colours link similar subjects Tips as collected from e-mail contributors to the e-ceilidh discussion group.
Colin Humes on social dance & posters on the Mudcat Cafe or web-mail suggestions to me from here
Derek Kingscote My job as caller for the uninitiated is to help the people at the event believe that they can dance and dance well. EC people can because they *know* that they can, no matter how complex the dance. Calling for ec is a piece of cake. From a psychological point of view the first couple of dances at non-ec events are crucial to build their belief.
Gareth Kiddier of Bismarcks imho the best evenings increase in momentum not speed and fun not complexity. If I had one key word of advice for a budding caller it would be never teach anything in the last hour.
Dave Hunt of
I try to get any 'teaching' done in the first half, then there is a 'body of knowledge' for the first part of the second half....and simple stonkers for the last hour!
A wedding is a SOCIAL EVENT...It's not a prissy dance club's two people who love each other and have just got enormous step in their they want a good evening which they enjoy (and remember with pleasure) and where all their friends and relations also have a good time...keep it simple and easy, and FUN! ...there is no such thing as an hackneyed dance...the reason that they have survived is because people enjoy dancing them!
one has to work WITH the band...I always ask if there are any special sets they would like to play, anything they have lots of, anything they are short of, and certainly with Old Swan and Old Hat we usually work out what the last 5-6 dances will be so that the band can finish with real belters, and the dancers have great dances to finish with....generally simple stuff that is head down and go for it...good EC in fact!
Callers, do you want 40 bars? Or, do you NEED 40 bars? If there is a mega-fantastic dance that's 40 bars, that's one thing ... Stick a Swing on the end to make 48 bars...or add another figure in the middle!
Roger of Haddenham When it comes to the inability of some people to count, I always pause at the end of the grand chain & tell them what to do "...if you find the fool in front of you can't count to 7..." so I have less need to sort problems out once the dance has started.
grand chain  -  I say "Its like swimming through people." which seems to capture the attention & give a picture of whats needed. It seems to work as well. (I think I stole it).
Richard Mason of
Another trick I have started using with the grand chain is to call it as a weave round the circle - usually getting the men to stand still while the women weave, then the other way round. They can usually cope with this better.
(Purely as a demonstration - presumes Mr Red)
I can usually get Lucky Seven to work if the circle is not filled with small children who won't be parted from parents - in which case the grand chain gets replaced with something simple like a do-si-do.
Each caller has their own methods I guess, but I prefer to start with something slightly challenging to the audience. Its just my preference and it works for me. Quite often those who are there at the very start of the dance are those who can cope with it best anyway - its about 30mins into the evening when you might need to dumb down a bit.
I guess that the only really general thing that you can say about calling is that you can't generalise! Most callers will have been in the position of calling the same dance in exactly the same way on 2 different evenings - once it works perfectly, the next time chaos. So much of the callers art is adapting to the surroundings and not being afraid to change your program or style of calling if you need to. Some times the audience listens, sometimes they don't.
Or in the case of dances like Thady You Gander, do it as unphrased. This works well if its got something like a strip the willow in it, as it allows those who want to take their time to relax, whilst those who want to want to go for it can fit in another 3 or four times through the dance. This is actually the dance I quite often call just before the break. Get the band to play their favourite set of tunes and really let rip. As the dance includes each line leading around the other, the floor soon evolves into a sweaty happy confusion as sets start to improvise. Result - happy, exhausted dancers leading into the break.
Alistair Gillies of
All Blacked-Up
Years ago when John Baker of Oswestry way regularly wanted a 40 jig we [I was in 'Devious Roots' in those days] wrote an 8 bar addition to Haste to the wedding which was a fairly elegant way of solving the problem - but I am afraid that I would expect some warning if a caller wanted 'special requirements' - and to be honest I find having to add sections of music a very uncomfortable experience.
Gavin Atkin I think adding a swing in an otherwise swingless dance would often be a popular extension - I think people who want to flirt, are good friends or even established couples often enjoy that moment of togetherness before they return to the hurly-burly.
