Calling my First Family Dance

October 16th, 2022
calling, contra
I just got home from calling my first family dance, the one I wrote about preparing for last week. I think it went well, but it also reminded me why I had stopped calling. The problem is that calling just makes me very anxious, because you're only one wrong word from messing up the dance for a lot of people. I know it's not that serious, and when I do mess up I can recover and get things back on track fine, but it's just not something I enjoy very much. Calling a family dance does have less of this effect on me than calling an evening dance for adults, and I'd still call another family dance if the alternative was not having one, but I'd still prefer not to call if there's anyone well-suited available.

In this case I ended up calling mostly because there aren't that many people who are really good at both family dances and regular contra dances, and the people we asked weren't available. Bringing someone in just to call a 1hr family dance before the regular dance isn't so practical, so I called the family dance and someone else called the evening dance.

Here's the program I did, with thoughts:

  • La Bastringue, variant where you keep your partner. Very small crowd at this point, five couples including me dancing. It's hard to get kids places on time, especially when the dance is basically at dinner time. I called this without a walkthrough, while dancing, unamplified, and it went smoothly. I put a few different things in the B1: swing, dosido and swing, allemande left and right. Keeps it interesting, and teaches new things.

  • The Low-Backed Car. Cuing the line leaders at the A1 and A2 was important, and initially I led them, skipping. We used the music from Galopede, because the C part fits the dance's B2 very well.

  • Favors the Rose (the Fan Dance. I forgot to bring an interesting object, but Julia remembered that we had a tambourine in the stroller, which worked better than anything I'd have intentionally brought from home. This dance is super simple, enough that it doesn't seem like it would be that fun, but a lot of family dance callers rave about how well it goes so I was pretty uncertain going in how much people would like it. I think it ended up a bit below the other dances in terms of how much fun it was? I probably wouldn't do this again unless I needed extremely easy material (drunk wedding?), though I don't think it bombed.

  • Bridge of Athelone, 32-bar variant that leaves out the tunnel. Two sets for this one. Initially one of the sets struggled to get back before the long lines, but as they learned it better this evened out. Like The Low-Backed Car you need the sets to be about the right length if you're going to stay on the music. Something like 8 couples max?

  • The Blob Dance. Not sure where I learned this, but it's a basic washing machine scatter mixer where after people have it you start replacing the "scatter" step with a "join" step. It's nice ending with the whole set dancing together.

  • Sasha. Needs specific music, but good fun. We did the speed-up thing at the end (thanks Max!), which works well because the dancers have time to learn it, and trying to dance it double-time (~240bpm) is just silly.

  • Galopede. This taught quickly because most people had already done both halves as the A part of Bridge of Athelone and the B part of The Low-Backed Car. We'd already danced to the title tune, but the band played St Antoine's, which went well.

  • Waltz, to end it. No calling or teaching.

I didn't want to introduce roles, so all of these dances it doesn't matter if you get swapped with your partner. I also tried to pick dances that had a lot more in common with each other than I'd do for a regular contra dance, to help people build up an understanding of the dances. All of them except Favors the Rose were phrased, and we stayed on the music: that the music and dance go together is something I feel is pretty core to the experience.

We used to do a potluck between the family dance and the regular dance, but because of covid we didn't (we require high-filtration masks). I'm now thinking that doesn't make sense, and we should still hold a potluck for people that are comfortable eating indoors? It's not that many people in a big space, and there's time for the hall to air out before the evening dance. I'll need to talk to my co-organizers.

If you were there and have thoughts on how it went, I'd love to hear them: even though I'm hoping not to need to call these often in the future, I'd still like to get better!

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