David's Blog

Dancing at BIDA

I called last night at the BIDA dance in Boston, my first time calling for this Sunday evening series about which I've heard mny good things. It's not that I'd been playing hard to get, just that an invitation hadn't come along before. I was delighted to be invited, and even happier at the end of the evening.

BIDA is the acronym for Boston Intergenerational Dance Advocates, an unwieldy name so you readily understand why they go by their nickname. It's a young series, founded in 2008, and unlike some other new dance events, this one had an intentional goal from the start. The organizers were looking to fill a niche in the already very full Boston area dance scene; they wanted to create "an organization which would strengthen community ties and provide opportunities for dancers, musicians, callers, and dance organizers to share knowledge and energy between generations." They've succeeded.

After the demise of the VFW Hall some years ago, which was the location for the very popular Thurday night dance, the regular weekly contra dances all were being held in the Scout House, a venerable and lovely hall in Concord, MA. Unfortunately, it's not easy to get to Concord, especially if you're without a car. So BIDA set as one of its goals to create a regular series that would be easy to reach by public transportation; the hall they settled on, the Masonic Temple in Cambridge, is a few steps away from the Porter Square stop on the Red Line.

In Concord in recent years, there's been a tendency for a group of mostly young dancers to form one set-- the "fireplace set," so named because the line is always on one side of the hall. Older dancers certainly could dance there, but the hot young dancers would rarely dance elsewhere. The fireplace set developed a reputation for energetic dancing, with lots of flourishes and its own high-energy syncopated balance step. In short, it was an in-crowd place to dance. BIDA wanted to create a series that would encourage dancers of all ages to mix with each other, where there wouldn't be a separation among the generations. Based on what I saw, in this, too, they've succeeded. The majority of the dancers were certainly on the young side, but the older dancers had no problems finding young partners and dancing anywhere in the hall.

Full disclosure: the hall did have a few "cool, hip dancers," folks who sleazed around on a partner swing, finishing with an extended dip that invariably made them late for the next figure. So I tried to avert my eyes and keep my attention focused on the bigger picture. Overall, the energy in the hall was positive, the dozen or so newcomers were never at a loss for more experienced partners, folks danced eagerly and respectfully, and the dancers were open to whatever the caller offered up.

I was working with a trio assembled at the last minute. Julie Metcalf, a young fiddler whom I didn't know, was playing with Glen Loper (mandolin) and Larry Ungar (guitar and banjo), two musicians who've been around for a while. In such a trio, the fiddler is the key person in the band, so Julie and I exchanged a series of e-mails during the week before the dance. I learned that she is comfortable playing in many different styles but that her go-to style is old-time southern Appalachian tunes. Knowing that really helped with the programming, since I knew I could include some southern style dances that would be helped along by that sound.

Here's the actual program from Sunday night's dance:

     Blue Moon Boogie
     Turkey's Last Straw
     Big Set with Calico Top figure
     Mason and Garden
     Bases Loaded
     SQ: Double Bow Knot
     Rock the Cradle, Joe
     Silver Anniversary Reel
     SQ: Marianne
     Maliza's Magical Mystery Motion
     Fast Hands

The first two dances were contras; Blue Moon Boogie gets everyone moving without too much complexity, and Turkey's Last Straw adds more basics. At the end of these two, dancers had encountered these figures:

     Four in line down the hall
     Balance and swing (neighbor)
     Gypsy and swing
     Circle left
     Balance the ring
     Balance the wave
     Circle and pass thru

The Big Set, a southern Appalachian style dance, was something new to most dancers, but they jumped in eagerly. Aided by a driving southern tune played at a fast tempo, dancers spread out on the floor and had a lot of fun with the Calico Top / Harlem Rosette figure, adding ladies chain to the list of basic figures. We started the dance with folks keeping their same partner, but halfway through the dance turned into a mixer.

I picked Mason and Garden because it honors the location of a famous Cambridge dance location a generation ago, and because it introduced the hey for four; I had several other dances with heys that I was hoping to use in my program later on, so I needed to give new dancers some experience with that figure early on. This dance, a composition by Al Olson, is simple, with one wrinkle, a circle to the right, different enough to catch the experienced dancers off guard although the beginners had no trouble with it.

Double Bow Knot is another southern Appalachian style visiting couple square. This one involves increasing numbers of dancers, as the first gent leads the line through a series of arches at the same time as the last lady is leading the other end of the line in a circle around the other dancers. It's fast, and there are plenty of opportunities to screw things up—we had a few sets where the lead gent kept turning the circles the wrong way around—but all the sets figured it out. You could hear the cheers coming from the floor when a group got all the way through the figure. Lots of fun...

"Fast Hands" is a dance by Diane Silver, a caller living in Asheville, NC. It requires tight timing on a hey with hands, an "allemande hey," and it finishes with a series of circle/rollaway combinations. To make that possible, I had included a second dance with a hey (Silver Anniversary Reel), and a dance with rollaways (Bases Loaded) earlier in the program. Silver Anniversary also includes a Mad Robin figure, which apparently was new to some of the dancers because there was an "ooh!" from the floor as that figure was demonstrated, so commented, "If you like that move, I heartily encourage you to check out your local English country dance series!"

It was a delightful ending to a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Many of the new dancers who'd been there for a beginners session stayed all the way through, and others who left at the break came by the stage to say how much they had enjoyed the evening. Thanks, BIDA organizers, for creating such a supportive and energetic atmosphere. I look forward to another chance to call there.

David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


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