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

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"

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

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

That's all I know.