It's not often that I get the treat of dancing more than half of an evening of dances that I am also calling, but I got to do that tonight at the Laurel, dancing some of the dances with old friends and some of them with those newly addicted to contra dancing. I was a little worried when the dance got started and we only had 3 hands four worth of dancers, but by the middle of the evening we had two good lines of dancers, with about 5-6 brand new dancers, and varied levels of experience among the rest. After the first dance, Donna came up to me to tell me that 5-6 brand new dancers had just walked in (at that point, doubling our numbers) so I bailed on the contra I was going to do and switched to a nice easy mixer, proceeded by the 5 minute version of the "how to give weight and swing" tutorial. That got everyone dancing and swinging lots of different people.
Somewhere around MAD About Dancing, I switched from the handheld to the headset microphone and started jumping in to the dance too -- both to get a better feel for how folks were doing and because we generally had just 1-2 folks sitting out and I wanted to keep everyone dancing if they wanted to be -- besides, it was great to be able to dance as well as call, and with just two lines, I could still pretty easily keep an eye on the hall while I danced.
Of the dances that we did, all but BiCoastal Contra and Run Rooster Run II were ones that I have called many times before. Both of these, however, were new to me. BiCoastal Contra is a nice, simple Star Promenade dance. It ends with a Long Lines Forward and Back and then a Ladies Chain to progress. Calling from the floor without a card in front of me, I walked it through reversing the last two moves. Since I was dancing it, I could feel the connection to both your old and new neighbors that ending with the Long Lines gave, so I kept the moves swapped, which I think made the progression much easier for the newer dancers. I have never been all that happy with Ladies Chain into New Neighbor Balance and Swing progressions -- they work, but they always seem awkward (though not quite as much so as a Star Promenade & Butterfly Whirl into a New N Balance and Swing) and both can be particularly disorienting for the ladies. Having the long lines at the end, though, made the transition almost seamless, since you already have a hand with your new neighbor to pull into the balance.
I was even happier with Run Rooster Run II, though. An unusual progression and flow, but still really intuitive for even new dancers. Many of the ladies had a lot of fun with "making the gent come to you" (in the progression, which involved going and swinging the lady on the left diagonal - see below).
Run Rooster Run II - Jim Hemphill
A1 On L Diag, New gents pass by R Sh
The band for the night -- Lost Marbles -- was not one that I had worked with before. It was, however, that treat for callers: an old time band that actually tries -- and succeeds -- at matching dances to tunes when the dance needs particular phrasing. In particular, for the balancier dances and for La Bastrangue, I asked for tunes with really strong phrases and/or a slightly choppier sound, and they delivered with tunes that fit wonderfully.
Overall, some of the most fun I've had calling in a long time (actually since I called -- and danced -- at the Brattleboro, VT contra dance back in the fall). Calling for, and dancing with, a wonderful community of dancers (new and experienced, young and old) is always a great experience. This is the dance community I was dancing with when I first started calling, and it was wonderful to get a chance to come back and call for them now.
Frederick Contra - Tom Hinds
La Bastrangue (mixer)
Cranky Ingenuity - Bill Olson
MAD About Dancing - Robert Cromartie
Butter - Gene Hubert
Salmonella Evening - Steve Zakon Anderson & Louie Cromartie
BiCoastal Contra - Pete Campbell
United We Dance - Bob Isaacs
Flaherty Will Get You Everywhere - Bob Isaacs
Run Rooster Run II - Jim Hemphill
Lark in the Oven - Robert Cromartie
The Nice Combination - Gene Hubert
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On a Wednesday 13 years ago this past week, I moved out to Knoxville to take my first job after college. That weekend was the Knoxville Dance Weekend. That meant that I had the chance to unpack enough to live, and then go spend most of the weekend dancing with about 400 of my nearest and dearest friends at the UT University Center. Sometime over the next year, Nick Boulet somehow got me started calling -- I don't really remember whether I asked him about it or he suggested it to me. What I do know is that he had me standing on a chair in his living room walking a dance through to invisible dancers, and a few weeks later I called my first contra dance on a night he was calling at the Laurel Theater. I continued calling 1-2 dances an evening when Nick or Vicki Herndon or Tim Klein were calling an evening of dancing and were nice enough to let me call a couple of dances among theirs. I also had a chance to call for sleep deprived dancers late at night at the Laurel the last year before I left Knoxville and on a couple of return trips after I had moved, plus calling a dance in the main hall during the (now no longer happening) Sunday Afternoon open calling session. (I even got my first away gig when Hannah Pertallion introduced me to her dad John who booked the Boone, NC contra dance, and he took a chance on this guy he had only heard call a dance or two and booked me to call for the dance at the Apple Barn.