Remember that calling is a special ability not given to everyone - I know, I tried it once and found it such an awful experience I'm never going to do it again except at something like a child's tea party.
it's a basic rule that people forget a lot of what's said to them - a fact that is ignored by most professional communicators and a lot of people who just think they communicate well already and don't need to make any special effort. The answer is to say what you want to say - and then say it again but in a different way so that those who didn't get it the first time have a better chance of understanding it the second. If it can't be said differently, just try to make it sound different.
Try to give the band an opportunity to play all their biggest hits, many of them in the last hour. Spend serious time talking to the band's tune fuhrer for the night before the show to make sure you can achieve this. Also, tell the tune boss when it's the last couple of times through and the last time through - not the rest of the band. They'll have their own way of communicating and your may cause confusion until they learn to ignore you.
To spend a little time on sound-checking, and use a mic that extracts as much clarity from your voice as possible - to me this often means a capacitance type mic for men callers and a dynamic type mic for women. Also, ask for a bit of caller in the foldback that you can hear so that you will know when you're being indistinct because of poor mic technique - some bands may object to this, but I think they miss the point if they do: really, an understandable caller is more important than a lot of volume from the band.
Mr Red aspect 1. below - as a dancer, if I get options I try to get concensus from from the set. A caller should suggest aggreement is sought NOW if they give options. (no they don't always think - callers or dancers!)
Gordon Potts 1. depends who they are
2. depends who they are
Steve Harris of e-ceilidh 1. Do NOT give the dancers options! (EG: "You could do this, you could do that or on the other hand do the other") It confuses people.
2. When making up sets, do NOT suggest that two distant incomplete sets get together. It rarely works. * Typically, 6 people have to agree amongst themselves to move * By the time they do that and have travelled, another couple or two as arrived.
3. Spend more time away from any microphone. Do demonstrations in the middle of the floor. Remember that many people tend to tune out amplified speech - especially if you show any tendency to verbal diarrhea
The inexperienced dancer typically cannot believe you are talking to him (or her). Notice that some well known callers identify such people ("Yes, you Sir in the blue shirt!)
If you MUST teach them that going wrong is easily fixed, make sure it IS - choose a ROBUST dance.
Another trick some callers have is to make it very clear when they have stopped waffling and want action.
Getting dancers into sets
- Repeat the number of couples many times. - Do hands 10 (or whatever)
Something that can help is to get the sets across the room. You can usually move sets further way from the band to get enough inter-set space. This has caught on for Willow Tree. This space-invader thing is important - I know quite a few people who avoid certain events as "likely to be too crowded". Callers should have a "sardines" section in their book of dances for deployment as needed.
David Mills Soldiers Joy, Flowers of Edinburgh also both "longways for as many as will" interestingly both dances are good rants,,, which is a great way to save space.... ranting works brilliantly in small crowded spaces!
Which brings us to that essential "trick"...getting the call in at just the right time that the first beat/note for a figure is heard by the dancers. Call ever so slightly ahead of the dance...
Chris J Dixon (band / music).......with cross-rhythms, more of a feature than phrasing. Tony Foxworthy chose to do Lucky 7, and chaos reigned. The problem wasn't actually that of beginners, simply that the music did not provide sufficient cues to synchronise the movements. The only way he could rescue the situation was to call out 1..2..3..each time through.
Rex Morrey of
Wheelwrights Bane
Making sets obvious
My suggestion would be that at these sort of crowding levels you caller chappies and chappesses, risk getting boring and keep repeating the set sizes (some do and it makes life a lot smoother). From the other side of the fence the dancers should be encouraged to stagger their sets or join hands or something similar.
Old Time Tim An ideal way round this problem is obvious, but I doubt anyone will ever have the courage to put it into practice..... Ask the experienced dancers who always get up first to form their sets at the bottom of the hall, farthest away from the band and the caller. Then they can carry on with their conversations and in-jokes, and only half-heartedly taking part in the walk-throughs, leaving the caller to concentrate during the walk-through on the inexperienced sets which are now within his sight and earshot.
Mr Red 1) Dave and Annie Jones used to have their dances glued onto plastic cards (front and back) and held in swatches with a keychain. I suspect there were swatches for "squares" and for "lines" and for "linear sets" and "circles" and etc.... Maybe colour coded, several could be hung over the music/mic stand.
