Thoughts on Dancing the Whole Dance: Positional Calling for Contra

After yesterday's post on my experience dancing to positional calling, Louise Siddons recommended I read her booklet, Dancing the Whole Dance: Positional Calling for Contra. Overall I like the it: it gives a good explanation of how to call positionally, with a lot of examples handling specific situations, and a lot of advice seemed like it would fix the confusing and frustrating situations from the weekend. I'm very glad the book exists: if people are going to be trying positional calling it's key to have this kind of clear resource.

I do still have trouble imagining someone calling this way without being much more wordy than when using role terms. For example, consider Chart Guthrie's duple improper dance, "Hey in the Barn":

Dancing to Positional Calling

In a contra dance when only some of the dancers should take an action, the caller typically identifies them by role: "Robins start a Hey for Four" (or "Ladies" with gendered calling). In positional calling, instead, the caller doesn't use role terms: "pass right shoulders to start a Hey for Four". While we often don't think of it this way, only the dancer currently on the right side would start a Hey passing by the right shoulder. It especially helps if this flows well from the previous figure: after a courtesy turn you can usually just say "Hey for Four" without clarifying anything about who starts it.

I wrote about positional calling back in 2019, but that was before I'd danced to it. I recently attended a dance weekend that used entirely positional calling, however, and now I have more informed thoughts!

This was in some ways a better-than-usual context for positional calling:

You Don't Always Need Indexes

Sometimes you have a lot of data, and one approach to support quick searches is pre-processing it to build an index so a search can involve only looking at a small fraction of the total data. The threshold at which it's worth switching to indexing, though, might be higher than you'd guess. Here are some cases I've worked on where full scans were better engineering choices:

Phone Number Jingle

When the kids were little and we were at the kind of event where they might get separated from us, I'd write my phone number on tape and stick it to their backs:

Anna at NEFFA 2019, age 3

The kids are getting older now, and are playing independently enough that it would be good if they always had my phone number. Lily (9yo) has had a piece of paper in her backpack for a while now, but unless she's going to or from school she won't have it with her. Several rounds of "repeat after me" weren't working, so this weekend we made up a song for it. After just a few times singing it she has it down.

T-Shirt Size Distribution

Back in August when we put in an order for shirts we didn't know what sizes people would want, so I looked around online and made some guesses. Now that we've sold a bunch of shirts and are looking at putting in another order I can look at our sales and have a much better idea of what's likely to sell in the future:

Size Unisex Fitted
XS 0 1
S 3 4
M 9 6
L 13 7
XL 9 1
XXL 0 1
XXXL 0 2

Going by sales isn't perfect: in addition to the noise inherent to small samples sizes there were also a few times when someone wanted to buy a shirt but we didn't have one in their size, and this was a bit more common in the more popular sizes.

Here's how well this matches our initial order:

Elevator Positioning

I really don't like the feeling of leaving an elevator and not knowing whether to go left or right. You need to be moving so you don't bother the people behind you, but if you just pick a direction you might be going completely the wrong way. My sense of direction is pretty good outside but inside it's patchy, effectively on a floor-by-floor basis.

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