Texas Part 2: Dallas Life Lessons in Perfection (and lack thereof)

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Sound check with Sibling Revelry at the Dallas dance in an old converted movie theatre in Carrollton, TX.

As a one-year old caller, there are some aspects of calling that I am starting to feel confident in. I feel confident that I have a pretty good stage presence. I feel confident in teaching a hey to groups of beginners. I feel confident in using creative, rhythmic calls, and in dropping them as the dance progresses. 

Then there are the things that actively challenge me. I feel shy when asking a band to change tempo if I haven’t worked with them before. I am wary of getting lost while calling a double-progression. I don’t know how to handle peer-to-peer “corrections” from well-meaning dancers to other dancers on the floor – especially when the “corrections” are incorrect.

I also have now twice had difficulty getting first-time contra dancers to do any sort of bicycle-chain (some call it chainsaw) formation. What about these moves am I not teaching clearly?  Whether I have taught it as a promenade, or a whole-set circle, or a grand right-and-left, something has gotten muddled each time I am working with more than 30% beginners. And in Dallas this weekend, this challenge was combined with another: very chatty beginners.

So here’s the scene: What looked like about 40% absolute first-time dancers, 60% pretty experienced dancers, fifth dance of the evening, decided to do “Salute to Larry Jennings” by Ted Sannella. The dancers had been progressing really nicely and I was able to drop out calls for each of the first four dances. I wanted to keep the experienced dancers engaged and thought the new folks could handle this dance with a good walk-through.

Then the grand right-and-left happened.

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My office! Dallas dancers as viewed from the stage.

There was lots of chatting on the floor. There was a group of new dancers clumped together in the back. There were experienced folks at the top of the line who were looking antsy to dance. And there was absolute confusion at the bottom of one set. The grand right-and-left just wasn’t working, the chatting was getting more restless, I was being asked questions from the floor, and… I got completely flustered. Do I answer the specific questions from individual dancers? Do I start the walk-through over, yet again? Do I go out on the floor and rearrange couples myself? Do I choose another dance? (Tried that, by the way, to disappointed shouts from the experienced folks.) 

Finally some of the experienced dancers helped out by breaking up the new folks in the back. I still don’t think many people actually heard the instructions because there was too much chatting. I wasn’t able to drop the calls during the dance. And some of the new folks looked utterly bewildered throughout. 

End result: We got through it. But the walk-through was painful, and I lost the confidence of some of the dancers on the floor. I don’t blame them. I would have been frustrated with the caller, too. In this dance I didn’t succeed in teaching clearly, or in facilitating fun for all people on the floor.

Lessons learned: Two days later, I’m still not sure. Maybe I shouldn’t have called it in the first place. Maybe there was a way I could have gotten the rapt attention of everyone in the hall first. Maybe there was a better way I could have asked new dancers to dance with experienced dancers. Maybe I was using the wrong language to teach the move. Possibly all of the above are true. 

When all was said and done, it was still a fun night. The dancers in Dallas are lovely – welcoming, experienced, and very kind to this visiting caller. They dance in a converted movie theatre on first-Saturdays, which has a way cool vibe. The band, Sibling Revelry, was very pleasant to work with and I had several great chats with people during the break and after the dance.

I do feel like I failed the dancers for that one dance. But I also am trying to keep in mind that I was able to successfully call 11 other dances that went smoothly and gave (I think) the crowd a good time. I guess you can’t win ’em all – although, of course, I wish I could.

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Our Books Show Who We Are: Adventures in packing a teeny car

For over a week I have been having trouble sleeping. I am awake at 2 a.m., envisioning where in my tiny Hyundai I will put my camping gear, or the huge cooler my friend Jessie got for me at a thrift store, or my box of audio cables. I even made a diagram. 

Car is packed

All packed!

So, even though I still have three more full days in New Mexico, I packed the car today. Minus a few boxes of beloved books, it all fits – and thank goodness for media mail. Now I get to live out of my car for a few days to test out the system. 

One of the homecoming milestones I am most looking forward to is reuniting my two libraries – the one I have built here in New Mexico, and the one that is still at my parents’ house in Vermont. The one I have developed here started with a handful of novels and Harold Bloom’s beauty of a book. Since then, it has turned into a small collection containing texts of anthropology, midwifery, labor support, osteology, and feminist theory. My library in Vermont is very different: classic literature, theatrical plays, YA fiction.

These two collections tell volumes (pun intended) about who I have been during different chapters of my life. The girl who left Vermont at age 18 is not the woman who is returning at age 25. I want to know what these two libraries look like side by side on the shelves. I am curious how they will complement each other and round each other out. And, like any other book junkie, I can’t WAIT to re-organize them.

Questions

Will I get lonely, driving across country by myself?

What are the common elements of community in America?

Does my AAA membership apply nation-wide?

Should I trust strangers who offer to help?

What is the best road snack?

Paper map, or smart phone?

Back roads or interstate?

What is the perfect level of humidity?

How long does it take for my air conditioner fluid to run out?

Is there even such a thing as air conditioner fluid?

Will I get sick of my own company?

Is it safe to camp in a tent by myself?

Podcasts, music, audio books, or silence?

Will I get a left-arm-only sunburn?

Can you sunburn through a car window?

How many showers a week is a reasonable amount?

How do I find healthy eating options on the road?

What kind of gluten-free, vegetarian meal can I get a roadside diner?

How annoying can I possibly be to a good southern cooking joint?

What are the different “flavors” of contra dance around the country?

Hurricane season and New Orleans: worth it?

In which states is it illegal to talk on the phone while driving?

Sunrise or sunset?

Ready?

Set?