1a) If anyone out there is using a PDA for storing dances on, keep a spare battery (or have the charger with you)
2) Choose the right nomenclature. Some words evoke better visual images of a move than others. eg Gatepost & swinging gate
3) Don't give a false call as a joke it can cause confusion. eg jump three times and wave (nah only joking this is what you do...) Make the jokes about other things.
4) When you get a booking get their flyers as well and dish them out at all events prior. Advertise yourself . It is the public you should make aware - the organisers will follow.
Fee Lock Be ready to start at start time even if no one else is and finish on time as there may be local sound enforcement orders. You can try negotiating extra fees if they want to run late.
Help the band carry out the gear. Buy the first round of drinks and don't forget the sound crew! Do the thanks to everyone, but mostly the band, before you start the last dance so you go out on a high. If you don't like them don't slag them off to others - word gets around that you are a moaner.
Find out everyone's names and what they play. You may well want to mention e.g. that Jean-Pierre Rasle writes many of Cock & Bull's tunes based on the dances he learned at school in central France. Snippets that can bridge a long silent moment.
Suss out fire exits, extinguishers etc - you, as the most visible figure of authority, will be ordering people about in an emergency and some will be drunk!!! Find out who's responsible for calling the fire brigade and if it's you have your mobile on.
Get public liability insurance. It's about 50 (one booking's worth) for 5m cover pa. You may need to pay for someone who did a basket when you told her to, and now she can't walk or work properly - ever. Alternatively you could sell your house!!!!
If the floor is dodgy get the site manager to fix it before you start.
Most Important Of All: Part I: every mic is always live, turned on and broadcasting your conversation about whether the woman in the red dress is wearing a bra. MIOA: Part II: take off your radio mic in the loo. No, really take it off, don't just think you've switched it off.
Sonnet from Mudcat Don't be patronising/condescending to children who are dancing.
Don't be afraid to ask for wandering/running about toddlers to be removed from the dance floor because as they become a trip hazard to dancers; safer for both dancers and little ones. This often occurs at weddings.
Splott Man from Mudcat At weddings, I've stopped starting with a longways dance, as people subsequently try to form nothing but longways sets no matter what you say. These days I start AND end with a Circassian. The second time you can have a lot of fun with variations, and feature the happy couple (no, that's NOT the bride's parents!) and any characters you've encountered during the evening.
UnNamed Mudcatter For gawd's sake, tell the band what you're doing and let them sort out what tunes to play BEFORE you try and get everybody up for the next dance. Especially if it's the first dance.
Mudcatter Nigel Parsons One local caller has a head mic, and can really get in amongst the dancers to help out.
Steve Cunio If using a radio mic AND you normally mingle amongst the sets - wear bright clothes so people can visualize the source of the voice.
Roger Rowe With a radio mic - it can be a very helpful thing for the caller to stand in the middle of a circle formation dance where more people can see him/her. Its also good if the caller is doing some aspect of the walk through in person, particulary a couple dance. What he shouldn't be doing IMHO is walking around the room during the walkthrough, popping in a various sets and addressing individual dancers!
I think a caller who has such technology should use it sparingly & advertise when they move from the stage & where they are standing (with a hand waving in the air maybe).
Ian of Last Resort Check with the band before the music starts - how long is the intro?
If you decide to demonstrate dances such as "Gay Gordons" or "Roza" to music - make sure you start at the right part of the tune. It makes a complete pigs ear of a well constructed medley of tunes if they change half way through the dance and then finish in mid air, again, half way through the dance.
Ian H Lewis When I am dancing I like to know whether the next dance involves changing partners or not - so when I'm calling I try to tell people. Similarly I like to know the name of the dance, I might know it!
Steve of Jellied Reels Interact with your audience, crack jokes that are relevant to them or their event.
Never be offensive, racist, sexist, ageist etc. might seem obvious, but I've seen it too often.
If you know the band well, you can crack jokes at/with them (drummer jokes etc).
Find the punter you can "work" with, but be careful not to pick on them and alienate them.
Don't swear
Have fun, we always try to have a good time and let it show, the audience feeds on that sort of thing.
Remember it's a performance and should be larger than life. Folks have come out for a good time.
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last updated 1st April, 2018     go to the top