It took about eight months, but I finally miss calling. That’s 241 days. Or in midwife time, I am 34 1/2 weeks along, with a due date right around the corner. HOORAY! I’ve missed feeling excited about calling for dances.
I’ll admit, when I stopped calling last summer I was pretty exhausted by it. There were lots of practical reasons why I needed to stop when I did, not least of which was that I was starting a major transition to a graduate program that would at times threaten to take my sanity. (Quick aside: Good call, eight-months-younger Danielle. You were right.)
Looking back, though, the single biggest exhausting thing was not related to a time crunch at all: I was emotionally drained. Specifically, I was drained by having to win over a new crowd each night. Starting in August 2014 I called in 12 different states, and never called at the same location more than once. This went on for 10 months. By the end of it, I was wiped.
The difference comes down to the home-team advantage. When I started calling in New Mexico it was to a close community of friends who had become like family. They were excited to see me up there and enthusiastically cheered me on. It was easy. They were always happy, simply because I was one of them.
Not so when you’re an out-of-town caller. I’m not suggesting that dance communities are unfriendly towards visiting callers – on the contrary, dancers, musicians and organizers all across the country have warmly opened their homes and their dance floors to me. It’s just that whenever you walk into a new dance as a visiting caller, the dancers don’t yet have a reason to trust you. You have to work to earn their trust and good will. And it’s hard work.
I have found this work to be the most difficult of anything else involved in the tasks of calling. There isn’t anything you can really practice, exactly. Yes, you want to be prepared, call an interesting dance, read the crowd and all that. But winning over a crowd has to do with so much more than doing a technically-proficient job.
A new crowd reads absolutely everything you do as a visiting caller. They notice what you wear and how you introduce yourself. They watch whether you dance on stage or stand calmly by the mic. They pay attention to whether you tell jokes or stories, whether you are verbose or terse. It matters how friendly you are before the dance and during the break, how comfortable you look up on stage, whether you seem to be having fun or not, whether you remember people’s faces and names who you’ve met earlier in the evening.
I do it too, if I don’t know the caller. What reason do I have to trust them until they give me one?
So other than the old adage that time heals all, what else has changed to reset my dial from burned out to fired up? Answer: dance weekend fairy dust.
This past month I’ve attended two events that gave me the fuel I needed to feel the love again. I got a boost in caller’s courage at the Ralph Page Legacy Dance Weekend, and got a big warm East Coast community hug at the Flurry Festival.
Last month I attended the Ralph Page Legacy Dance Weekend in Durham, NH on a caller’s scholarship. (Shout out to the awesome scholarship committee!)
The weekend was so many kinds of wonderful – heartwarming, encouraging, exciting, relaxing, stimulating, thought-provoking, challenging, reassuring, hilarious, confidence-building, rejuvenating, and above all, sweet as pie. Afterwards I felt more connected to the tradition of American folk dance than I ever have before. It reinvigorated me to get back up behind the mic to share these rich traditions with modern communities. Conversations with other callers gave me the information, context, and inspiration to move forward as a new caller. I was reminded that I could contribute my own “flavor” to the melting pot that is the ever-evolving folk tradition.
Then this past weekend I finally attended the Flurry Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY. It lived up to all the hype. The workshops were great, the dancing was fantastic, and best of all, I realized that I know people!!! There were friendly faces all over to dance and chat with. It was encouraging to realize that I am indeed gaining ground in finding community here in this north east corner. Maybe I am succeeding in putting down roots among these beautiful humans, after all.
And finally, both of these weekends highlighted how lucky I have been with wonderful mentors. I’m not sure how aware they all are of the impact they’ve had on me. I think this will merit its own post in the future, but for now: thank you, kind caller mentors. You have helped more than you know.
Maybe I’ll even stare down the barrel of a microphone in 2016. Go for gold, eh?