Thoughts on leading dances for novices
Here are the rules I use when putting together a program for a group of
novice dancers (such as at a party or for the freshman orientation at Knox
College). These are developed from a combination of experience and (what
seems to me to be) common sense.
Here is a proto-typical program of the sort I have used successfully
in the past.
- Use dances that contain only figures that require no (or very little)
explanation. That is, figures where the name effectively tells you how
to do it, or ones that almost everyone knows even if they have never
danced before. Thus you have circles, stars, lines (forward and back
and down the hall), do-si-do's (it seems like almost everyone knows
how to do this), allemandes (turn by the right/left hand) and 2 hand turns
(really circles for 2 people). There may be a few others that can be used,
but with these you can do quite a lot. If the evening goes extremely well
I might throw in a dance or two with a swing near the end of the evening.
- Have progression be obvious and require no thought by the dancers.
In whole set dances the top couple goes to the bottom of the set and
everyone moves up one place. In contra dances use dances where each
couple passes their neighbors by and automagically meets a new couple.
You usually get a good reaction from the crowd the first time this
happens and they realize what is going on.
- Use proper dances. More specifically use dances where you interact
with your partner and your neighbor, but it doesn't matter who are the
women and who are the men. Most proper dances fit this requirement.
This is especially helpful when teaching kids. They can just get a
friend as a partner and you don't need to worry about designating a
boys line and a girls line. Even with adults, not having to cross over
at the ends of contra dances is one less thing they have to know about
- Have a logical progression in the dances used so that each one builds
on the things learned in the previous one.
This is the basic structure that I use for programs. In addition I
will put in a simple circle mixer or two, a simple square dance or two,
a waltz or two, and maybe a polka or a schottische (the schottische is
pretty easy to teach). Depending on who the band is I may also use some
English Country dances.
- 1 or 2 longways whole set dances such as Galopede or Cumberland Reel.
This gets them used to moving with the music, introduces several
figures and the idea of progression.
- 1 or 2 simple Sicilian circle dances such as Sanita Hill Circle.
Introduces taking hands-four. Progression is by passing through
with neigbors and meeting a new couple. Since they always move
in the same direction they don't need to turn about at the ends.
- Some simple contras such as Jefferson's Reel and Haste to the Wedding.
These are of course very similar to the Sicilian circles, but add in
waiting out at the ends and changing from 1's to 2's and vice-versa.
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Last updated on May 15, 2008