Information for Callers and Bands

Quick links:

 

The Contradance Committee:

  • Jennifer Carlin (talent booking: email Jennifer)
  • Kristen Falk (committee member: email Kristen)
  • Duane Walrod (committee member)
  • Erik Knoder (committee member)
  • Jason Schindler (facebook, pr, flyers, committee member: email Jason)
  • Marc and Janet Ranzoni (dance facilitators)

 

Venue information:

Maps etc are near the bottom of the contradance page

A typical evening:

About 6:00 pm – there may be a potluck
Sometimes a member of the Corvallis contra community will host a potluck dinner before the dance. Check the contra calendar for your dance to see. Talent for the evening are always welcome. You need not bring a dish unless you want to. If you want more control, there are plenty of restaurants in Corvallis. Ask if you want suggestions.
7:00 – Load in
Larry Edgar, our usual sound person, or someone else will open the hall at about 7:00. We seldom have access before then. If you have special concerns, please mention them when you are booked.
7:30 – Start of newcomers Session
We almost always start our evening with a half hour of instruction. We expect the caller to do the instruction. We do not specify a format for this session, preferring to let the caller provide what instruction seems needed, but we do encourage more experienced dancers to be there to help. Feel free to coordinate with the band if you would like to have them
play a little music for the session. We say that the instruction begins at 7:30, but experience tells us that the newcomers will be trickling into the hall from 7:30 on. Please do your best!
We encourage you to cover many of these points, in no particular order.

  • Directions as you will call them (“up the hall” etc)
  • Roles as you will call them (guys / gals)
  • “Ladies are always right”
  • Giving good weight
  • (Balance and) Swing, with help for dizziness and shyness
  • Courtesy turn
  • Other moves that you won’t teach on the fly
  • Being on time is better than doing all the moves
  • Who asks who for a dance (anybody!)
  • Your hands are dancing with all the hands in the hall: Wash ’em!
  • The most important contra move is the smile
8:00 – Start of the “actual” dance
We want to start the main dancing pretty close to the top of the hour: We want to reward dancers who arrive on time, rather than making them wait for the start of the dance.
About 9:30 – Announcements
We expect to make announcements just before the final contra dance before the break. One of the people in charge for the evening should let you know who will make the announcements. If not, you should call for announcements anyway: Someone will show up immediately. We know that some dancers will leave at the break, and we want to those dancers to get in as much dancing as possible before they leave.
9:40 or a little later – Break / Intermission
The first “half” almost always ends with a waltz.
The break itself should run only about 10 or 15 minutes. (On warm evenings, consider a slightly longer break.)
Please watch the time. We count on the talent to cut off the break at an appropriate time. The break usually ends with a couples dance.
About 9:55 – Start of the second “half”
The second “half” usually starts with a Hambo, Polska or schottische, depending on the repertoire of the band. As it runs less time than the first half, the second “half” often includes fewer dances.
About 11:00 – End of dancing
As we lock the building ourselves, we do not have to keep quite as close an eye on the clock as some other dances. No one will complain if the last waltz runs a little past eleven. You probably won’t hear any complaints if the last waltz starts at about 11:00. You might not hear anything from anyone if the last contra runs past 11:00. However, the last contra really should be well underway by the top of the hour.
Putting chairs away and striking the sound equipment usually takes about 20 minutes.
We usually manage to lock the building right about at 11:30. We do appreciate it when the band and callers do not linger overlong… because:
Afterwards – Conversation, drinks, and grub
More often then not, following a dance a few people will head over to McMenamin’s Corvallis (420 NW 3rd Street) pub to chat and hoist a pint of beer or cider. This doesn’t always happen, and when it does, we may have anywhere from 3 to 23 people in attendance.

 

Attendance

Attendance at the Corvallis dances varies over quite a range. We typically will have at substantially more than 50 dancers for the bulk of the evening. We almost always have two long sets or three substantial sets at the peak of the evening. Our halls all accommodate three sets quite easily. (During our dance weekend, we have even run three four-face-four sets in our usual hall, though we rarely have that many dancers on a typical evening.) Depending on the weather, talent, and other events in town, attendance will often drop back down to two reasonable sets or one very long set by the end of the evening.

Duration and count of dances

(from here on down, William Watson says…)
Many of the bands that play for our dances have sets of three-tune medleys organized for contras. They will often expect to play the tunes 6, 6, and 5 or 7 times through, for a total duration of about 9 minutes (17 or 19 iterations). This fits well with my personal calling guideline of having dances last about 15 minutes “from applause to applause.” Thus, my personal goal is to call about 6 dances in the first “half” of an evening, and perhaps five in the second “half” for a total of 11 dances in the evening.
Sometimes an evening goes exceptionally smoothly, and I can get 12 or even 13 dances in, and sometimes on an off night I will only get in 10. Note that these observations are not commandments! If you teach exceptionally well, perhaps you can fit in more dances; if you call unequal dances, and wish to let every couple have “enough” times as actives, you may fit in fewer dances.

Please do not allow dances to run too long. The band and caller should work together to ensure that the band gets enough time to do what they wish with their tunes and for the dancers to have satisfying experiences. For single-progression dances, we do not usually progress the top couple all the way down and all the way back up to the top of the set.

Typical moves and dances

Corvallis is lucky to have a fairly solid collection of regular dancers. However, we also have a significant number of newer dancers each evening, perhaps 5 to 20 of 60 to 120 total dancers. Your challenge is to maintain the interest of the more experienced dancers without overly taxing the newer ones.

