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Lessons From Dropping Out

When I was learning how to call for contra dances, one of the things I needed to understand was how to drop out. If you haven't been to a contra dance, the idea is that there's a person who briefly teaches each dance, and then once the music starts they "call" the dance by giving little prompts to remind people what to do. These prompts are things like "long lines forward and back", and the caller says them immediately before the dancers start doing them.

The dances consist of about 30 seconds of movement that you repeat over and over, maybe fifteen to twenty times. Each time through you and your partner are dancing with a new "neighbor" couple, but you're making the same motions as the last time. Since it's so repetitive, by the end of the dance everyone generally has learned the dance fully, dancing from memory, and the caller will stop calling or "drop out".

Less Simple Contra Dance Piano

Several years ago I wrote a series of posts about simple contra dance piano playing: 1, 2, 3. Since then I've played a lot more piano for dancing, and rereading those posts the main thing that jumps out at me is that the style I'm showing there is based around playing left hand bass notes on the downbeat and right hand chords on the upbeat ("boom-chuck"). This is a style that many people teach to people who are completely new to playing dances, but I no longer think is a good starting point. Instead if I were writing those posts now I would start with rocking octaves on the left hand.

The idea is, you play a bass note with your left pinky on the downbeat, and the bass note an octave up from there on the upbeat: example.

Scattered Tour Thoughts

I just got back from a tour with Kingfisher and it was pretty great! Some thoughts, not in any particular order or especially cohesively:

This is the fourth tour I've taken (see: 2012, 2013, 2014), and the first one I brought Lily on. Having one of my kids along was different, but it really went very well! The bit that I would have expected to be hardest from my experience as a kid was the amount of time in the car, but tablets have really changed this. Our rule with tablets is "long car trips and airplane rides only", and tablet time is enough of a draw that I think Lily may have wanted to come on this tour for the tablet time alone! Even on the 10.5hr Boston-Richmond leg she didn't get bored or unhappy.

Sleep also went surprisingly well. She's mostly not sleeping at naptime anymore, and instead just has quiet time with a story tape. But she does need a long time at night (~10hr), and with the gigs she wasn't going to be getting to bed until about midnight each night. I made sure our rooms weren't too bright (as much as possible) and she seemed to do a good job sleeping until she wasn't tired anymore, generally waking around ~10am. One thing that was helpful here was tucking spare towels or blankets over the curtains to make them block more of the light:

At the dances themselves she would wander around, play with legos I'd brought, get various adults to read to her, and at several of the dances play with other kids who were there. Occasionally she would sit on stage behind me, and was pretty good at staying out of the way. She did crawl under my chair once and started the metronome on my electronic drum kit, which was loud and surprising, but mostly she has a lot of practice at dances from coming to dance weekends with me.

Ricochet Robots: Priority

In Ricochet Robots everyone gathers around a board trying to figure out the most efficient ways to bounce around a robot to get it to a target. It's a great game for parties and loose gatherings, because anyone can join or leave at any time: you join by claiming a solution, you leave by wandering away. It's a bit like Set in this dynamic.

In the official rules, when you see a solution you say the number of moves it requires and start a timer. If anyone else sees how to do it in fewer moves they say so, and when the timer runs out the person with the shortest solution demonstrates it and wins that chip.

This is fine, but I've found adding an additional catch-up rule makes the game a lot better:

Long Term Bets

When I have a disagreement with someone over something where we'll probably eventually know the answer, I'll often offer to bet. Coming up with terms we both agree on can clarify the disagreement, and putting even small amounts of money on the line can make people (including me) think a lot harder about what will happen. Examples of bets I have open right now:

  • We'll have driverless cars by 2027, where I can take one from my dad's house in Medford to the Concord Scout House.

  • No state will have banned human drivers by 2037.

  • If states start being permitted to fully ban abortion, some state will still allow it in 2040.

  • Slaughterhouses will continue to be legal in the UK in 2050.

How should the mechanics of long-term bets work though? Will we both still be around? I've used three different systems:

If I trust the other person a lot relative to the amount of money involved and expect to still be in touch, we'll just agree to the bet and confirm over email. When the date comes around I'm confident we'll be able to resolve the bet. This is by far the easiest, and what I've done the most of.

2019 Tour

Tomorrow Lily and I leave Somerville for a big trip:

We're driving to Richmond on Wednesday, where I'll leave Lily with her grandparents and drive on to Asheville. I'm playing Thursday night at Warren Wilson with the Free Raisins and then we play LEAF. Then I'll pick up Lily and drive back to Boston playing dances with Cecilia Vacanti as Kingfisher.

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