Tag Archives: calling

Our newest publication: 21 Easy English Country Dances

Our newest booklet is 21 Easy English Country Dances: Dances Selected from The Playford Ball with Music Selected from CDSS Archival Recordings.

There are two people who were especially important to the production of this booklet: Gary and Rowena Roodman.

Rowena is the CDSS Sales Assistant; as part of her job, she helps people find the right CD or book for their needs. Until now all she has had to offer people who are either beginning teachers, dancers or both, has been the cassette Juice of Barley: Simple English Country Dances (CDS9)–outmoded technology–and The Playford Ball (CDSS, 1994)–wonderful resource but daunting to the beginner.  Rowena remembers meeting an enthusiastic elementary school teacher at a CDSS week at Pinewoods Camp, who really wanted to teach English dance to her students — she needed music and she needed an introductory book of accessible dances. Rowena has also taken many calls at the office from folks who have seen the beautiful dancing in one of the recent “Jane Austen” films and want to be either Gwyneth Paltrow or Colin Firth (useful as it is, I really can’t say this booklet is going to help with that…).

Gary and Rowena at Pinewoods

Gary Roodman, Rowena’s husband and a well-known choreographer of English country dances, is a good friend to CDSS. Gary’s first encounter with English dance was at Pinewoods Camp. He and his family were vacationing on Cape Cod and had the opportunity to take part in CDSS Family Week. Gary told me about his first evening at camp: he was walking towards the main dance pavilion, C Sharp, and heard this sound! Gary remembers  standing on a bench and looking down on the dancers, moving gracefully on the floor. He felt he was seeing a vision of his future. Gary said, “Every time I hear the music on the CDSS recordings, I am reliving that experience; and all my early dancing is connected to this music.” When the CDSS recordings  started to come out in the late 1970s, it was the first opportunity to take that sound home.

Gary’s mission in helping with this booklet has been to preserve the music on the CDSS recordings (CDS 1-9). Gary took all the cuts from CDS 6-9 plus selected cuts from CDS 1 and Country Capers (Arabesque Records; Marshall Barron, guest artist) and created WAV files, for archival and re-publication purposes. Selections from this new archive are on the CD which accompanies the new booklet.

I’m happy to say that the new booklet has Rowena’s and Gary’s stamp of approval: it is easy to use, it is beautifully executed, and Rowena says it is all you need for your first two years of teaching and dancing. If you are able to do the 21 dances in the booklet, then you can move on to our next planned publication: Classic English Country Dances, with music on CD culled from CDSS recordings.

— Pat

Read the full description of 21 Easy English Country Dances and get one for yourself at the CDSS store.

Tony Parkes on a Caller’s Talents

What is “talent” when it comes to calling dances? What makes a talented caller? These are perhaps not questions one can fully answer in a sitting, but I’d like to share one pretty good stab at it.

Tony Parkes, Boston-area caller of contras and squares, recently published the 2nd Edition of his landmark book, Contra Dance Calling: A Basic Text. This book is “the first comprehensive entry-level book ever written on contra dance calling.” It’s exciting that it’s back in print in a revised edition after being unavailable for some time. I got my copy and was struck by, among other things, his observations on talent and calling.

Tony breaks the somewhat abstract talent of “calling” into its constituent parts, each of which contributes in some way to being a good caller. His list contained a few things I wouldn’t have considered (spatial sense!), but which make perfect sense upon reflection. Everyone, of course, has a different set of these and Tony’s advice for adapting to your own individual skills is quite helpful. I found this overall approach insightful and a little inspiring, too — whether applied to calling or a host of other concepts.

Here’s an excerpt:

Your talent is a gift from God. It’s appropriate to be thankful for it, but you don’t need to be apologetic about it. A caller needs a moderate amount of many different talents, rather than a great deal of just one (see the list below). We’re given talents in varying amounts, but we have the ability to develop them. It’s important to be honest with yourself about your talents. Then you can be thankful for the ones you have in greater measure, and willing to work on your weak spots.

Don’t get discouraged just because you have those weak spots. No one, not even your favorite caller, has a full measure of every possible talent. One of the finest callers I know has what some people might think an insurmountable handicap: he is not at all musical. He has compensated for this over the years by learning everything he could about the structure of dance tunes and by making careful notes on what tunes work well with each dance that he uses.

Another caller suffered from near-terminal shyness when he began his career. He dealt with it by treating his calling as an act, in which he could relate to people under a different persona from the one he used offstage. Little by little the act became a genuine part of his personality, and now he is only moderately shy.

Here is a list of talents or qualities that are helpful to the caller. Some of these apply more to the professional than to the casual caller; others will come in handy in any calling situation.

• Self-confidence
• Patience
• Good judgment
• Emotional balance
• A sense of rhythm and timing
• A pleasant speaking and/or singing voice
• Good diction
• Musical ability
• Good memory
• Spatial sense (ability to see what’s happening in the set)
• A love of people and a desire to see them happy
• A delight in bringing order out of chaos
• Perseverance in the face of disappointment and frustration

Remember, no one has all of these to the same degree. If you’re lacking in some, you’re just as well off as anyone else who’s starting out. If you feel you lack nearly all of them, though, you might reconsider your decision to be a caller.

Above all, you must enjoy what you’re doing. If you do, your dancers will too.

Contra Calling: A Basic Text by Tony Parkes
Each of the points in Tony’s list is worth an essay in and of itself. I’m sure we could also append interesting qualities and sub-qualities worth considering. A few that came to me:

  • Sense of humor
  • Creativity
  • Appreciation of fiddle music
  • Ability to speak the “musicians’ language”

Are there yet others that come to you? Is this list any different for English callers? I find it pretty absorbing to consider how this approach applies to musicians. As always, your comments are welcome.

Thanks to Tony for allowing me to quote his book so extensively. You can buy the book here.

– Max