(no walkthru) The Wild Woman from North Carolina - Bill Olson
So many wonderful memories from the Ralph Page Weekend. The memories that will stick with me longest though all involve dancing the chestnuts. The RPDLW is probably one of the only places that the chestnuts get danced with quite this much enthusiasm.
About halfway through the dance on Friday evening we did our first chestnut -- Rory O'Moore. First time I had to dance it with this kind of group -- a group of dancers, many of whom had been dancing the chestnuts (and many other dancers) for years. It isn't that the dancing was absolutely perfect from a technical standpoint -- my shadow gent was actually having trouble with it for the first little bit. The dancing was joyful, connected and just so much fun. While we were the active couple, I think that my favorite moment in the dance was finishing the partner swing, stopping for a moment, and then just as the tune started again giving each other a nice tug by to head down the outside of the set.
As many different examples as I come up with, I've been having trouble finding words for exactly what it is about the dancing this weekend that was so wonderful. Failing at finding the words, I'll share a bit of someone else's words...from the "Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter" (quoted on the RPDLW Wesbite):
The dancing is harder to describe. We dance a combination of the old favorite dances and the more modern dances. People tend to dance in a somewhat older style, especially with the chestnuts. But most importantly people dance their best, dancing to the music, dancing with each other, keeping a friendly community atmosphere for the most part, dancing a bit more smoothly (although enthusiastically), generally paying more attention than usual. All of that makes it so everyone has more fun dancing together. Where else could you dance Money Musk for more than 20 minutes to superb music and when it’s over wish the band had kept playing another five or ten!
And then, indeed, there was Money Musk. Now I have the double challenge of trying to describe what it is that is so wonderful about the dancing and what it is that is so wonderful about this particular dance. I'm pretty sure that Money Musk was the first triple minor dance that I ever danced -- at Pinewoods on my first trip up there. I didn't know what I had gotten into. Here I was doing this dance with hands 6 rather than hands three, the wrong number of beats in the dance/tune and only 4 moves in the dance -- none of which were circles or swings. What kind of dance is this??
That first time, I made it through. The next year it made much more sense. A few years after that, I called it for the first time, and this year, I felt like I could dance it without even having to think about it. Which meant that I could pay more attention to the other things around me. Smiling faces. Amazing fiddling. The rhythmic sound of feet hitting the floor on the "forward 6" -- once at the end of the phrase, and once at the beginning of the phrase. My partner's wonderful smile (and all the other smiling faces) all through the dance. The amazingly connected feeling of a good same gender "no hands" Right and Left Thru, when you pivot together as a unit only needing to hold on with eye contact.
Money Musk needs 6 dancers to have one minor set, so we took the 6 of us over and started dancing in front of the musicians. By the time we were ready to progress, two more couples had joined us.
As we went another time through the dance, calls were heard to move chairs and tables out of the way. By the time the musicians stopped playing, more than 10 minutes later, we had a line of dancers across the room.
It was a magical moment, and one that would happen very few places other than at the Ralph Page weekend. I can't wait until next year!
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Well, it's all over. I'm on my way home, after my first Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, and a wonderful weekend it was. A weekend of dance, conversation, (more dance) caller geekery, (even more dancing, including exposure to many dances I hadn't done anywhere before), and some wonderful conversations with friends new and old.
