Sunday, December 23, 2007

What's in a name?

"Make Magic" — I've wondered why this C1 call is so named. Most sensibly, it should be a call that takes you to a Magic Column. But there's only one formation from which this happens: a 2 by 4 formation with a center box circulate and outside couples facing in. This, by the way, has a name of its own. It's called a Quarter Box. The idea is that any 2 by 4 formation with outside couples facing in takes its name from the center, e.g. Quarter Diamond. What should be Quarter Wave, however, is ordinarily called a Quarter Tag.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Question & a Plea

Relay The Deucey, Motivate, Chain Reaction—what do they all have in common? They often break squares down. And the reason why is also something they all have in common: they depend on stars or star-like formations and there are four different paths (the maximum) an individual dancer may have to dance through. 

Star formations, if failed, break a square down because there's no saving line, no other line of four, to rebuild on by imitation. And star formations often fail when dancers are imperfect team players (it takes four dancers to make a star: if one smarty-pants dancer has skittered on ahead, a tardy dancer may not see the formation and so fail to dance the call!).

Now to the question and the plea. When teaching or workshopping any of these calls, why don't callers put us dancers through all four paths. It's absolutely essential for dancers who dance by position and it's no waste of time for dancers who dance by definition. An entire cycle of Relay The Deucey and Motivate can be achieved by having the dancers Swing Thru in between the four iterations. The same can be accomplished for Chain Reaction by an Extend & Outsides Trade (i.e. Finish Ping-Pong Circulate).

I've had some very good teachers and workshop callers, but I'm baffled why none of them has done this. I don't think any of these calls can be considered to have been successfully workshopped unless the dancers have managed to get through an entire cycle (as above) ... from left-hand waves!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Armchair Square Dancing

I've just come across a terrific resource: Vic Cedar's Choreography Database. With a few clicks you can read sequences involving your "favorite" calls, at varying levels of difficulty. Not for everybody—but those for whom this is appropriate ... you know who you are!

Left, Reverse, Mirror, Arky

I learned C1 a year ago. According to Callerlab's Basic Challenge (C-1) Definitions (10/12/06), the definition of the "Left" modifier begins "Do the call interchanging right with left, clockwise with counter-clockwise, and promenade with reverse promenade." I'd heard of "Reverse" and "Mirror" and even "Arky"—none of them as yet official modifiers. I'd supposed that "Reverse" applied to "Beau" and "Belle" and "Arky" to "Men" and "Ladies" (to follow Callerlab's antique terminology), while "Mirror" perhaps combined "Left" and "Reverse".

In double checking for this posting, however, I notice Callerlab's Advanced Definitions (10/31/06) for the "Left" modifier states 

Do the call interchanging right with left and if also applicable belle with beau. (Left should only be used to modify calls where a right hand turn or shoulder pass is clearly part of the definition. The term Reverse is commonly used when the major interchange is Beau with Belle such as Reverse Swap Around.)

—no mention of "counterclockwise" or "promenade". What a difference a couple of weeks makes! I wonder what others dancers think of this and where "Mirror" fits in.

The Tandem Concept in Plus

I think the Tandem Concept should be introduced in Plus. Little need be done with it, but how it simplifies the definition of Track II: Tandem (Trade and Touch)! Compare that with the convoluted definition in Callerlab, which even so doesn't dispense with "dancers work[ing] 'in tandem'."

Searching Callerlab

Oh Brave New World (no, not a call)! Searching with Adobe Reader through Callerlab's Basic and Mainstream Definitions (the 10/19/06 iteration) I find, what I've long suspected, that Pull By is nowhere defined! The closest one gets is in the "Dancing Hand Positions" (associate right!) — "Pull By: The action brings two people toward each other. Hands should be droped before bodies cross a common plane." Whatever the "action" might be is nowhere specified. I wonder how many on the committee have been using the search function.

Should Box The Gnat be a gender call?

Recently I was at a dance where the caller called (or seemed to call) Box The Gnat for facing dancers of the same gender. He maintained (or I thought he maintained—such is the Fog of Floor) that at our level (A or above) gender didn't matter. I should mention that he has subsequently denied all of this. But it got me thinking what a genderless definition of Box The Gnat might be. I propose, Slide Thru And Roll. The whole arm thing then just becomes a co-gender flourish.

P.S. Oh yes, I see that my definition isn't genderless, but it does allow the call to be made for two facing dancers of whatever gender.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Circle to a Line

Circle to a Line is one of those calls that you learn in Mainstream one way, but you never ever dance it the way you learned it. The call is fraught with terror when square dancing with people that you've not danced with because you don't know whether they will dance its definition, or whether they will dance it the way every one else dances it....

