At my first contra dance in 1989, I fell in love with dancing--and with my first partner, Gerald Pottern. We had a contra-dance wedding in 1991, and danced regularly with Triangle Country Dancers, Carolina Song and Dance Association, and the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, where we taught the beginners’ lessons. We discovered English Country Dance at Sun Assembly's New Year’s Eve dance in Durham, NC, in the mid-90s and have been dancing with them ever since. I learned to call through mentors, observing the excellent callers at Sun Assembly's weekly dances, and calling at our bi-monthly Learning Lab.
Our Sunday dance is from 2-3 pm Eastern time. There are usually 5 dances and a final waltz. I do 2 walk-throughs for each dance with all figures described and many of them demonstrated, and allow time for questions.
I like to call challenging dances that are well explained so that any experienced dancer can do them, but I also welcome improvisation and creative expression on the zoom dance floor. I call all the way through each dance, providing at least brief, one-word reminders of each move.
I also now provide "pin for 4" slides, which groups of dancers can pin if they want to follow their own instructions and join in the fun!
Questions from Dancers:
You use the terms “left file” and “right file.” What does this mean?
When I use the term “left file,” I mean the dancers currently standing on the left side of the set as you face up the hall. Similarly, when I say “right file,” I mean the dancers currently standing on the right side of the set as you face up the hall. These are examples of positional calls, where you identify dancers by their position instead of by their gender. My husband and I like to switch sides after every dance—it's fun, and it gives you more flexibility as a dancer to be comfortable on both sides. Please feel free to stand on the side of your choice.
I liked the diamond figure you used in the last dance. But where are the other couples standing?
I modify the dances so that they can be enjoyed by one or two people. Therefore, I usually refer only to what you and your partner (invisible or visible) are doing. Rather than talking about couple #1, 2, 3, etc., I focus on what you and your partner are doing at the top, middle, and bottom of the set.
I kept ending up on the wrong side of the set after the last dance. What did I do wrong?
Sometimes I design dances so you end on the opposite side from where you started! But even if that is not the design, do not worry if you end up someplace other than you thought you would. As long as you and your partner agree, it is not a problem for anyone else. There are no dance police and nobody to be thrown off if you don't “do it right.” Some solo dancers like to adapt the moves so that they face the screen most of the time. There is no right way or wrong way on your own personal dance floor.
What should I do if I don't understand how the dance works?
Feel free to unmute and ask your question. I always do a second walk-through, so I can address your question or ask someone to do a demo of the figure that is unclear.
What's your process for modifying the dances?
I start with a video of the original dance, or instructions if no video is available, and create a rough “literal translation” of each move into a one or two person version. Then I dance it. If it flows nicely and is enjoyable, I am done! However, like a translator working with a different language, I may need to rearrange or substitute moves to preserve the “meaning” or “feel” of the original dance. Thankfully, our original dances are still there. Someday, we will dance them again!