FolkMADS members and community,
All Join Hands: Dances and stories
by Richard Wilson, with Erik Barry Erhardt and Lauren Lamont, 2016.
Introduction to the first edition
This book is the fruit of an old idea, a long fallow period, and a final burst of enthusiastic commitment. The idea was to provide Richard with a meaningful focus and contribution during his last year of life. He wrote and wrote, filling notebooks; Lauren transcribed what she could. We photocopied all his cards that could be found in October 2010; Katherine provided an initial transcription. This book has taken many forms in its many revisions and reimaginings: experimenting with different paper sizes, interleaving the stories from other people in with his own story, modifying the dance formats, and finally returning to this fairly simple format. The long lull, after much compilation and redrafting, was partly due to my grieving after Richard passed; with Richard gone the urgency of the project had passed, since my primary commitment was to him. Then I allowed other projects to take over, including the trials of earning tenure as faculty at UNM. Finally, after almost six years, it is done.
While I may not have been able to realize the book I envisioned, this is it. I’m heartened by a thoughtful and generous community to whom I present this gift and tribute. Five years since Richard’s passing, I still feel his spirit and gentleness as I teach new dancers and callers, just as he taught me, feeling how each foot lifted is as important as how each is set upon.
Erik Barry Erhardt
Did you know that FolkMADS provides both scholarships to support our members and grants to support sister organizations with congruent visions and missions? Most of our outreach funds come from generous gifts at dance camps, direct donations, or small residuals.
We have a wonderful story this year about the ATC school in Santa Fe.
In addition to supporting the UNM Contra, providing scholarships to young musicians to attend FolkMADness, and sponsoring the AbqFolkFest, we have twice provided grants to the Academy for Technology & the Classics (ATC) college prep charter school in Santa Fe for music workshops. In January I wrote about how the ATC String Band (nearly all students) led by Eric Carlson played for a packed Santa Fe dance with Katherine Bueler stepping in to call a dance at the last minute — what a success!
Eric Carlson is a local hero, bringing the living tradition of folk music to his students. His report below describes the experience he was able to create [emphasis is mine].
Follow-up Report from ATC on the FolkMADS Scholarship Grant for the Fast Peso Stringband Concert & Workshop on 8/31/16
Thank you for the generous grant to bring the Fast Peso Stringband to the Academy for Technology & Classics (ATC). On Wednesday morning, August 31, the group performed a forty-minute concert for the whole school of about 400 students followed by an hour-long workshop with about 34 of our “Acoustic Americana” music students. The full grant of $500 was paid to the band.
The concert was highly successful. Many students had never heard Old-Time music before, and the Fast Pesos delivered a very engaging concert including a diversity of Old-Time music and some historical context. Students generally seemed to enjoy it, and many clapped their hands. Thus, the concert succeeded in introducing about 400 students to a musical style and a piece of musical history that most were not aware of. This helps enormously in recruitment of future students to the “Acoustic Americana” class.
The workshop following the concert was more successful still. To just sit in a room with a stringband of this caliber and hear them play acoustically for the first time may have been a life-changing experience for some. The band talked to the students about repertoire, tunings, techniques, and their own musical histories. Kids asked questions about their instruments, how they met, and other things. Since we are currently studying Old-Time music in class, this experience provided a crucial model and example that can only be experienced live. Students came away much more excited about learning Old-Time music and with a much clearer idea of what it should sound like.
Thank you again FolkMADS for making this event possible.
Music Director, ATC
Thanks to all the FolkMADS members for their generous donations that help make these experiences possible!
Erik Erhardt, President
President’s Contra Corner
How do we each improve as musicians, callers, and dancers, climbing up the Dreyfus model of skills acquisition, especially in the tacit knowledge related to music and dance? In lots of ways. Primarily by having a vision of where we want to be, observing objectively where we currently are, and taking action to bridge the gap between vision and reality. Andy Shore is a long-time MWSD caller from Santa Cruz, CA, and has been thinking about this for about a year and the ideas below started from his post.
But first, I think there’s a higher purpose to being great: to contribute to a robust and vibrant community of people who care for each other. And there’s lots of ways we can (and do) do that. In our FolkMADS Spotlight On project, we recognize our volunteers and talent for the gifts of their time, energy, and attention they give each week.
Intro: Helping your community by being your best
Set your best example. Be friendly and invite new people to dance, take hands four as you introduce yourself to your partner and neighbors, give your quiet attention to the caller during the walk-through, dance safely and with awareness, and show your appreciation for your fellow dancers, the caller, the band, and organizers.
Finding the vision of greatness
Dancing to other callers and bands throughout the world
Callers: Come early and attend another caller’s beginner lesson. During a dance’s walk through note the details they emphasize and leave out. How do they connect to the dancers and the band? Are they having a good time, or does it feel like a chore? How was the program in terms of variety, difficulty, energy (did they give the dancers a rest after a vigorous one)? How did they manage difficulties on the floor? Take notes when you learn something new and incorporate the best ideas. And always jot down the choreography of the dances you loved. Ask callers if you can record them to review their performance for which words they used, etc.
Dancers: Regions of the country have different styles and cultures and it’s valuable to see what these are and bring home the best aspects. How friendly are communities to new dancers? How was the general dance (skill) level on the floor? What made the dance experience great? Can you help recreate those best aspects in your home community?
Musicians: The same tune can be played in 100s of ways (Noah VanNorstrand showed me that at a fiddle workshop several years ago, repeating the A-part 30 times and never repeating a musical idea). What’s the character of the band? Do they gel? Do they watch the dancers or stare at their music? Do they respond to what the dancers need? How are their dynamics over the song? Do they tell a story? How is the tempo? How is the balance/dynamics between musicians? Are they having fun?
