Who Organizes Dances?

January 22nd, 2024
Most contra dances are organized by a committee of volunteers: ~3 to ~8 people who divide up the work. This includes both advance work like coordinating with the venue, booking performers, and publicizing the dance, and also day-of work like setup, cleanup, and handling things that come up at the dance. For a detailed example, you could look at BIDA's current division.

This is not the only way to organize dances: some events are put on by a house band, house caller, or an individual (volunteer or professional). I have the impression this used to be more common before the 1970s-on revival, but don't have anything hard to go on.

Someone wrote me to ask about the typical composition of organizing committees: are they usually made up of callers? Musicians? Dancers? People who do everything? I decided to look back over BIDA's historical board, and see what it's been in our case.

Over the past fifteen [1] years we've had 34 board members. Looking over the list I remember all of them dancing at least some, and most of them also called or played music. Let's make some tables, considering only what people did during the time they were on the board: [2]

non-musician 16 (47%)
casual musician 5 (15%)
booked to play 13 (38%)

non-caller 23 (68%)
casual caller 2 (6%)
booked to call 9 (26%)

Overall, it looks like we've has a lot more musicians than callers. But do the musicians and callers tend to be the same people? Let's cross these tables:

non-caller casual caller booked to call
non-musician 10 1 5
casual musician 2 0 3
booked to play 11 1 1

It looks like the single most common role is a dance musician who doesn't call, at 11 (32%), followed closely by people who don't do either, at 10 (29%).

Losing a bit of resolution, let's categorize everyone by their primary skill-set. For example, even though I like dancing and was booked to call, my main non-organizer role was as a musician:

Musician 13 (38%)
Dancer 12 (35%)
Caller 8 (24%)
Sound 1 (3%)

I'd be curious what this looks like in other communities!

[1] Really! BIDA started in late 2008, and our first dance was in February 2009. We're holding a big celebration dance on 2024-02-04, and if you've ever played for BIDA you're welcome to come back and join the band!

[2] I'm counting someone as "casual" if they do this form of some but aren't to where they'd be booked for a dance. Marking someone as a "non-musician" only means they don't play contra music—they might play an unrelated genre.

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