Calling for contra dances is a fine art and a science, with subtle skills that can take a lifetime to master. It's also easy to get started; all you need is a collection of simple dances, an understanding of the basic figures, and a sense of how they fit together to match the timing of the music. This article is aimed at anyone in your community who wants to learn to call contra dances. For the purposes of this tutorial we are assuming that you have experience dancing contra dances (i.e. you know the basic figures well enough to explain them to others), but that you are calling for and teaching a group of dancers that includes a sizable portion of beginners.
Before going any further, read about Basic Contra Dance Form.
As a caller your job is to teach the dance and the dance figures (usually without music as a walkthrough), and then prompt the figures while the music is playing so that the dancers continue to do the dance in sync with the music. For more discussion of the mechanics and techniques of this take a look at the books on calling. Before you try to teach and call a dance to a room full of dancers, put on a CD of contra dance music at home. Learn to recognize the different parts of the music (A1, A2, B1, B2) and how they fit with a given dance. Practice calling in time with the music. Make sure you prompt a figure BEFORE the dancers are supposed to start dancing it, so they know what's coming next a little ahead of time.
Here is a collection of dance repertoire for you to get started. Good luck! And remember, there are lots of people who are eager to help you, and lots of resources available online and in print to guide you. Be in touch with CDSS and we'll help you find what you need.
There are a many resources on the web about calling, some of them quite extensive. Here are a couple of places to start:
- Resources for contra dance callers compiled by William Watson
- Thoughts about calling dances by Seth Tepfer
- Cracking Chestnuts videos: A page with links to YouTube videos of all of the classic American contra dances that are featured in the CDSS publication Cracking Chestnuts: The Living Tradition of Classic American Contra Dances.