get in trouble?" English dancers are comparatively fussy — it's not a bad thing, but we know dance leaders will give you the side eye. Dancers, on the other hand, some will say "That was totally inappropriate!" Or others will say "oh my gosh that was so fun, I've never done that dance that way before!" And I like having the flexibility to do that, if I'm inspired. Sometimes a tune is hard to get into, and it's about remembering that it's in service of the dancers — what do they need?

Rebekah: Do you ever have callers ask you what tunes you like, or want to play?

Jacob: contras, or English?

Louise: In English, my impression is that it's conventional to give the band a veto. They get the set list a week or two ahead of time, and although I've never had a band do that, I have heard musicians complain about tunes they dislike. [laughter] And sometimes it's a tune that dancers love. Do you have hard "no"s?

Jacob: for English, I play the tune the caller needs. For contra, I haven't been playing long enough to have tunes I'm tired of — unless I've over-practiced or really struggled with something, but then that's on me.

Rebekah: We have that as callers, too!

Noel: Sometimes I think about phrasing — box circulates, or Rory O'Mores, which have four-count phrases. How does one ask for a tune with that quality?

Jacob: More specifically than "good phrasing" would be "short phrases in the A" — or even, "look at the phrasing here" if you're talking to dancers who like to read the card.

Rebekah: Are there certain tunes you like to pair together? And how is that accomplished?

Jacob: There are so many things! It's about similar phrasing; I'll pair tunes that have the same tension and release moments. From a musical standpoint, it's like, how does one flow into the other? Is it a major second away, a fourth away, a fifth away? In terms of key, is it major or minor? Is it meter, going from a jig to a reel?

Chip: Yup, yup, yup.

Jacob: And it's also about mood — what the caller is striving toward. Noel mentioned earlier that she likes the last dance of the first half of the set to be zesty, so I'll go toward something more minor, or modal tunes — and if it's a smoother thing, I'll have one tune start pretty generically smooth and then make it go even more smooth. It's almost like a story. Sandy does this for the overall evening: what kind of story are you telling? And I do it for tune sets.

Chip: I've gotten a lot of ideas for tune pairings by listening to albums that bands have put out. Of course, they're never dance length, but they might have three tunes, and they'll go from major to minor, or parallel minor — from A major to A minor, and you get ideas of what kinds of things work. And you learn tunes that way. There's any number of Québecois tunes that I'd never have learned if it hadn't been on someone's album — and I think, oh, I need that in my repertoire, so I find it in the Portland Collection or I transcribe it, if that's the only way to get it. And so I have a marching medley, my smooth jig one (Maison de Glace going into Indian Point), but they're all ideas I get from somebody else.

Sandy: And like you said, there's no cheating: you learn by watching others. I learn from watching callers at dance weekends, and I always hope that I'll be calling a dance within a couple of weeks myself so I can test things out. Bach was told to copy; it's how we learn and how we get energy.

Chip: And this is why we love a concentrated weekend of multiple dances, or a weeklong camp, because these things build on each other, and we have the opportunity to use new ideas right away.

Chip: Here's something related to your question about communication between musicians and callers. The physical set-up of the band makes a huge difference — and that includes the sound set-up. At CDNY, it's almost always the case that on English nights when the band faces the hall, the piano is on the right — and on contra nights, it's on the left. And the caller is always on the opposite side of where the piano is, because it makes sense for them to be away from where the sound is loudest. And I know a lot of pianists like to be facing away from the rest of the band — because they don't want the piano to bleed into the other musicians' mics, perhaps. But I hate that! I don't like not being able to see my bandmates without having to turn. I'm not as young as I used to be! I want to face award them a little bit — which means I'm also facing the caller, and will see any signals they make. And here's another interesting thing: bands set up monitors, and depending on the system they might have one, or multiple. When I play English, I may or may not need the other musicians, but I always ask to have the caller. And I'm the only pianist who ever asks for this, but I want the caller, because it helps me be able to doodle, to know where we are, and to know when to go — when it's time to play. THat's when I'm the leader — I'm in charge of making sure we're ready when we need to be.

Louise: Usually it's "get that caller out of my monitor"!

Chip: Once we get going, I tend to tune the caller out, unless I lose track of where we are. But during the teach, I want to be listening. Now, for contra, it's a different thing: we sometimes spend the whole time of the teach figuring out our set. And sometimes we haven't figured it out fast enough, and the caller has to tell a joke, or stall.

Jacob: For English, we're all acoustic — and that's nice. But sometimes in contra it's hard to corral the band — we're all young!

Chip: At contra, there's something about body language that tells you when they're through — and you aren't doodling during the teach.

Louise: What makes working with a caller fun? Good tunes, good energy in the hall make a gig fun; but what can a caller do to enhance the fun for the band?

Jacob: My initial gut reaction is thinking back to Flamingo Fling, and playing with Sarah Van Norstrand calling. She knew what she wanted and it was fantastic — she'd give us some adjectives or descriptors, and during the dance she would sometimes groove along, or very subtly say, like, "give me a little bit more" — it felt like she was part of the band even though she wasn't playing an instrument. With Sandy and I, we've done a few dances where we sat together and talked about the overall feeling of the evening, from pairing tunes to the bigger picture.

Sandy: It's really cool when we do that, because we do it up to a week before the dance, and then it has time to percolate — and we make changes, but we have a chance to dialogue, brainstorm, etc. It's fun because I'm trying to learn about the tunes myself, so it gives us a chance to experiment, but by the time we get to the evening we can enjoy being present in the moment, which is the biggest gift of all. If Jacob already knows what set he's playing, he can watch the walkthrough, and if I know what's coming, I look forward to it and enjoy the anticipation.