Here's the definition:

CIRCLE TO A LINE: Starting formation - facing couples. TIMING - 8 steps.

Couples circle left one half (180°). The lead dancer in the couple who started on the inside (man's position) releases the left handhold, but retains the handhold of the dancer on his right to become the left end dancer of the line. The released dancer moves forward under the raised arm arch formed by that dancer and the adjacent dancer to become the right end dancer in the line.

STYLING: The circle portion is the same styling as in circle eight. As the man breaks with his left hand to form a line, he should lead the line several steps before turning. After the end lady has released her right hand, and while retaining the right hand of the man beside her, together they will raise their joined hands and make an arch. Then as the line begins to straighten out, she will move forward under this arch, turning left face gradually under her own left arm so that instead of backing up she is moving forward to the end of the line.

This call can be confusing. Although the definition states that the starting formation is facing couples, it is implicit in the movement of the call that one of the couples is a lead couple. If the dancers do not know who is the lead couple or who is the inside couple, they will not be able to perform the call. Most callers help out by preceding the call with a directed couple lead right, and that couple, then, is the lead couple.

Callers, help me out here, if this call were ever called from facing lines, is the lead couple that couple where the man is one of the centers of the line? It seems so from the definition, but I'm not sure. The big take away here is that you have to know whether you are the lead couple.

Of course, the biggest problem is determining whether the couple facing you is going to actually circle to a line, or do the shortcut. The shortcut is easy: the lead couple cross-folds around the other couple, and that couple moves left two or three steps. It isn't nearly as classy as the definition, but it gets you to the right place.

You should always know the definition, and be prepared to dance it. Most likely, though, you'll be dancing the shortcut. Of course, if you insist on dancing the definition at DC Lambda Squares, you may break down your square.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Teacup Chain

Andy Shore in his workshop covered (among many things) Teacup Chain. Here is the definition for Teacup Chain:

TEACUP CHAIN -Starting formation -Static Square, or proceeding from everyone doing a Left Arm Turn with partner. TIMING - 32

The caller will specify two ladies to move to the center at the start of the call, e.g., "Head ladies center for a Teacup Chain". For the rest of the definition, these two ladies will be called the "specified ladies". The specified ladies (both Head ladies or both Side ladies) move to the center and Star Right three-quarters to meet their corners for a Left Arm Turn. At the same time, the other two ladies move to the right around the perimeter of the square to their corners, and do a Right Arm Turn. Following the Arm Turns, the specified ladies move around the perimeter of the square to their new corners for a Right Arm Turn, while the other ladies go to the center and Star Left once and a quarter to meet their new corners for a Right Arm Turn.

The specified ladies then move to the center and Star Left once and a quarter to their new corners for a Right Arm Turn, while the other ladies move to their new corners (around the perimeter of the square) for a Left Arm Turn.

Finally, the specified ladies move to their new corners (their original partners) for either a Courtesy Turn or a Left Arm Turn leading into the next command, while the other ladies move to the center and Star Right three-quarters to meet their new corners (their original partners) for either a Courtesy Turn or a Left Arm Turn leading into the next command. Everyone finishes with his/her original partner.

Andy workshopped Side Ladies Teacup Chain and All Ladies into the Center for a Teacup Chain. The crucial point for the ladies to remember is that they are going to proceed from man to man in promenade order. That is, after the hollerin' in the middle of the square the starring ladies will proceed counter-clockwise to the next man, who will turn them, and point them in the right direction. In the meantime, the women on the outside, will proceed (counter clockwise) to the next man in promenade order, too.

For the men, they must remember that they meet the incoming lady with the same arm that she offers, then point the women either into the center or to the right. In an All Ladies, the man will be pointing both directions, but that's more to be experienced than talked about.

So the big takeaway with Teacup Chain, is that when all is said and done in the middle of the square, the ladies are moving in the promenade direction to the next man! It doesn't get much simpler than that.

Friday, August 31, 2007

That Chain Reaction Ett Called Last Night...

Ett called last night, and in her spirit of lefty-ness, why are left calls so difficult for most of us? I posed this question to Cissie, and she said that she thinks its because dancers just move to the position they think they should be in. This is the ultimate in positional dancing, and it fails dancers completely on a Chain Reaction that's called from a left position (left-hand wave in the center).