What is it about this weekend that is so magical?
The magic is in 4+ generations worth of dancers dancing old and new dances together. It's in the connection through the left hands in a simple courtesy turn or a promenade. It's in weight given and received and always perfectly balanced It's in dancing Money Musk for 20 minutes to amazing music...a whole room of people rocking the house with the balances. It's in getting to do dances that I probably wouldn't encounter anywhere else, either because they're not in the style of dances that get done at most of the dances I attend, or because they're more complicated (or less complicated, or "worse" still have no swings (like Money Musk). This weekend, though we did them all. Old and new and almost everything in between.
During the dance last night, I found myself thinking that by the metrics of many dancers at "modern urban contra dances", the dancing there would be "low energy", or "old fashioned." The energy there is definitely different. It's less abut kinetic energy and more about connection and community.
Overall, though, this is really a weekend about the people. I danced with and talked with people of all ages and from lots of different parts of the country, all of whom share a love of contra and square dance -- many of whom were present for significant portions of what we of the younger generations would term it's history. One regret that I have is that I didn't get more of a chance to spend time talking to some of them. I suppose that's just another reason that I should be back there next year!
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What an amazing evening of truly wonderful contra dancing. Definitely some of the most enjoyable contra dancing I've done in a long time, and n'ere a swing dance move in sight. Glorious swings, connected courtesy turns...the distilled essence of what contra dancing should be. And this was only the Friday night dance. There's a whole weekend to go!
It's been quite a while since I was posting regularly here. I am hoping to start a calling journal, and it seems like the new year is a good time to do that. I am currently in a coffee shop in Cambridge, MA, getting ready to head up to Durham, NH for the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend (ralphpage.neffa.org). I am really looking forward to a weekend of great dancing, calling and caller geekery. Some of my favorite callers are going to be there this weekend and I can't wait to get to spend time with them, hear them call, and maybe even call a dance or two myself.
On my way on the train from DC to Boston....just left NY Penn Station. The few times I've gone in and out of Penn have all been since I read Conquering Gothem, a fabulous history of the building of Penn Station and, even more impressively, the building of the tunnels to get there. (If you want to read some reviews, of it, have a look at Amazon.
The engineering knowledge that went into building the tunnels that just took me from NJ to Penn just blows my mind. The tunnels were designed to "float" in the sandy, wet dirt under the river so that they actually move up and down slightly depending on the tide.
At the time, there was great debate about what should be done. Do you tie the tunnels down and take a chance that they would shear right off from the stresses caused by the tide, or allow them to "float" and have much less control over their motion. In the end, they made the decision to let them float, and, close to 100 years later, they're still carrying trains.
Then, there's the station itself. The original Penn Statioin was designed as an awe inspiring temple to railroads and transportation. Marble, vaulted ceilings massive columns all around it. I really wish I could have seen it in person, instead of in pictures. (If you've never seen pictures of the building, check out google images or your favorite image search)
Unfortunatetly, though it was designed to be a monument for the ages, less than 50 years afterr it was built, it was decided that the street level property was entirely too valuable. So they tore down an amazing building, and in it's place built....a box (otherwise known as Madison Square Garden.)
I love trains....have for most of my life, and don't get to ride them as often as I would like. I also love seeing old train stations that have been saved. Durham's is long gone. For most of the time I've been in Durham, we've had the "Amshack" -- a "temporary" building, that lasted for something like 10 years. Now Durham has opened a new station in the back of the old Liggett & Meyers tobacco buildings, in the final section of West Village. If we cant' have the original station, I figure having a new station in an old building is a close second.
Greensboro restored it's old Southern Railway station a few years ago. It's definitely in the marble column style of architecture, and it looks great. Salisbury has also restored it's original station, complete with central tower, and Richmond's Main Street station can be seen from the interstate, just to the east of the overrpass as you come into downtown. Three very distinct styles of building, but all easily identified as train stations. It's a style of building that really isn't being built anymore, and it's too bad we don't have more of them left.
