Ted Sannella

Callers Mary Devlin and Philippe Callens encouraged dance communities to find a way of recognizing Ted during a “Ted Sannella Memorial Week,” November 11 - 20, 2005, at the time of the tenth anniversary of Ted’s death. This was my response.

One way to celebrate his contributions is simply by showcasing many of the different formations Ted utilized in his choreography. In many ways, he was a staunch tradition­al­ist, avoiding using the term “half figure eight,” for example, since it wasn’t part of the traditional contra lexicon. (He’d say “cross through the couple above, then go down the outside.”) At the same time, he was a wonderful innovator, drawing from Southern squares (lady round two and the gent cut through) and from English (his triplets were inspired by dancing Fandango at Pinewoods).

New Friendship Reel is lots of fun, although I don’t like (warning: curmudgeon speaking now) the way that some (many) people dance it. I don’t mind the silliness that they do in the chasing—well, yes, actually, I do—but what really bothers me is the silliness spilling over into being late or collisions on the floor. Anyhow, it certainly is a lively dance. The problem with it is that the ones have so much of the fun that you really need to run it in short sets, and your crowd may not accede to that request.

I would definitely include Fiddleheads, which at one point Ted considered his finest piece of choreography and which I think is a masterpiece. Nowadays, many folks are incorporating Petronella turns into their dances, but that was the first one that I knew with that figure placed in a more contemporary setting. It’s in the category of disappearing partner dances (like The Reunion) where you get separated and then, presto! there’s your partner again. (Larry Jennings told me that Ted also was very proud of King of the Keyboard—written for Bob McQuillen—which is a fine example of Ted’s recycling traditional figures in new ways.)

Squares: Country Dance and Song Society is in the final throes of publishing a manu­script Ted wrote oncalling traditional New England squares. With an accompanying CD of Ted calling, compiled from live recordings at various venues, this should be available by summer. One I use a lot is Quadrille Joyeux. With its overlapping figures at the start, it’s more lively than some others, and the grand square is a figure that many (most?) contra dancers don’t know or don’t get to do that often.

Triplets: I call one or two every couple of months at my home dance, and at other venues when the crowd seems flexible. Whenever I plan to call triplets, I always include a few easier ones in my cards for that night so that if the crowd turns out to be having more trouble than I anticipated on other dances I can substitute simpler triplets. I do follow his two customs (introductions all around in the set and six times with calls, three times without) and I want people to have the right level of challenge.

 Mixer: I use Scatter Threesome a lot, with its basket swing:

 Scatter Threesome (Ted Sannella) Mixer

Formation: Lines of 3, a man in center with two women or a woman in center with two men; lines at start can be scattered around the hall, facing any direction. It’s unusual but not too hard; figuring out who the couples are in B1 is the challenge of the dance.

 A1 Left-hand person in each line leads the line randomly to make contact with another group; circle six to the left
(End in lines of three facing each other)

 A2 Alemande right the opposite 1-1/2 and re-form lines on the other side; forward and back

 B1 Couples* from each line right and left over only; in these new lines, forward and back into

 B2 Basket swing, ending in lines with the lone sex individual in the middle

 * Couples: In each line, there will be a man with a woman on his right (woman with man on her left); depending on how the lines happen to be arranged, the right and left over may be on a diagonal or with a couple directly across.

Mostly, I consider it a great equalizer, since the call for COUPLES to right and left over leaves beginning and many experienced dancers alike momentarily confused. I’ve seen folks who have been dancing for decades get confused about who is the couple in the line of three. It usually leaves people having a great time and the experienced dancers lightening up a little, no small feat. I’ve used Ted’s Solo Mixer (often with no walkthrough) often, and I always program Love and Kisses as part of our Valentine’s Day dance.

I use Ted’s Tempest a lot, usually once each year in my regular series and often with an out of town gig if I think the dancers can manage it. Completing the right and left through all eight requires tight sets and fast turns to negotiate on time, but it’s a most satisfying dance and introduces dancers to a formation that they don’t know.

From time to time, usually near the anniversary of his death, I do an all-Ted program. This was one such program at my home dance:

One for the Money
Two for the Show
Atlantic Mixer
Lady of the Lake (because Ted also loved older dances)
Yankee Reel
C.D.S. Reel
Ted’s Solo Mixer
Silver and Gold (square)
Quadrille Joyeux (square)
Salute to Larry Jennings
Ted’s Triplet #4
Ted’s Triplet #33
Two on the Aisle
The Reunion (because it was the one modern composition that Ted wished he had written)

 Keep in mind that this was for our regular monthly dance, with a goodly number of beginners early in the evening, so some of my early choices wouldn’t be appropriate if you’re working with a more hard-core dance crowd.

 A similar event at the Scout House in Concord, MA, did attract a more experienced crowd. That evening’s program contained these dances:

Ted’s Solo Mixer
Scouthouse Reel
CDS Reel
Love and Kisses (circle mixer)
New Friendship Reel
Quadrille Joyeux (square)
Ted’s Triplet #4
Ted’s Triplet #20
Ted’s Tempest
Ted’s Triplet #24
Semicentennial Reel
Virginia Reel Square (square)
The Merry-Go-Round (square)
Two on the Aisle

What to say about the man?

 • He was not just a caller, but a true dance leader. He understood all the many elements that have to combine to make a good evening of dance. He was thoughtful about all aspects of dancing. His introductions to the two books are a mini-course in dance leadership, and beginning callers would do well to read his comments in the Contra Connection column in old CDSS newsletters. (That whole series is now available as a reprint from CDSS.)

 • He was an extraordinary, zesty dancer himself. Going down a long line and encountering Ted meant being ready for an extra twirl in passing on a hey for four, or having your partner stolen (temporarily) from you and then returned with a big smile, always on the beat.

 • He was a skilled choreographer who also celebrated and delighted in the choreo­graphy of others. Every letter I received from him contained calls for one or usually two dances that had come his way and that he believed deserved wider attention.

 • He was a perfectionist who believed in preparation: Ted was the person who showed me how to plan a program in advance. He’d spend hours planning for an event, looking through the band’s repertoire, listening to their recordings to find tunes that they played well that would fit the dances he planned to call.

 • He loved to demonstrate good dancing, hopping off the stage onto the floor, where his deep red shirt made him a visible subject as he showed how to dance something with grace and good timing.

 • He was one of the few callers I know who could deliver a lengthy lecture (Tod Whittemore was another, and Lisa Greenleaf currently is successful with this) on dance style and still keep people’s attention, in part because he was both very serious about what he was saying and because he said it with such good humor.

 • He loved taking a group of complacent dancers and mixing up his calls (in a square, for example, where there’s plenty of room for that) to leave them all over the place, but laughing all the way. “Wake up, you guys!” is what he seemed to be saying. “Have fun but pay attention!” (On the CD of Ted calling squares, you’ll find many examples of his playful spirit coming out in the improvised breaks.)

 In the very first calling workshop of Ted’s that I attended (three of us in a church basement) he spoke about the K.I.S.S. principle (the first time I’d encountered it) and he demonstrated it again and again, in his selection of dances, in his instruction, and in his calling. For folks just a little older than me, Ralph Page stands out as the exemplar of a caller. For me, it is Ted who sets the example.

David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


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