Seeking the best on the internet
While our FolkMADS page is a good source for local music and calling information, youtube generally is a great location for seeing the best dance calling, music, and dancing around the country. Videos can help a caller get clear about choreography and teaching, help a musician learn that squirrelly B-part of a new tune, or a dancer learn flourishes. In particular, SharedWeight forums for organizers and callers.
Whether you’re a caller, a member in the band, a sound person, an organizer, a volunteer, or a dancer, there are things you can do to observe how things went at a dance. Below I focus on callers (as that’s my expertise), but these ideas can be generally applied.
Callers: Within a day, review what you called, what you adjusted, and how you think things went. If things crashed, why? If you realized a teaching moment in a dance, make a note. Was the difficulty and variety about right for the evening? How clear was the communication with the band? Did you and the band trust each other throughout the night? Did you make the dancers feel appreciated? Did the last dance leave the dancers wanting more?
During the dance, if you really liked the pairing of some tunes to a dance, ask the band for the name of that tune and write it on your dance card.
Callers: If you have a few trusted people whom you know can give specific and constructive feedback from (as we do in the NMCC), consider asking them at the start of the evening to make a few notes of situations where a different strategy might have had a better outcome. When giving feedback to another caller, keep it simple and positive unless they ask you otherwise.
A recording doesn’t lie
Callers: If you’re brave enough to really see and hear what your performance was like, set up a recorder (most phones have apps to record voice memos or video). It often doesn’t matter much if the sound or video quality is lousy if you’re only using the recording for self-evaluation. If audio-only, set up the recorder almost anywhere in the room. If video, try to get enough field-of-view to see yourself calling, the band, and part of a contra line; this will allow you to see how much contact you’re having with the band and how attentive you are to the dancers. Consider asking a friend to press play/stop between dances to make smaller file sizes (but do try to record between dances and the walk-throughs to capture the feeling of the entire experience).
When you review the recordings, practice some self-care and remember you’re doing this because you want to improve (not because you want to torture yourself). Remember that you will be more critical of yourself than of others, so try to give yourself a break and be forgiving. Consider splitting a paper into two sides for what worked well, and what could have been done better. Then listen to how you lined up the dancers, the walk through, starting with the band, calling, timing, phrasing, command and presence, and anything else about the dance experience that you played a role in. If you have a trusted friend, let them listen and make their own list and compare — they may help you see things less critically.
Setting goals and growing
Setting short-term goals
What do you want to do next time? Do you want to teach a ladies chain using fewer words and having everyone get it the first time? Do you want to be more aware of problems on the floor and to fix them while they’re small? Write that goal down and look at it before each dance to bring your attention to it — pretty soon you’ll develop a new positive habit.
Setting long-term goals
Promote the activity and yourself as a leader
Spread the word of your love of music and dance with your friends and online. Invite new people to join you. Keep a list of the dance evenings you’ve called or played for to establish your credibility. If you want to call at a dance camp, go to camps and see what it takes. Talk to the talent and organizers, offer workshops, contribute in meaningful ways, and tell the organizers you are interested.
Callers: Discussing calling with other callers is often a rewarding experience. Establishing a mentoring relationship (mentor/mentee or even mentee/mentee) can be even more so. You don’t have to be an expert to be a mentor, it’s enough to care, to be critical, and to care — caring is most important. If there are several callers in your area, consider forming a group and meet every month or so to practice calling and giving feedback (as we do in the NMCC). When you’re at a camp, attend calling workshop. Talk about calling with the featured callers. Sit out a dance and watch from the side of the stage how the caller works out the programming on the fly, communicates with the band, uses the microphone, etc.
Callers: Every so often, review your dance collection and purge the unloved dances, make notes on dances about teaching or placement in a program. Keep a record of your previous dance programs and review them with more experienced eyes.
Finally, give yourself permission to try something new and fail. You may be surprised how supportive our dancers are when things go wrong! If something bombs, take responsibility, apologize, and be creative to find a solution. Then reflect — that’s a golden learning opportunity!
Erik Erhardt, FolkMADS President
President’s Contra Corner
I’m proposing a New Year’s Resolution for our experienced dancers to become “ambi-danceterous” or “bi-dancual” … to become a fluent dancer of both dance roles. This suggestion was originally made last month by Will Loving of western Massachusetts who posted to the SharedWeight.net Organizers message board.
There’s so much to gain from dancing both gender roles! Not only will you be getting on a gender-free wave sweeping the greater contra community, but you have these aspects to look forward to:
- doubling your pleasure by growing your partner options from 50% to 100% of the room
- improving your dancing and sensitivity of other dancers by learning role-specific experiences (and observe that role differences are actually min) and improving dance communication (how you interact) with other dancers
- making more friends by having a chance to play with the “other half”
- welcoming new dancers more easily by being able to dance with anyone, so important to building a vibrant and dynamic community
So, when you’re on the floor these next couple months, consider asking someone to dance and indicate you’d like to dance a specific dance role (“gent” or “lady”, start “left” or “right” in line). “I’d like to dance the lady role, want to dance?”
My experience is that there’s often more play (more fun) when I dance the other gender role, or when I give someone else that opportunity. These are my most memorable dances. I also believe this has a positive community effect of reducing sexist role expectations and creating more equal dance opportunities for everyone.
For callers, it’s imperative to understand how everyone moves and interacts on the floor, and there’s no substitute for dancing a figure from every dancer’s perspective. The experience will often give you insight about where the “trouble spots” are for teaching a figure/call to a new dancer, and when dancers need to hear which words to more quickly have success and enjoy it (and save them from struggling frustratedly). As callers, we also want to encourage dancers to “dance with who’s coming at ‘cha” — it’s the dance position/role (not biology) that determines the interaction between dancers. All of us can be anything we want, when we want.
Erik Erhardt, FolkMADS President