Things I Believe about One-Time Party Dances

by Clark Baker

The following thoughts came from discussions with Lisa Greenleaf and Dottie Welch as I was preparing my portion of a talk on Teaching Techniques for the 2007 Beginner Dance Party Leader seminar at Callerlab. They are not necessarily presented in a logical order.

  1. Not a performance (by you)—keep the dancers moving.

    You are there to entertain by getting them to do something. You are not the focus of the entertainment, the dancing is.

    They aren't sold on dancing yet, so get to the dancing. Don't spend a lot of time describing what the dancing is, who you are, telling jokes or stories—get them dancing.

    Once you have critical mass, don't talk about yourself—get them on the floor and get them moving.

  2. There are differences between teaching at a one-time party dance and at Modern Western Square Dance (MWSD) lessons.

    At the one-time party dance it is the experience that is important, not the definition. Getting bogged down in the definition robs the dancers from experiencing the call and dance.

    The language you use teaching at a one-time party dance may be different than the words you use at MWSD lessons. The purpose of a one-time party dance is having a good time, not learning definitions or creating perfect building blocks.

    For example, at MWSD lessons one might spend some time on the calls Courtesy Turn (including hand placement, turning the proper amount, and how the boys backs up) and Right Pull By, and use them as building blocks for Right And Left Thru.

    At a one-time party dance, you might introduce Ladies Chain with a quick demo, and remind the boys to "scoop the girl around" for the courtesy turn action. The magic words "scoot them around" seems to capture the action and get them to respond without a lot of teaching.

    Get them doing an action quickly, and refine it later if necessary. Don't talk a lot in an attempt to get it perfect the first time. They will have lots of practice dancing and refining it throughout the evening.

  3. For repeated figures you may be able to find a key word or phrase that will remind them what to do. For example, "scoop" when you need the courtesy turn action. The call Dosado may not mean a lot to new dancers, but the phrase "back-to-back" can help, especially if you use it while teaching Dosado.

  4. Be aware of your on stage demeanor. The dancers will take their cue from you. If you have a relaxed attitude, it will encourage them to take risks. Getting up on the dance floor when they don't know what you are going to be doing is a huge risk for some of them.

  5. When in doubt, get on the floor and demo with as much enthusiasm as you can. Too much talking comes across as lecturing and is a turn off.

    If you have tried to explain the particular movement with words and it isn't working or someone has a question, and you decide to do a demo, be sure that your attitude is that you are happy for the question and giving the demo.

  6. Only tell them what they need to know for the next few minutes. Some callers, when they get dancers into squares identify all 4 couple numbers, heads, sides, partner, corner, right-hand lady, opposite, etc. when all the dance requires is heads and sides.

  7. Don't over teach. If your dance is repetitive, many will get it as the dance goes on. Use more descriptive words when you first describe the action and gradually shift to just the call.

  8. Use simple figures as building blocks. For example, starting in a square just tell them that where they are now is "home" and you can put on music and have them "bow to your partner", "bow to the dancer on the other side of you", "all join hand and circle left", "circle right the other way back and stop at home". Now you can stop the music, have them face their partner, and teach Dosado. Put the music back on, and you can now call Circles, Dosados, identify the corner and have them Dosado them, etc. Stop the music, and add either Right and Left Grand or Promenade, dance them some more, stop the music and add the other call and dance them some more. Stop the music one more time, add Allemande Left, and dance them some more.

    Now you have the foundation for Allemande Left, Right And Left Grand, and Promenade, along the with the comfort zone of Circle Left and Right, and the "are you listening call" Dosado. The teach time was minimal, and they got a lot of dancing.

  9. Avoid jargon words. For example, some contras have a "down the hall". You can't just ask new dancers to "go down the hall". You need more words like "face away from me and walk down the hall away from me". Even simple phrases like "hands four" are jargon. The slight longer "everyone join hands in circles of four" works much better.

  10. A good caller goes over the evening and figures out what worked and what needs improvement. If you learn something about teaching a specific dance, write it down on your card to remind you next time.

  11. The words you use while instructing beginners are really important. Consider these examples:

    1. We are in the middle of teaching a circle mixer. The dancers are doing a left elbow swing for 16 beats. The leader says:
      Now you are going to promenade
      That's walking one behind the other
      That way around the tent
      So the men are in the inside
      The ladies on your right hand side
      And you can hold hands like that
      Or you can do a promenade hold if you know
      Any old way you know
      Walk one behind the other for 16 steps

      My comment: I was confused by the phrase "that's walking one behind the other". I wanted to put my girl behind me and go single file or something.

    2. We are in the middle of a teach of a dance with a line if 5 boys facing a line of 5 girls. Your partner is across from you. We did a lines go forward (in 4 steps) and back. Now go forward again, boys raise your hands and make arches and the girls go under the arches. The leader wants everyone to do a U Turn Back. He says "now turn to face each other". I would have said "all turn around to face your partner".

    3. It is time to teach Dosado as part of the teach of a longer dance.
      With this person, passing right shoulders first
      You are going to do a Dosado which means
      To walk forward passing right shoulders,
      Slide Over, and walk backwards passing the
      Other shoulders, so you don't change the way
      You are facing, you just go forward and slide over

      My comment: I like that he mentions the right shoulders twice. I like the way he uses the term "other shoulder" instead of "left shoulders" because it is easier for people to figure out. I don't like his use of "slide over" and I would use "slide back-to-back". This will also establish a cuing term for later—Dosado—go back-to-back.

  12. Plan ahead. Think about ways to efficiently arrange the dancers in the desired formation. Consider partner issues. Make sure you understand how to do the calls and dances you plan to teach. Think about how to describe or show the action in ways that will be meaningful to your expected dancers. They need words that accurately describe the action, word pictures that make their mental image of the action clear, and a physical description of how it will feel.

  13. Practice with the music. For dances that meld with the music exactly, learn to prompt at the correct time. Consistent pre-cueing enhances the sense of dancing and maximizes the musical enjoyment.

  14. Ultimate Goal: Convince those attending that they can dance and have fun.

  15. One way to accomplish the ultimate goal is to pick appropriate dances. Don't pick dances which are too hard or require too much teaching.