Some observations:

  • We rarely dance “chestnuts”. I cannot recall the last one I’ve danced in Corvallis, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever called one here. I don’t know which of the bands might know the “name tunes” to fit the chestnut dances. I’m told that various visiting callers might call one, but perhaps that happens only twice per year.
  • Many callers will include a mixer in the first half of the evening to ensure that newcomers (and the very few center set snobs) can’t stick to each other too long. This is neither required nor the source of too many complaints.
  • Few callers at our dances call squares. This means that our dancers typically have little experience dancing squares. If you choose to call one or two (please no more!), please be sure to choose one(s) that you can teach and call efficiently.
  • Most of the dances called in a typical evening are equal, symmetrical, “all active” dances. Calling more than two highly unequal dances will likely elicit comments. (That said, on an unusually warm evening, it might be a good idea!)
  • Although “chestnut” dances are rare, “contra corners” is not quite so rare. Dancers attending all of our dances would usually
    dance contra corners a few times a year. Thus, the move could succeed, but it might be best reserved for the second half of an evening. Even then, at least one set may have substantial problems. If you wish to educate our community, it might be best to call a 3-couple “teaching” dance before you call the “real” contra corners dance.
  • Alternating dances (e.g. “Alternating Corners”) are unusual, perhaps called only a few times during the course of a year. Almost certainly best to reserve this for the second half of the evening.
  • “No walk-through” dances and medleys are also uncommon, but when done well, are quite welcome. Use your judgement, based on the conditions you observe, when deciding if you can make one work.
    This can be a nice way to close an evening, as a larger fraction of the remaining dancers will be regulars and the remaining newcomers have most of an evening under their belts.
  • “Goofy” or “playful” dances (scatter mixers, or dances with “chase” figures) are unusual. We don’t have a completely jaded or cynical crowd, so you could probably call one in an evening without much negative comment.
  • “Rory O’More” figures are not uncommon, called several times a year, possibly about every second or third evening.
  • “Brain bender” dances are very rare, and probably better suited to dance camps than to our regular dance. If you can teach one clearly, you might try to do so in the second half of an evening.
  • English country dancing is not available in Corvallis. Although it is available in Eugene, Portland and McMinnville, very few dancers “cross over” between the forms. You will find few dancers familiar with such moves as turn single, hey for three or poussett, though the last of these is easily taught.
  • While the “Give and Take” move has made its way to the Pacific Northwest, it is seldom called at our dances, though easily taught
  • The “Mad Robin” figure is about as common as Rory O’More in Corvallis, and will probably need clear teaching, if not a demo.

 

Contra dance Conventions

Unless you specify otherwise, this is what you’ll likely observe:

  • “Wrist grip” / “box” stars
  • “Skaters hold” during promenades
  • “Right and Left through” begins by taking the right hand of the person opposite and pulling by
  • Balances start by stepping on the right foot first, then the left
  • Most dancers will try to balance to the right and then left, even when in wavy lines where some might feel that a forward and back balance works better
  • “Balance and swing” starts with the dancers joining both hands
  • “Two hand turn” often is more of an open swing or crossed arms swing (right hand in right, left in left) than a “circle of two”.
  • Petronellas have “the clap.” A majority of dancers will clap after a petronella twirl, and probably believe that the move “always” has had such a clap.
  • Few dancers in Corvallis will “take hands four” until prompted, sometimes more than once
  • We do not suffer excessively from “center set syndrome”, in that most dancers will dance in any set. However, as happens almost everywhere, the more experienced dancers will find partners much more promptly than the newcomers, so the outside sets and the bottom of every set will tend to have less experienced dancers.
  • Our dancers will happily form additional sets when instructed, but will do little set management on their own.

Here is the end of William Watson’s personal commentary

Compensation

We guarantee $60 to the caller and each musician in a band, unless special arrangements have been made beforehand. Admission receipts beyond the guarantees go to pay for our fixed hall and sound costs. After that, we divide the take equally up to a maximum of $100 per person.

We set out a basket for additional donations for talent travel expenses. We split this money among the drivers of the performers, with a bias toward those who drove the farthest.

We usually divide up the door receipts and pay performers very shortly after the last waltz ends. Occasionally dancers throw a few more dollars into the travel donations basket after this point, so you may receive a few extra dollars before you depart.

Housing

We will always try to arrange home hospitality for any talent who request it. Unless we hear otherwise, we expect bands and callers from Eugene or Portland (or Corvallis!) to want to head home at the end of the evening, and all others to want a place to stay. Please let us know of any specific needs you may have.

Booking

We try to book the talent four to six months in advance of the dances. We have enough talent in the region that we can fill the schedule for a year without repeats.That said, some factors may get a band or caller booked more or less often. Maybe all of this is obvious, but Just In Case…

    • Home location: We feel that we should provide more opportunities for our most local talent than for talent from afar. If we provide your best and closest dance, we may book you more often. If you have dances nearer to your home, we feel that they should provide you most of your opportunities.
    • Flexibility: If you can help cover for unexpected crises, we’ll consider you more often.
    • Talent: If you’re good, we want you to perform more often. “Good” can mean that dancers ask us when you’ll next perform, irregular locals make a point to attend when you perform, the dancers from further away come down to dance on nights when you perform, or that what you do just strikes the organizer’s ears very favorably.
    • Friendliness: If you’re easy to get along with, for the organizers, dancers, other performers, and the sound guy, we’ll be more likely to bring you back sooner.