I started dancing in 1974 and calling in 1977 with almost all of my calling in the Challenge programs. This is about as far as one can get from beginner dance parties! How and why did I make the transition and what have I taken away from these seminars?
For most of my dancing and calling career, I hadn't given beginner parties or community dancing a second thought. I was dancing and calling challenge and the harder and higher the level, the better. I did attend Father/Daughter Girl Scout dances for about 6 years, and do remember paying attention and being impressed with the job that Mil Dixon did. I knew that I couldn't do it.
In the mid-1990's I topped out of C4 and was looking for a different activity, one with more dancing, and somehow hit on the local contra dance scene. Don Beck had taken us there in the 1980's but, back then, I didn't "get" it at all. By 1995 I was ready for New England Squares & Contras and soon we were weekly participants. Soon enough, Miriam and I were attending the NEFFA Festival. Throughout all of this I was paying attention to how different the contra activity organizes and how they allow newcomers in at every dance and how they teach with an economy of words and require no lessons.
With a more favorable attitude towards this simpler form of dancing, I started paying attention to those in CALLERLAB who know about and share the same interests, including attending the CDP dances. Eventually I was attending the BDPLS, perhaps not with a strong idea of actually calling beginner parties or calling in schools, but in seeing what is involved.
I brought my equipment with me to our summer family vacation place. One time they needed me to call a beginner party and I did it. Again, I knew some of the people and they weren't expecting a lot so it worked out fine. Mostly I did squares, with perhaps a few untaught line dances since I had purchased the records for Macarena and Electric Slide.
One time at the summer vacation place, I was on the auditorium stage with my niece (probably age 14) and a bunch of little girls (ages 6 to 8). They had been inventing and practicing some dance routine to Britney Spears and, when things were winding down I asked them if they wanted to try some other dancing. They were suspicious, said OK, but one said she had to go soon but could try a little. I had CD's of some specially edited pop music I use for contras and put it on and, with me, we had 8. I think I started in a circle and eventually got us into squares and I was figuring out what we could do as I went along. I am sure we did Grand Square. This was a great experience for me as the feedback of how well each idea worked was instantaneous. It also got me thinking about how to handle groups of one gender. I kept the interest of the girl who "had to go soon" for about 45 minutes. When parents arrived to get their kids and go to lunch, one of them asked what we were doing, and was it square dancing. The girl replied that no it wasn't square dancing it was more fun.
They were looking for square dancing and I gave them square dancing. No patterns or set dances, just patter called squares with allemande left, right and left grand, dosado, promenade, stars, circles, and grand square. This was teaching and calling in my comfort zone, and I knew I could do it. Also, I was dealing with college students and I am around them in my normal dancing.
I continued to accept occasional gigs for 40th birthday parties, wedding rehearsal dinner, freshman orientation, etc. Mostly I did the same format that had worked for me. Only squares, only patter squares, little teaching, and lots of dancing. At one event I got brave and tried doing Tooty Ta which we had been shown at BDPLS. It kind of bombed and I lost the trust of the guys dancing it who felt they were being made to look foolish. I don't like being tricked into doing something that I won't like and I decided right then not to ever do that to my dancers.
I know I need to start a "little black book" or card file of dances. I do use the square where couple #1 turns back to back and walks around the outside, passes each other twice, and allemandes left the corner and all swing partner and promenade. I like the way that dance builds and has the surprise of everyone turning back-to-back and the mob scene of everyone going around the outside. It is the only other set dance I do.
I have enjoyed dancing Kiwi Ring every time it has been shown. Chris Pinkham has picked up this dance and uses it regularly. He even presented successfully it recently at a Mainstream dance in a situation in which it would be unusual to do anything but Mainstream patter and singers. All I need to do it print it out, have a place to store my dances, and purchase the proper music.
I remember watching Greg present a variety of grand marches and other ways of organizing large groups of people into squares. So far I haven't needed any of that, and if I did, I would have to find his handouts and review them.
A limitation I seem to work under is that if I don't find a particular dance fun or compelling for me, I am unlikely to offer to people at a beginner party. I am not into line dancing or partner dancing so I don't show those dances. I carry the music for 3 dances with me: Macarena, Electric Slide, and Cotton Eye Joe. Later I collected the Cha Cha Slide and, most recently played Hoedown Throwdown. It was released in February 2009 and a how-to video is available on YouTube. If people want or expect a line dance, I can play it, just not teach it.
Occasionally I am invited into friends classroom at the end of a school year to do some dancing with their class. If they are a math teacher, they are looking for my relating the dancing to some math concepts. I do a mixture of ONS stuff, along with a dose of challenge dancing concepts, and perhaps even some Hexagons. Sometimes I will use the Mini-Squares CD with them.
In the last year I have started accepting bookings for Father/Daughter Girl Scout square dances—the very dances I took my daughters to and knew that I would never be able to be the caller. So far I have done 4, have one more scheduled, and expect these three towns to become regular gigs. I believe the F/D dances are a special situation, and I am currently open to ideas and material which works in this situation.
One resource you may not be aware of are the syllabi from the Ralph Page Legacy Dance Weekend. For our purposes, One Night Stand Dances, I highly recommend the comments and dances presented by Lisa Greenleaf in 2006. They are available here and start on page 15.