F 1 D 0 - 2004 07 26 at 0400 Dance Report for Toronto Island Contradance 04july25. Why do we work hard at organizing special events? Why aren't are own little dances held every week as satifying as a special event? The answers are often - we want to attract good dancers from afar - we DO import special musicians - we DO import special caller(s) And more specifically, - we want more dancing than usual - we seek a higher dancing experience The Toronto Island mid-summer dance has been a tradition for a while. It's usually a long day, with a substancial pot-luck dinner in the middle. This year's dance has been adjusted in a way similar to the weekly dances; they've started it earlier and ended it earlier too. Also the pot-luck dinner was removed, in favour of a picnic style break lasting exactly one hour. I liked that arrangement. A number of other participants missed the sharing, and actually, they came with goodies just as always. I've always had a lot of trouble dancing after a long break. I stiffen up right away. For you readers who are new to this whole dance thing, I'd better explain a bit about it. This was a contradance event. Contras are an American folk dance form, one which evolved from the Celtic longways sets. A different evolution followed for square dances, which began as Irish and French 4-couple "square" sets. Our leader today was Ron Buchanan. The caller's job is a big one. He's the Master of Ceremonies, the teacher, the dancing master, and the buck stops with him if the dancers cannot figure something out. Here's the usual drill: He calls the dancers aloud. "Everyone!! Don't be shy, take a partner for the next contradance." Then he teaches it. Most dances have 6-8 moves, and involve you with your partner, and with another couple, who are your "neighbours". You will work your way by repeating the dance with each set of neighbours along the dancing line, and meet each of the other people that way, in turn. Each run through the dance takes 32 seconds. For an advanced crowd like this, he would hope he only has to teach the dance once, then he can start up the musicians, and call the dance as the music plays at full throttle. After a couple of times through the dance, seasoned dancers have memorized it, and can run without the prattle. This provides an opportunity to move to a very live exciting band, and connect with people in a way that has to be experienced rather than lived vicariously by reading this. Now the dance report. Ron has been calling for a long time, so he's good a whipping up an interesting program. But I have to fault him for bringing three dances he hadn't "housebroken". You see, for a big event, you don't want to hear him say, "oh, I forgot something. Everybody go back to where you started." And after that, "I want to try this dance out on you," or "Hm. That didn't work; let's go back and try it /THIS/ way." Maybe my expectations are too high. Caller's don't need to leave their notes behind, but shouldn't be needing them for very much as they've rehearsed this material a lot, or for some, they know it so well the practice ahead of time is not required. We did 3 dances that should have never been attempted. If he wanted to experiment, I would have suggested any one of them, with a proviso that "...(I) want to see what happens in a big dance when you try this dance. Humour me please..." So there's my whining. It's done now. He knew some interesting square dances. I had a mind to whine about them to you today, but after chewing on them a bit, maybe it's me, not the squares, that need an adjustment. One was a wild dance, where he just experimented with mixing us up into other sets. At the time I really didn't like it. But reflecting on it afterwards, I'm not as bent out of shape. So I'm not sure! He worked hard to teach us a complicated square dance with a figure like "contra corners". The complication in this case was the dance would be fine with the active men OR the active women locating their opposite, 1st corner, opposite, 2nd corner, opposite, 3rd corner, opposite, 4th corner, opposite, real partner. But after working hard to learn this one at a time, we all move at once. The women and men are out of phase by 4 little beats of music (that is, only 2 seconds). Come too early or too late, and the other gender is still there, in the way, tying up the hands that YOU need to complete your turns. I wanted to whine about how that was a broken dance. But it wasn't. By the fact that I can describe to you the active figures, it means I finally learned it, got it, and got through it. That is, I have achieved dance satisfaction from a difficult square, going from unable to success. So I retract more complaining. You could be wondering, "Wait! This was a contradance! He was teaching squares?" Good question. Most of us contradancers dislike doing them too. Imagine this: a room full of nice people you hope to dance with. You ask, but they're partnered, but you agree on the next dance together. Great! Caller announces "thank this partner. Take new partners and form square sets! Square Sets!" At this point, you groan, and many others do as well. A good contra dance is full of swinging and crazy motion, but predictable. You are happiest when you choose someone with an energy level that matches yours. Or perhaps someone who you find adorable, or who finds you adorable. Either is very good. I'm not incapable of dancing squares, you understand, but the routine is much different. The moves are very much the same, but the tradition is generally that the caller is free to cue any move, and what he says, we do. In a contradance, he teaches us 8 moves, and once we've got them, he can say what he wants; we're to ignore him. He can take up dancing with us if he likes, as he's not really needed any more. In a square, that's just not true. He can say "go right" the first time, "go left" the next time, "go across" after that, and just surprise you completely later on. To his credit, he only did the surprise kind of squares twice. Most of the dances were highly predictable, and well cued. He used words like "One! Two! Ready! NOW!!" to synchronize us, rather than break down the sets. The success or failure of a square depends on all of us acting as a team. Most of the time all eight have to be vigilant for their turn to move about, lest it makes the one who needed them late for the next move, and the whole thing can fall apart. Ron recognized this when he asked people "not to comment on who people were to turn next. Just let them learn it. Don't offer allemande therapy." It's easy to find fault with an inexperienced person in your set. There are too many things they can do wrong! They can go the right way, but a second late. They can "sleep", requiring constant reminders. They can get lost, forgetting who they do what with. They can panic, losing all sense except that they've ruined something, and just freeze in the middle. There are so many ways someone can be a liability in a square. I have to listen so hard to the caller. Often they don't talk English, but call in a Square Dance dialect. It's a prattle that fits the music, and is nearly sung to the traditional tune. You have to listen hard to find out, "Is that cue for me?", "For someone else?", "What did he say?" Imagine hearing this to music: Gents go in with your backs to the bar, Ladies go in with a Right Hand Star, Turn that star just half way 'round, Stamp your feet with a clicking sound, (corners) Allemande left with your left hand, Right to your honey, that's a right and left grande! Hand over hand, and heel over heel, The faster you go, the better you feel... If you've done this, you know what's expected of you, and how fast you have to go. If you're new, well, maybe yes, maybe no. (in case you know about square dances, the above prattle doesn't match any dance at all) Ron changed from the Prattle style to the descriptive style: Head couples: forward and back! Side couples: separate! to lines of four. Eight go forward, Eight go back! End ladies: chain diagonally, now All ladies: chain straight ahead, again, End ladies: chain diagonally, and All ladies: star halfway, Men: courtesy turn. That's your partner! Promenade her back home. And Circle Left. (that segment was from one of the dances we did) While it lacks the rhymes, we find out what we need, and we manage well. You've heard much complaining from me. Ron was *very good*. He knew his stuff, and you should dance with him whenever he's in your town. The band was The Groovemongers. They're hot. They know it. They play good solid stuff. Nice traditional tunes. There's a speed which we need to make a swing work. They know it. They warm up the dancers and get the emotion right. What can I tell you about them? They use their amplified instruments well, so we can hear them without going crazy from too soft or too loud. Us dancers are a difficult lot to please. The program was arranged by Sophie Cahill this year. We got lots of dancing in. The program was 230-500pm, with short water breaks, and 600-800pm with short breaks again. It was good. The weather was on our side this year. Some years we are roasting and steaming to death. But we had springtime conditions, not summertime. When we stopped moving, we'd feel a chill. But as long as you kept in motion, it was warm and comfortable. Visit http://tcdance.org and come join us for our season which starts in September, and winds up in the summer, except the Toronto Island Dance! That's all I know.