David's Blog

Cool Hip Dancers

Musician Noah Van Norstrand is part of the Great Bear Trio with his brother, Andrew, and their mother. They play traditional tunes and they play some sets of original and untraditional material They also sponsor the Great Bear Groove, a lively dance event over Memorial Day weekend where I'll be calling this year.

 Noah created a wonderful animation aimed at the "cool, hip dancers" who flock to the center set of some dance halls and will only dance there. In it, he skewers some of the attitudes that make some of us callers cringe. I love that this was created by someone who is not a curmudgeonly old-timer but rather by someone who is very involved in today's dance scene and is clearly a keen observer. Thanks, Noah!


A Night To Remember

In the video about the Norwich contra dance with Northern Spy, musician Rick Barrows muses, "Sometimes it's ordinary and sometimes it's magical; you just have to keep showing up." Saturday night was one of those nights we'll all remember. Here's a link to the video footage from that night.

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Planning a dance program

What's in a dance program?

I was struck once again, as I was planning my English country dance for Sunday, at the number of variables that get juggled to make a good program.

You start out by knowing that you want some simpler dances at the start. There's always a good chance that there will be less experienced dancers and maybe some—hooray!—who have never done this form of dance before. Those simpler dances give folks a chance to learn some of the basic terminology, which can be a confusing blur of jargon to an outsider's ear: "set and turn single," crossover mirror heys," "half a double figure eight," and so on.

The other great thing about simpler dances is that the experienced dancers can spend more time dancing and less feeling that they need to help the newcomers.

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Family-Friendly Dances

One Sunday night about six months ago, I was calling at a community dance an hour from home. Good band of talented young musicians and a friendly crowd. We had some hard-core contra dancers—one of whom left early on, perhaps because the first few dances weren't challenging enough for his taste—and some absolute beginners, with a nice mix of ages. One young girl, maybe 4 or 5, apparently comes often; she was dancing with her dad and she had clearly absorbed the most important things to know: keep smiling, look at the people around you, keep moving, and hold out your hands. Later in the evening, second dance after the break, we were down to short sets, 7 or 8 couples in each. I looked at one line, saw a bunch of adults, and announced Money Musk, a tune the band had been itching to play and a dance that I knew would be familiar to many of those present at that time. No sooner had I had announced the dance than I noticed a different young girl lined up in another set.

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Three recent dances

It's been a busy few days! Three very different dance events, back to back:

English country dance weekend

altI called at Sharpes Assembly, an English country dance event held two hours south of Orlando in a historic hotel in Sebring, Florida. Does that name sound familiar? It's the same town where where the annual 12-hour car race is held. This event was a bit mellower. ;-)  The venue was advertised as "old Florida," and it was a lovely change from the Florida of neon and strip malls.

In addition to dance parties on Friday and Saturday nights and the farewell dance on Sunday, I led one workshop on dances set to tunes by Turlough O'Carolan, the great Irish harper of the 1700s, and another featuring contemporary choreography, a nod to the many fine dances being composed these days.

It was a mixed group of dancers, including some with decades of experience and some who were quite new. (I'm always amazed that someone new to an activity would sign up for a full weekend of it... can't tell whether this is a case of "fools rush in" or a brave heart.) Fortunately, the experienced dancers were helpful and the workshop programs included a few more difficult dances that turned out well.

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David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


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