Stressful Calling

October 7th, 2013
calling, contra
When I call for contras I'm not having fun. Most of the time I'm watching the dancers to see what they need from me, where I should jump in and give a little prompt, and where I should stay quiet and let them figure it out themselves. After a dance starts to run smoothly and I've dropped out I get to relax a little, but then I need to figure out what is the right dance to call next, balancing interest and difficulty. When I make a mistake I get very quick feedback: something doesn't work out. If I choose a dance that's too hard, it becomes apparent during the walkthrough or the first few times through the dance. If I try to drop out too soon, I see people confused about what they should do next. This quick feedback is very good for learning, but it's painful having your mistakes emphasized to you immediately.

What makes this worse is that I'm not observing the whole hall equally. Instead I'm focusing most of my attention on the trouble spots, the places where I might be needed to fix something. This means that if the dance is going smoothly for nearly everyone, but there's one couple of beginners who keep getting confused, I'm mostly watching that couple. My perception then is skewed toward where I'm doing the worst.

If I find calling so stressful and unpleasant, why do I do it? I originally got into calling in college because there were events I wanted to happen at which we were going to need a caller. It's still something I want to be able to do in case it's needed, so I call partly to maintain the skill. But I'm also worried that if people who don't like calling don't call then only the people who really enjoy calling will do it. You'd think that would be a good thing, but most of the time when I see an intermediate caller up there having a great time behind the mic they're screwing up in all sorts of ways, generally related to not noticing when the dancers need them. Which makes sense to me: if they were really watching what was happening out in the hall it would hurt and it would be hard to enjoy it so much. If someone came to me and offered to lift the stresses I feel when calling and let me relax and enjoy myself I would probably say no. As much as I don't like the negative reinforcement, without it I would be a worse caller and the dancers would have less fun.

(If your friends are dancing this is even trickier: they're going to have a lot of fun regardless, and probably more fun with more interesting dances. It's the new dancers who really need your consideration and attention, and if you keep calling dances that are too hard, don't make it clear what to do during the walkthrough, or don't prompt clearly, they'll be more likely to decide contra isn't for them and not come back.)

I'm hoping to get to where I'm good enough that it's ok for me to pay less attention to the problems because I have less improving left to do, but that still feels like a long way off.

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