Just got back from 3 days at the Ken Ritucci led square dance caller school in Sunnyvale. I went for the lower level work, our coaches were Ken, and Scott Byars, with additional insight from Harlan Kerr and Rob French.
I have lots of thoughts on this that will probably evolve and mellow as the weekend sinks in, but want to get down some impressions... while I have a moment
We had two 12-13 year olds in the calling school. Both are awesome people. One of them is brilliant in a math mind way, dancing full Advanced after a year or so, but still working on her social presence. So she was totally wigged out on the mic in front of 8 squares, and calling super fast.
And a couple of us, her fellow students, were down in the front square flourishing the hell out of our dancing, and keeping some less competent dancers on track. Fairly simple Mainstream calling, but holy crap it got the blood flowing.
And then 4 of us who are newer callers stepped off to the side (so that we wouldn't distract the people calling), and got goofy (especially for a group that wasn't narrow, but had a large contingent from the "straight" side of square dancing): Okay, let's switch genders every time we get home. For the second to last tip we had 9 people, with the spare person randomly tagging in. We had a few other dancers who weren't as good but were willing to play along (and were mid way between "oh crap, we can't be the ones to break the square" and the infectious joy of "wow, these people are totally having fun goofing with convention").
It was like "I'm tearing-up thinking about it" levels of fun.
I want to bring that level of exuberance and energy to the floor. For everyone.
For the most part, I have loathed square dance music. Beeps and boops that sound like a Casio synthesizer, bland arrangements. I get flashbacks to walking with my grandparents through suburban malls in the late '70s. If I'm aware of the music a caller is using, it's usually because I'm rolling my eyes at it.
So I've been buying a bunch of karaoke music, looking at electro-swing, EDM, that sort of thing. But in listening to some of the music that various other student callers were working with, and how they were working with it, including one guy who was remixing '80s rock and video game music into his sets, I realized that I'm probably really mostly aware of the music because the caller isn't filling it well.
One fellow student is a returning caller who has amazing cadence and uses lots of filler words and really sings his patter and I can't tell you a thing about the music he used, and it was awesome. He could have re-used the same song over and over again (as seems to happen so often in my dance experience) and I don't think I'd have noticed.
I've put a lot of focus into finding new music. I've also recently been handed boxes of old 45s that I'm digitizing. Based on my experiences this weekend, I'm going to put way more effort into listening to those old callers, getting some punch to my cadence, figuring out how to insert filler words without de-emphasizing the calls, and worry a lot less about music.
I mean, I'll still dig for singing calls, but for patter I'm going to go through those old 45s, slow them down to modern dance speed (or find dancers who can dance like they used to and call simpler choreo...), and use them. And I'll be way less picky about how good the instrumental work is on the singers, too.
Rob French's presentation on choreography was great. It'd be awesome to go back through that demo about 5 more times so more of it sinks in. And in our dry run/dress rehearsal, I realized I was doing a Swing Thru+Acey Deucey which spun the boys by the left a full turn, so replaced that with a Trade By The Right+Girls Circulate, which didn't quite flow as nicely, but did get the dancers thinking a bit more.
Also had some conversation with Aahz at dinner about how he approached his Foggy City Dancers lefty set that's got me thinking about how to better teach and prepare dancers for unusual arrangements and more complex calls at those arrangements.
Also getting over my fear of "Box The Gnat". The people I normally dance with hate it, mostly for the styling, so it seems like we need to find a better styling for it.
Harlan did the "keep each side in their own box" thing. It's an interesting technique to watch and learn from, and I'll definitely take lessons from it, it stretches how my brain interprets the square arrangement, but... I've danced to callers who've done this unintentionally.
I hope that Joe Dehn got a recording of my singing call, because I thought my voice wasn't quite up to the dress rehearsal, but the feedback I got was that I sold it better than the dress.
Patter portion was calling from cards, but I'm pretty sure my timing has gotten way way better.