Square Dance Caller Advice: Teaching and Unteaching of Calls by Mel Wilkerson

This is a guest blog post by Mel Wilkerson.

I am going to start a new blog line on what has become a passionate issue – the teaching and un-teaching of calls where sometimes, a long standing bad habit of teaching and dancing has become the normal standard for teaching. I am in several chat rooms and this subject comes up time and again…the latest is the re-hash of the recycle dilemma. I thought I would post a long blog thought piece here for consideration and comment.

Fixing the Recycle Problem

Remember back when that new caller started calling. Every time he/she got up to the mic everyone knew what she was going to call and what the caller was going to do and the comments from the floor in whispers often became, quite derisive. Welcome to the development of the hard skin.

Callers have the capability and the ability to stretch. Your best work as you put it is not just the singing call, it is the package. You want to do a good solid patter and a good upbeat singing call that the dancers will be happily challenged and have fun with. No real out of the box fancy stuff, just good solid smooth flowing dancing that says, wow, he/she can call, and that was different but fun.

Recycle is the focus of this issue but it applies to a lot of movements. Teaching has been shortcutted for so long that now bad habits have become “teaching standards” and rob the dancers of a full program, not to mention frustrating other callers when dancers say things like, “you called that wrong” or “you can’t do that from there”. What happens is we as callers have to un-teach and have the dancers re-learn. For this my opinion is to use simple routines for your focus. If you are calling Mainstream which I believe most should be, use routines like:

Focus of the patter = RECYCLE (end cross fold and centres fold and follow)

Now that you have selected your focus, it is best not to try and memorise everything you read or write nor to read your hard work routines when you call.

Home work – develop some flow routines and play with them and see how they flow. They will show you some ways to set up and dance dancers using your focus move. Figure out beforehand, a couple of conversions, ZL to ZB for your focus movement and a couple of get outs with the focus movement. Only memorise one or two of them and you can add them to your repertoire as you build and go. When you know them, you can then use them whenever you see a zero line or a zero box, to add variety to your patter calling.

Of note: as time goes on use of the movements can get progressively more difficult as you go through them and there are a few little nuances like ½ sashayed pass the oceans and recycles from different positions. Make sure you are familiar with them before use, because the dancers WILL (not may) balk at them unless you are confident and can guide them through it. When you go through these look at some other stuff in the preparation of a “show tip” or focus tip…to me they are both the same anyway.

Remember however – two things…

One – you can be over prepared (in other words do not try to do too much in one tip)

Two – It is imperative that the dancers succeed easily (it is even better when they only think they had to work hard for it but really didn’t)

Develop a couple of “reliables”

For example:

(Zero Box)
Swing Thru, RECYCLE, Left Square thru 3/4, Right and Left Grand.

Or even a relatively simple patter routine to focus your left hand recycle to a get out
Heads 1/2 Square Thru, Touch 1/4, Split Circulate, Boys Run, Reverse Flutter Wheel, Dixie Style To A Wave, Girls Circulate, Boys Trade, Left Swing Thru, RECYCLE, Pass Thru, Trade By, R.L.G.

Play with the movement in your two couple movers… remember you are only a notch or two away from normal facing couples at any time so don’t worry too much about it.

Use the movement in a few different set ups so the dancers are comfortable then ensure you use a relatively safe but still within the “focus” of the tip movement near the end of your singing call. (if putting it near the start or middle, it is often best to use fairly simple choreography for the rest of it and give the dancers some breathing room until they are used to it.

The reason for this is things do not always go according to plan but if your focus is RECYCLE, you want to successfully (dancer success not yours) use it in your tip. Classify your singing call figures and make sure they relate to your patter sequences — not exactly, but close enough that the dancers see the familiarity but do not anticipate or worse, know what you are going to call before you call it.

For example…. If my focus was a standard right hand wave recycle with the girls on the outside I might use a singing call figure such as:

Heads Square Thru 4, Dosado To A Wave, Swing Thru, RECYCLE, Touch 1/4, boys Run, Slide thru, Swing And Promenade
Or Heads Promenade halfway, Lead to the right, Circle to a line, right and left thru (Zero Line), Pass the Ocean, Swing Thru, RECYCLE (girls leading), pass thru swing and promenade (right hand lady progression)

If my focus was a left hand recycle, I might have something like:
Heads Square thru 4, right and left thru, star thru, reverse flutter wheel, Dixie style to an ocean wave, boys trade recycle, swing corner promenade

Definitely stay away from overuse of variants until your dancers are completely comfortable. A figure such as:

Heads square thru 4, swing thru, spin the top, recycle, reverse flutterwheel, dixie style to a wave, boys trade, RECYCLE, veer right, promenade home

is not for the night you start introducing more than the vanilla recycle.

However, if you have taught it right the first time and have used it in different ways then there should not be a problem.

Prepare by looking at your choreography. Have some easy stuff prepared and know one or two as back up. They are good for when you want to relax the floor but let them know that they are still dancing the new stuff they were taught. This is important as dancers do not want to feel that you are talking (or calling) down to them by using RECYCLE in your patter and giving challenging choreography then using a singing call that is basic third night of dancing for basics. Most dancers won’t say it but they find it disappointing.

Well that’s a lot of typing and a lot of work for callers to sift. Although this is focused on recycle, the process is essentially the same for what ever you do decide to use. Choose what you want, pick some choreo to play with, patter it, find a few “set ups (getting to zero line or zero box), play with some equivalents and conversions (dance them around to your known get out position), learn a couple of get outs (from zero or box to an allemande left) then have fun with the patter.

Decide what singing call you are going to use and ensure that your patter reflects similar flow. Remember that your patter is not memorised, it is flowing, but aspects of it are memorised such as your set up, get out or conversions and zeros. It is still sight calling as the actual flow is controlled by you, and moving the dancers is not predetermined. You only use what you want when you want. Just make sure that the patter reflects your singing call.

NOTE: remember to have an easy out singing call memorised as well.

Practice your singing call(s) until they are solid and you need no paper to refer to. Make it yours, play with it and torture it until it bends to your will then practice some more.

This is only one caller’s opinion and please, feel free to comment on it.

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