Chip: What makes the difference between a fun caller and one who is less so? It has to be obvious that they love the dance and the dancing. Competence makes a big difference! I don't mind if a caller doesn't know a dance by heart — it reminds us all that they're human, not gods, even if they have to possess certain god-like qualities to hold everything together. I like it when they find a way to maintain discipline that doesn't make them seem nasty. I like it if when they use musical terms, they either actually know what they mean, or they say, "am I using the right word if I say this?" They may not be musicians themselves, and so if they consult us about our expertise that's nice. I'm not used to having input into programs; I'm used to being told what it's going to be. Sometimes they'll ask if I'm tired of something — Levi Jackson, to pick a random example — and once in a while, there will be an alternate tune (Leather Lake House, for example), and callers will specify if they want you to come back to the first tune or not. Queen of Sheba — there's Handel's Queen of Sheba from Solomon; in New York they decided that they really liked doing the dance one time through with the original tune and then switching to the Handel tune, which isn't phrased at all, so you'd better know the dance, count the beats, and go — and that's a chance for the fiddles to show off, so you need good fiddles, but it's fun. It's also fun when the callers consult with us and give us a chance to show off.

Louise: How often have you been surprised by a request from a caller? Especially in English?

Chip: You mean ahead of time, or in the moment?

Louise: For example, people have started medleying English, which would still surprise me.

Chip: Oh, that's something I've never seen! That's cool! It's a performance thing.

Louise: I'd love to do it, but it requires a lot of collaboration with a musician for someone like me, who doesn't know much about how to pair tunes.

Chip: We sometimes allow an elitism to enter our mindset, and I'm learning a lot about how to loosen up. Alex Deis-Lauby is a caller who went through the CDNY Apprenticeship Program, whatever that means, and then she decided she wanted to start her own English series. She found a space in Brooklyn, and it never became a regular thing, but she called it "Floating Austen," and the band was the Austen Floaters, and they were all relatively new players, so they had to rehearse. Thanks to CDSS, Alex hired me to be a coach and anchor for this band, and her whole approach to English is "let's have fun" — let's learn the steps and try to do it right, but she wasn't picky about straight lines, covering, etc. It attracted rank beginners, and they did have fun. Fun is key to attracting younger dancers.

Louise: In Oklahoma, we're constantly inventing the rules as we go along; we have a lot of freedom in that regard. Like these caller workshops: there's no certificate at the end, but we can prioritize fun and experiment, if we want. We have room for innovation — which isn't necessarily a word that excites English dancers.

Chip: But it does exist — even if people avoid the word.

Louise: Exactly.

Chip: I remember the first time I encountered a Pat Shaw dance that had swinging in it at an English dance — gasp! It reminds us that there's some fluidity — in both directions (think of Ted Sannella's triplets — a set dance at contra?).

Louise: Now I'm thinking about Tom Kruskal's, as the famous example of a contra tune that got taken up by English choreographers. Are there broader examples of influence — is that even a realistic thing to think about? — between English and contra music? Stylistically, or otherwise? I'm thinking of that trance-y quality in contra, which Merry Mayhem has been bringing to our recent English dances, for example.

Jacob: I think because I started playing for both contra and English at the same time, my style overlaps. Initially I did have preconceptions about the separation between the two, and I listened so intently to Karen Axelrod and her stately playing, and thought I should be that way. But we're here to have fun, and I wonder if things that I do here would be welcome in other communities, especially in English.

Sandy: We didn't start English dancing until there was live music; it makes a big difference.

Chip: I forget that not everyone has live music — not every community is lucky enough to have musicians with the flexibility to play for dancing.

Louise: Do you have any suggestions for how to recruit musicians?

Jacob: I can talk about my experience: for me, it was almost fate that I had to be a contra musician. My college elementary music professor was teaching us how to teach elementary school dances, and he suggested we go to "the adult version"—a contra dance. I was instantly hooked, so if I had a recommendation it would be to target elementary music education majors, specifically.

Sandy: Miranda (who ran that dance, and its band) also mentored the musicians significantly. Mentoring is key to keeping new musicians engaged and motivated.

Chip: CDNY has a musician apprenticeship run by Cynthia Shaw and Dominique Gagné — they have the Contrapolitans and the Anglopolitans, who play once or twice a year. They sometimes do attract early music folks — a viola da gamba is really cool, but really hard to mic! But in New York, people come out of nowhere, it's just how the city is. When I first started dancing there, there were a very limited number of contra callers, but then over time there started to be more beginners, and all of a sudden there were more local callers.

Noel: I was actually in the band for our first few dances — I played flute, and I decided I might be better suited as a caller than as a musician. But anyway, the reason why we have our dances on second and fourth Saturdays is because the first Saturday of the month was when the Friends of Folk Music had a session, and we didn't want to conflict with their meeting because they were our first musicians. I don't know if other towns have a folk music jam — I work in Sulphur, and they have a jam at the local Mexican restaurant that's all kinds of music, but different communities might have local musicians who like to jam, and would be interested in playing for dances.

Chip: Jamming musicians are a great resource — they're going to be your best resource. And then music education people, like Jacob said.

Chip: I want to thank you for recruiting me to do this! I was pretty nervous, and this was very cool. You had a wonderful list of questions that made me start thinking, and I feel like I've met all of you before.

Louise: It's been great to have you; thank you both for joining us.