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Wow. 4 days, 4 gigs, 44 dances (I actually met my self imposed challenge to call 4 evenings without repeating a dance), and something like 500 dancers. This was so much fun. I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into when I planned this (and the tour next month too), but I'm so glad that I did it. C, K, K and I have had a great time together -- definitely have to do it again. I'm seriously tired, but looking back on the past 4 days I just get the same goofy grin I get from standing on stage with a fabulous band....watching them and the dancers....loving the music and the energy of the crowd.
Friday in Carrboro was a great start to the tour. We had a huge crowd and got things off to a great start. Better still, it was for my home dance.
Saturday in Greensboro was a much smaller crowd, but with fewer new dancers, and we got some great dances and tunes in that night. After the dance, a bunch of folks ended up at the house we were staying at to hang out and chat and eat. Our host sent us off in the morning with a great breakfast for our early (and long) drive up to River Falls Lodge for the Sunday afteernoon dance and swim.
After the River Falls dance (and a refreshing swim in the Saluda River for me and the band afterwards) we headed up to my familiy's mountain house and had a relaxing evening just hanging out, learning new card games, playing old board games (an edition of Sorry that's older than i am -- it was my mom's when she was young, and I grew up playing with the same set).
After another great breakfast, we headed down the mountain and over to Asheville.
Our host for the evening is an old friend of C's, so they got some catching up tiime in, while K and I both took naps. We headed over to the hall and had dinner there before the dance. And what a dance it was -- great music, great dancers. The energy (and heat) in that room was amazing. I love dancing there, and I love calling there -- very different experiences, but they're both a blast.
Tomorrow morning, I have an appointment for work at 9:00 before driving back to Durham, and the band hass an 8 hour drive back to DC, so it'll be an early start for all of us.
Curreent Music: Recording of the dance this evening.
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After a yummy Thai dinner and enjoyable conversaion with friends in Roanoke, it was off to the dance for me. At the hall, I ended up serving as sound tech as well as caller, since they didn't have anyone set to do it.
Root 2 (the band) was easy to work with, even though this was one of their first full dances. They had some really nice sets of tunes. A little shaky on tempos, but that improved greatly over the course of the evening as we settled in.
The dance had a lot of new dancers, so I definitely earned my princely salary as a caller this evening. (As the saying goes: Contra callers drive hundreds of miles to get paid tens of dollars ;-) )
The dancers seemed to have a good time, which is the main thing. I was able to put together a set of dances that used a relitavely small set of different calls so that I didn't have as many new things to teach -- we were just putting the things we knew together in new ways, and occasionally adding a new move.
Tomorrow, if I make it up in time, I'm hoping to get over to Christ Episcopal Church here in roanoke where a friend is the associate. Not sure if I will make it up in time for that or not. For now, though, off to bed with me.
Camped out in a coffee shop for a bit before I meet friends for dinner in Roanoke before the dance this evening. Tonight, I'll be working with an unfamiliar band that is also relatively new to playing together, but friends have assured me that they're quite good. As usual, I've picked out the first couple of dances, but otherwise, will wait to see what the group is like and then go with the flow...
Tuesday in Winston Salem with the Big Home Band went really well. I'm not always as comfortable with old-time bands as I am with New England style bands, but we had a great time. It helps that they play for contras on a regular basis, and that Steve is really good at matching tunes to dances. That's usually the hardest thing for me with old time bands. I asked a much more experienced caller about what she did when she was working with old time bands, and she said that she didn't even try to ask for specific type tunes -- she just took what they played and worked with it. Hearing that from someone like Louie really took a load off my mind as far as working with old time bands go. It's a wonderful plus to have an old time band that takes the time to match the tunes, tho.
We had a great bunch of dancers, though, and I was able to call a nice variety of dances with few, if any, hiccoughs.
I am looking forward to playing with the two new dances that Dean gave me during the dance. I may even call one of them tonight.