Motivating yourself and others
There are two forms of leadership. The first, and by far the most effective, is leadership by consent of, and with the sympathy of the followers. The second is leadership by force, without the consent and sympathy of the followers.
Naturally, dance leadership is solely by the consent of the dancers.
Some of the vital attributes of successful leadership are:
The fundamentals of calling may be broken down into several areas. Not all of these areas have to be mastered at once to start calling to or teaching a group, but they are elements which must eventually be mastered to become a successful teacher-caller.
Clarity. Clarity is one of the most important elements in calling. A caller must both be heard and understood or the dancers will not be able to dance. When calling, each word must be spoken distinctly and separated from the other words in the phrase. To do this keep your mouth open and mobile for maximum distinctness. Form each word with a beginning and an end. Then project your voice as if you were speaking to someone in the back of the room. Don't shout! Let the microphone do the work for you. Let your personality and enthusiasm show through with natural tonal changes. Words spoken in a monotone tend to run together. Tonal changes help to separate the words and make the call more interesting to the dancer.
Rhythm. Rhythm is another extremely important element in calling. The dancers will be moving to a rhythm derived from the music and you must be able to call to that same rhythm.
Command. Command could be defined as Don't ask ...: tell! Every call has key command words which must be emphasized. The call must indicate clearly who is to do the action and what action is to be done.
Example: HEAD TWO COUPLES ... (who)
Highlighting these command words may be accomplished by several means:
Pitch Calling. Pitch and Tone are related musical terms which generate much discussion when the definition of each is attempted. For purposes of calling, you pitch your voice to fit the musical chords of the particular piece of music. The tones you will use are part of the chord structure. This may sound difficult, but for most people it is quite natural. Put on the hoedown that you like best. Try to hum one note which sounds on-pitch with the music. This will normally be the dominant note of the chord. Now, try adding words to the hum and you will produce a chant. Now pick out notes above and below the dominant note that do not seem to clash with the music and hum a little tune made up of just these notes. Chances are you will have picked out two other notes of the chord. Add these notes to your chant and you are calling on pitch. It will take practice and you will want to develop several little chant tunes to fit various pieces of music. Be careful to avoid using the same pitch tone for the entire dance. This becomes monotonous.
Voice Inflection Calling. Many perfectly adequate callers ignore the pitch and use the technique of speaking with vocal inflections. The calls are spoken in the normal tone range of the caller. Inflection is effected by a combination of many things. Again put on a good hoedown. Then, using good rhythm and clarity, speak the commands. Now add enthusiasm to your voice and increase your voice volume and projection on key words. Make the people want to dance. Use excitement or smoothness in your voice to set the mood of the dance. As you can see, many of these same things apply to pitch calling. The major difference is in where your voice is pitched in relation to the music.
Timing. Timing is variable in square dancing. The dancer tends to react as soon as he recognizes the command. Timing is related to the number of steps required to complete a given command and this in turn is related to many things such as the physical size of the square, reaction time of the dancers, type of surface on which the dancers move, etc. You will have to judge when to deliver each command. The idea is to time your calls so that the dancers flow through the dance in a smooth manner, to the music, without having to hurry or wait at any point. This is a matter of practice, experience, and experimentation. The only practical way to approach this problem is to WATCH THE DANCERS CAREFULLY! You should try to deliver each call just before the dancer completes the previous command. Be sure you are monitoring the whole floor and not just a few good squares. Don't hurry the dancers, but emphasize smoothness and flow.
Prompting. A dictionary defines prompt this way: ... assist by suggesting the next words of something forgotten or imperfectly learned; ... to give a cue to. A square dance dictionary might modify it slightly to read: ... assistance given by calling the next action of a dance so the sequence will not be forgotten; ... to give a cue to the dancer just far enough ahead of time so that the action can be executed in accompaniment to that portion of the music allocated to it. However, if this definition is more broadly interpreted it would apply to regular square dance calling except for one very important fact. This fact is in the way the dancer reacts to the prompted call. To illustrate: In regular square dance calling the dancer normally reacts as soon as he recognizes what action is being called. He (the dancer) executes the action primarily to the beat of the music, and the timing allocated to this action is the responsibility of the caller. Conversely, when dancing to the prompted call, the dancer plans to react, or to start executing the called action, when the next musical phrase starts. In the prompted call the timing is controlled by the musical phrase. In both cases the dancers move to the beat of (in time with) the music.
Cuing. The same dictionary defines cue in this manner: ... a signal to begin an action; ... a hint or suggestion as to what course of action to take or when to take it. It is quite apparent that prompting and cuing are very much the same. From the caller's point of view they are practically synonymous, except that in most cases the term cue is more specifically used in reference to round dancing. Either word would be technically correct in either application, but generally speaking, contras and quadrilles are prompted and rounds and mixers are cued. In both, the dancer reaction is exactly the same. The dancer does not respond to the cue (prompt) until the start of the musical phrase to which the action is supposed to be danced.
