Someone on the SharedWeight discussion group mentioned that Charlottesville, VA, dance organizers had recently started asking callers to include a mixer in the first quarter of each evening's program. This raised a small buzz of comments about the place of mixers in a program and, more generally, whether organizers should be telling callers what to do. Here, slightly edited, is my response (March 3, 2012).
I'm fascinated by this discussion about mixers. with most of the comments so far indicating that a) the authors don't like 'em, b) they don't use them, c) they don't see the point, and d) dancers don't like 'em.
This strikes me as another example of people liking what they are accustomed to. One of my caller mentors was Ted Sannella, who usually programmed a mixer as the third dance of an evening; Tony Parkes, also, I believe, puts one there for similar reasons. By this time, the caller can assume that the bulk of the dancers have arrived, and a mixer gives everyone a chance to see everyone else who's there. Mixers come in all shapes-- Sicilian circle, big circle / big set, scattered couples, lines of three... They are a systematic way of taking new couples clinging to each other and mixing them up. They give experienced helpful dancers a chance to learn who's new, to note that person to ask later in the evening. They add choreographic variety to a program.
I applaud the Charlottesville community for putting such an expectation in place. In a short time, dancers there will come to expect a mixer in the program as the normal thing. Who knows? Perhaps we can look forward to other communities giving explicit instructions to callers: "We'd like the evening's program to contain a few dances that are not duple improper or Becket contras" or maybe "We'd like the caller to go onto the floor at least once in a night to illustrate a style point."
As a caller who gets to work in a variety of venues, I love it when a community has formulated such guidelines. It lets me know that what I'm doing that night fits into an established pattern, that those local dancers are accustomed to some variety in their program, or that they look forward to improving their dancing skill.
Larry Jennings coined the "zesty contras' moniker and worked hard to bring that ideal into reality. Among his most useful contributions to us all was stressing the importance of "vision" for a caller and for a dance series. At this fall's "Puttin' On the Dance" weekend conference that attracted 80 dance organizers from the Northeast and beyond, the very first session for everyone focused on that key ingredient. The notes from that conference are nicely archived.