June 3, 2009
On Sunday 31st May 2009 a group of interested square dancers attended a caller's workshop presented by the South Australian Callers Association representatives; Graham Elliot, Jeff Seidel and Les Tulloch.
The presentation explained behind the scenes aspects of square dance calling. The audience expectations were diverse ranging from those just interested to find out more about what goes on behind the microphone to those who have aspirations to become callers and novice callers already dabbling in the art
Graham opened the workshop by asking the audience to explain why they were there, were they intending to call and did they have any particular questions they would like answered? Questions were wide ranging including music copyright issues and a general interest in learning more about hoedowns and choreography.
Jeff continued the workshop in his role as the Caller Association's education officer. He discussed the cost of equipment, the need for insurance and a licence to legally play copyright music. He also emphasised that callers have a commitment; they cannot stay at home on cold nights and must always consider their role as teachers whilst remembering that the aim of the game is for dancers to enjoy themselves.
Hoedowns are the most difficult calls to make, novice callers need to learn how to sequence the calls bearing in mind the direction and flow of the dancers so that abrupt changes in direction or sequence of hand holds is not interrupted. Singing calls are easier, they have everything packaged in the call, the timing and choreography is built in, all the caller has to do is learn the call.
Jeff played some examples of music he uses for hoedowns. The music was actually that used for a singing call, however the caller can use it to sing the hoedown instructions rather than use monotone calls. Hoedowns can also be used as a tool to focus dancers on specific choreography incorporated in a singing call that follows the hoedown.
Jeff felt that whilst callers must adjust to the capabilities of the dancers on the floor, dancers should also be challenged so that they learn and become more proficient. Because called must adjust to conditions on the floor, they need to watch what is happening; calling of a written sheet does not work. Situations have occurred where a caller reading a cue sheet has continued calling whilst looking at the sheet, oblivious to the fact that all squares have broken down.
Callers must be competent dancers at the level they call, able to execute all the moves they call, in fact Caller Lab recommends that callers dance one grade higher than they call, which is not always possible. It is also a prerequisite that callers teach square dancing. The rate that calls can be taught will depend on the learners ability to absorb; one week learners may be able to pick up many calls, the following week they may not be able to execute those calls. The learning rate will not be constant.
Callers need to visualise their calls in advance, however they tend to visualiser them in their gender. Therefore a male caller may choreograph moves that work well for a left hand dancer (beau) but are difficult for their partner (belle). Jeff choreographed some instances where the left hand dancer flowed whilst the right hand dancer was either in a position where it was difficult to execute the next move or the dancer had to use the same hand a second time to execute the second move, thus interrupting the dancers flow. Jeff gave a number of demonstrations of sight calling where the caller keeps tabs on couples 1 & 4. Mirror dance formations and others were demonstrated showing different choreography used to bring out of sequence dancers back into sequence so that they could promenade home.
Owing to a limited number of Caller Association members in SA, it was recommended that learner callers work with their own club callers.
My suggestion that learner callers be given a chance with learner classes was not favourably received (I will work more on this issue). I believe learner's classes are ideal places for learner callers to progressively learn hoedown sequences. Few proficient dancers will patiently perform circle to the left, allemande left, turn your partner by the right and dosado's as first learned by novices. Only a learner's class progressively introduces additional calls week by week over a long time frame, slowly integrating them to reinforce all the previously learned movements. In other words only a learner's class slowly introduces the dancers to a hoedown. I therefore believe this is ideal territory to slowly introduce novice callers to hoedown territory.
I believe novice callers should practice their singing calls at their clubs mainstream dances, be angels at their clubs learner's classes and allowed to give a call there. In this way learners will benefit hearing another voice and will not worry if they break down, knowing that the caller is also in a similar predicament to them. Further, the novice caller will be exposed to the learning sequence employed by a proficient caller who can critique / prompt the novice (and the floor at the same time if necessary).
I believe we need more callers, more dancers and an improved dancer proficiency . Too many dancers at the pervious nights Society Dance had problems dancing to callers other than their own, had problems listening to a new voice, were unfamiliar with left hand movements or appeared not to have been taught all the calls (which may be attributable to intermittent attendance at learner's classes). In my opinion, the standard of square dancing in SA has declined over the last 3 years (the time I have been square dancing) too many dancers only dance at one club, more cross fertilisation between club dancers in needed, not just the regular few who attend Society dances. We also have fundamental problems, many of our callers are aging and their retirement is looming; we need a more callers if we are to progress, the younger they are, the more secure our future will be.
Congratulations Jeff, Les and Graham, more workshops please and a bigger audience too - perhaps many fear that if they attend they must become callers (which is not the case). The workshop was well worth while, we need more of them.
Square Dance Magazine and I want square dancing to progress, we need to halt the slow downward spiral and all make an effort to expand this worthy activity. Reader's comments are welcome.