Another vital point to be remembered is that the dancer should be reminded by the caller or teacher when he is expected to respond to a dance which will be prompted or cued. If the leader fails to do so it is quite probable that many dancers will rush the action and miss the pleasure of executing the dance more beautifully.
First, some definitions are needed. What is a contra? What is a quadrille?
A CONTRA is almost literally a dance of opposition. It is usually performed by mans couples, face to face, line facing line, in long lines normally formed lengthwise so that the head of the line (set) is at the caller's end of the hall. The caller can then look down the lines. Some time or another, usually back in their school days, everyone has either danced or watched a Virginia Reel. This is one of the many forms of a contra.
A QUADRILLE set and a normal square dance set are basically the same formation. However, a quadrille usually has three distinct differences. First, a quadrille is normally a fixed pattern within that particular dance which is very seldom varied by the caller. The second is that the individual figures within the dance (a right and left thru, ladies chain, etc.) are rigidly timed and danced strictly in conjunction with the musical phrase. In other words the dancers start to dance the figure, for example a right and left thru, at the start of an 8-count musical phrase and complete that action precisely at the end of the same 8-count phrase. The third difference between a square dance and a quadrille is that the caller prompts (cues) the quadrille so that the dancers can hear and start on the first count of the next musical phrase. In doing this, the caller very seldom uses any fill-in patter, but says only enough to get the dancers through the figures, allowing them to dance and enjoy a maximum amount of music.
Take special notice of the fact that except for the formation, BOTH the DANCING and the CALLING of a CONTRA and a QUADRILLE are EXACTLY THE SAME. And the calling technique employed in contras and quadrilles is, to all practical purposes, the same as that used in cuing a round dance.
There is no one perfect teaching method. Each instructor must develop a system suited to his professional ability and personality and aims. Even so he will find himself instructing each new class in a somewhat different manner. While teaching plans and techniques are important, the dancers will be greatly influenced by the teachers attitude and dancing example. All classes must be FUN. Assume the dancers are having a good time - act as though you are too! Also, keep in mind that psychologists claim that the learner will remember about 20% of what he hears (talks and explanations), 50% of what he sees (your demonstration), and 80% of what he does: the walk-thru and the dancing. So keep them moving.
Demonstrating. Demonstrations should be done to the music and the presentation should be done correctly and without unnecessary frills which make it look more difficult than it is.
Partner Changing. In learning or beginner groups partner changing is essential. There is less couple conflict when partners are changed regularly. Those who tend to get discouraged will not show this feeling so quickly with a new partner. Changing partners will keep the dancers from the feeling they are being drilled too much. Also, dancing with the dame partner all the time may result in poor dance habits and unfortunate disagreements. In groups where partner changing is a general practice the progress is much faster individually and as a class. The faster learner is able to help others who find the going a bit slower.
W - H - E - R - E. In teaching a basic action,
the caller/teacher should remember this word - WHERE.
Freeze. Before teaching, analyze spots that may cause trouble. You may wish to teach the trouble spot by itself before adding the easy parts. Another technique is to freeze the action at the difficult place. Stop long enough to remind the dancers how they got there, tell them what is going to happen next, remind them of where they are going to be at the completion of the action, and how they will get there.
Good dancing. Teach your students as you want them to dance;
start them out right - dancing to the beat, listening to the instructor,
concentrating, coordinating, cooperating, and showing courtesy. Stress good
dancing posture - keeping the weight over the ball of the foot, keeping
the feet on the floor, dancing - not marching, etc.
Good teaching. The manners of teaching are important, too. If you do not act as though you enjoy teaching a dance, the dancers won't enjoy doing it. Don't be hypercritical, especially the first time around. If they don't get it right, repeat it until they do. Don't yell at your dancers. Don't overteach! Keep your preliminary remarks brief - just enough to arouse interest, not enough to bore. Try to communicate your enthusiasm through your voice. Keep a smile on your face and a happy sound in your voice!
Don't pick out one person or couple and make them practice while everyone else stands and watches. All the dancers can use the practice even if they feel they know the movements.
Treat a dance as a social event instead of an athletic event. Dont teach it like a drill sergeant leading exercises or a coach leading warm-up drills. Dont demand precise and uniform performance. Even group dancing is expressive, and people respond to the beat differently.
As you progress you will find that probably you will get tired of teaching or calling a specific dance long before your dancers get tired of it. Be patient; people love to do things they can do well. Let them enjoy it. Try changing the music. This will give both you and the dancers a lift.
Be yourself. Dont try to sound like a Texan when you call unless you are a Texan. Make use of your talents and don't try to change your speech unless you are hard to understand.
May be reprinted including: Reprinted from text prepared by Don Armstrong.
Published 2003-01-01 / Heiner Fischle, Hannover, Germany