Thursday, April 8, 2010

Calling all dancers

So here's a new development.

Last fall I decided to take Square Dance lessons at our local Grange, which you can read about here. I began taking the lessons so I could attend our dances, 1st & 3rd Saturdays, & have a chance to do Round Dance, which alternates with the 'squares.'
I'd attended one dance before taking lessons, got hauled into a square ("It's easy - you can do it" . . . then they called out: "NEW DANCER - NEW DANCER" when it got too complicated, & Leonard came down with his cordless mike, & moved through the square behind me, guiding me through it - whew!!)
It does get easier each time I attend a dance, but I'm still not great at it! & it surprises other dancers when they find out that I 'round dance,' (which I am pretty good at!) Many dancers begin with the squares, & later study round ('choreographed ballroom').


You'll remember that my college roommate, Charlotte, began calling shortly after begining to square dance, back in the 80s while I was donning leotards & point shoes. She took a break for the last few years, while finishing up her PhD; & recently, she decided to begin calling again!! YEA! I've tagged along to dances with other folks from the club, or with our 'cuer' Jackie & her husband, getting to one or two dances most weeks through Feb & March - Char & Bill have been at several of them.

A few weeks ago I called Char to see if they were going to a dance at the 'Square Dance Center' in Salem, & they were. Then she sprang her idea - that she wanted to put together a woman's 'singing group' to SING (& call) at square dances. Sounded rather harmless - would I like to be one of the gals?? Sure, why not! (thinking she & Sandy, already callers, would focus on the 'calling' part . . . )

At the dance, she talked to Jackie, & invited her as well. Now 'cuers' choreograph the ballroom 'round' dances - partners move down the line of dance in a circle, just like regular ballroom, and are given the moves just before executing them. Cuers 'speak' the moves, rather than singing them - so while Jackie has a rep of cues, she's as new to calling as I am - & it's a whole new world! (callers generally alternate between 'patter' - which sounds like an auctioneer, & 'singing' calls, where they sing the instructions, & parts of the verse of the song)

Monday, having sent numerous e-mails back & forth, we met at Sandy's house in Albany (like Char, she's been calling for a number of years), & surrounded by her computer, mikes, amps, (& lots of square dance outfits) . . . began to listen to music, & tried to both sing the lyrics AND alternate calling the tip!!
YIKES - I said "Yes" to THIS?? . . .
For THREE HOURS we sang & tried to make sense of it!
And when we left, they told us they thought it went pretty well (kind words . . . .


As new as I am to square dance, I'm even more a neophyte when it comes to trying to 'call!' The eventual goal is for us to rotate singing the call between the four of us. . . . um, what's the pattern??
While Sandy has over 400 songs on her computer,
Char's are still on vinyl, & she's slowly entering them into her computer (Jackie knows how to do that) We hauled out Sandy's old turntable, & switched the mike cords to sing along with several of the records.

So today Jackie & I met for an hour, listening to & singing along with the songs Sandy recorded for us, with the calls written out. Jackie had an e-mail from Sandy clarifying the pattern flow, so that now makes more sense. (I followed some of this from dancing it, & being aware of patterns in music & dance, but hadn't broken it down as precisely as this!)

- first there's an 'opening,' where you dance with your partner
then the figure, where you do a pattern with your partner, & move to your corner (the guy to your left), then a second 'figure' (usually the same pattern) moving to the fellow 'across' from where you began.
Next, the 'break' where you dance with that 'opposite' guy - (this may be the same as the opening, or a separate sequence)
Now two more 'figure' patterns, moving to the next two dancers;
& finally the 'ending' when you're back with your original partner.

So a, b, b, c, b, b, d (a, c & d can all be the same - or slightly different; & you can vary the b parts a bit)
In our 'Plus' lessons, Leonard will often give the number of beats that each of the more complicated patterns should last, & I had 'gotten' the general pattern of moving counter clockwise around the square, dancing with each guy in turn (if I don't get lost somewhere in the pattern!) He often refers to 'Caller Lab' for the precise wording; this org. standardizes calls, & give a lot of support to the callers. (I've begun spending time on this site as well.)

So we worked on talking/singing the call pattern & verses on most of the songs - & came out pretty well on most of them! Sandy also made copies of Char's cue cards for us- with several call patterns in 'shorthand'
sq -- square through
p -- pass through
sw /prom swing & promenade
T by Trade by
S F G Sq Sides Face, grand square (this is a longer pattern, so a chance to sing the words of the song you're using)

Then there are all the 'cute' ways to say it: 'swing your pretty girl, & promenade home . . . '
'all the dishwashers promenade inside that old ring, come back & swing your own'

I've spent a bit of time on a favorite site that has animations of the patterns. I know that Char & our caller, Leonard, both took lessons in calling when they began - we sure could use some! For the time being, I'll pay more attention to the patterns when I'm sitting out at the dances this weekend (Milwaukie Sat PM, & Lebanon Sun afternoon)
Dance is supposed to be one of the things that helps us stay young . . . did I think when I began learning Square Dance last fall that I'd be learning to call in the spring??

I pulled a fairy card (Magical Messages from the Fairies / Doreen Virtue) & got Travel (well - that's for sure!!) "An upcoming trip proves to be life-changing in positive ways. You'll soon be traveling to an important destination where you'll learn & grow through new experiences & discoveries. Ask the fairies to help you with the finances & details; most of all, enjoy yourself on your journeys!" (I did sign up for a dance camp weekend at the end of April, Leonard & Jackie will be calling/cueing Fri, & different folks on Sat; & our hostess promised to as the food folks about GF options)

I'll keep you posted!
What projects are on your plate this spring?