As Barnstorm I draws nearer, our caller talks to the editors of True about the magic of rhythm and the joys of social dancing.
You can purchase tickets to Barnstorm I: The Catskills here. The hoedown is all set to happen on 7/23/16.
We call it a community dance.
They’re most often done in a group, but you’re dancing with your partner. The dances are easy— simple enough that you don’t need any experience to get started. You can dance the whole night.
When we started playing this music, my wife and I started playing for contra dances, which is a specific New England style. It’s a blend of Irish and Scottish and French Canadian and Appalachian tunes. They’re all Celtic tradition. They have one part, a repeat of that part and then a second part and a repeat of that second part and then you repeat the whole tune again. They have the same number of beats—32—so you just make up a dance that can be done in 32 beats and there you have it.
The basis of our group is me playing the guitar and calling and my wife playing the fiddle. Then it just depends on which of our kids show up. We have kids playing accordion, mandolin, flute, drums, cello, penny whistle.
A trademark of our music is that it’s energetic. Not too fast to be uncomfortable but most of the dances and most of the music is pretty wild.
We got to the point where we couldn’t really afford to hire callers anymore, so I said, “Oh, I’ll try that.”
That was twenty years ago. Once I started calling, it’s just a question of figuring out what they’re able to do and what you’re able to teach them. So I learned a lot more about that as time goes on.
You need to be able to call in time to the music, which means you actually have to call a few beats ahead of the beat, so by the time you give them the instructions they can start at the time the music says to do it.
Two or three dances in, I’ll call a mixer dance. A social dance. You start with your partner, you do a few things, and all of a sudden you do something which makes you dance with the person standing next to you. And then you dance with them as if they’re your partner. And then the next time through you move on to a different partner. Everybody gets a chance to dance with all kinds of people. You can keep your partner or go find a new partner.
There’s another one called Nine Pin. A square dance is usually eight people. This one’s done with nine people – one person is in the center. They’re free form dancing while everyone around does something. Then a figure happens and one person gets out and they get to be the Nine Pin and they go in the center. It’s my wife’s favorite dance.
In a community dance, it’s a bunch of people and they’re moving to the same music and they’re in cooperation. The more people that dance the figures to the rhythm, the more fun it gets. When you dance to the rhythm of the music, you feel accomplished.