Here's the caller lab definition:

CHAIN REACTION Starting Position: Quarter Tag or Quarter line formation in which very center can Pass Thru with an outside dancer [At Advanced, this call is restricted to starting from right- or left-hand quarter tag formations
only.] Timing: 12

The very centers Pass Thru with the dancers they are facing, while the ends of the center line/wave Promenade 1/4 around the outside of the set. The original very centers and the dancers they are next to, Hinge. The centers Star (or Diamond Circulate) one spot, while the outsides Trade. Those who meet now Cast Off 3/4, while the others move up (as in Hourglass Circulate) to become the ends of parallel waves.

When Ett called Chain Reaction, from a left position and cued it VERY SLOW, we all did okay. The problem (and again, thanks to Cissie for the insight), is that the dancers move to form the star in the middle without giving it any thought. In the Chain Reaction from a left-hand wave, this causes all kinds of problems. Dancers proceed as if it's a regular Chain Reaction.

The Beaus on the outside may attempt to move forward toward the center, when they should just stand still. If a Beau moves forward, the Beau will come face-to-face with the opposite Belle. Both dancers will be very confused. The Belle will not be able to form the star in the middle because the Beau is in the way, The Beau is out of position to do the hinge so that the Beau can be in the star. Four desperate seconds later, the square breaks down.

(The Beau could save the situation by hingeing to the right, but that leaves the dancer from the very center of the wave facing the wrong direction, and probably disoriented.)

So... how about getting out your Advanced definitions, and doing some review? If you learn to dance by definition, you won't break down squares nearly as much. Dancing by position is a lot like dancing in overdrive. Most of the time it works, and then Ett calls Chain Reaction from a lefty wave, and you're in the wrong gear!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thinking about Calls

I've enjoyed how Brian and Kent taught Follow Your Neighbor, and also what Butch Adams added to it. Follow Your Neighbor was one of those Plus calls that I learned haphazardly and did unthinkingly. Here's my take on the call: it's a lot like Scoot Back and Fan the Top.

Here's the CallerLab definition:

FOLLOW YOUR NEIGHBOR - Starting formation - Box Circulate. TIMING - 6

Dancers facing in release hands with the person next to them (their "neighbor") and step straight forward, join adjacent forearms with the one they meet, and turn three-quarters (270°) to become centers of a new wave. At the same time, the dancers facing out follow their "neighbors" by moving forward in a three-quarter looping turn (270°), turning towards their "neighbor" to finish adjacent to their "neighbor" as the ends of the new ocean wave.

When done from right-hand boxes, the dancers facing in turn by the right hand and the dancers facing out loop around right-face, to finish in a left-hand ocean wave. When done from left-hand boxes, the dancers facing in turn by the left-hand and the dancers facing out loop around left-face, to finish in a right-hand ocean wave.

Here's my take on it: the Leaders do their part of a Scoot Back then Roll.

The Trailers do their part of a Scoot Back but Cast Three-Quarters rather than do a Turn Thru.

And that's the end of the call!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Warren, What a Dance!

I was at a square dance on Saturday night to remember our club's square dance caller, Warren Jaquith. Warren died last March of a massive stroke doing what he loved, teaching a square dance class.

Warren's loss is quite evident, from the hole it's made in the club's dance schedule to the moments on the dance floor when you think it's a "Warren moment," but Warren isn't there.

So on Saturday, almost a hundred people gathered in a school gym in Takoma Park, Maryland to remember Warren, but more importantly, to square dance and have a party, because that's exactly what Warren would expect us to do on the last Saturday night in June. So we did.

We had a wonderful party, too. Barry coordinated the food. Nick took care of the door. Larry made sure that every last detail was set. Tom came with Warren's brother, cousins, and partners in tow, and several square dancers who knew Warren many, many years ago came to remember Warren's gentle humor, broad smile, and love of square dancing.

They all said, Warren, that you were there. Your cousin, or maybe it was Tom, mentioned that you were out in the hallway, somewhere, drinking a very dry gin martini. And I don't doubt that at all. Thanks for a wonderful evening. Thanks for everything. It was just like downtown.

Warren's Dance Party, Downtown
Warren's Dance Party, Downtown

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First Niter Wowz Dancerz

You have to hand it to Kent and Brian. They are singlehandedly going to restore square dancing's reputation in the gay-friendly community. They have done more to heal the childhood trauma induced by grade school P.E. coaches who "teach" "square dancing" than Dr. Spock and Oprah, combined. Actually, dancing to these two is a little like listening to an old George Burns and Gracie Allen radio show. I'm not saying which is which.

This much is clear: the jaded oldtimers were having just as much fun as the dozen new dancers at last night's open house. Chaz and KeithAnn had everything faultlessly organized. The DC Lambda Squares display was attention getting and served to get the newcomers thinking and talking about square dancing. Of course, Kathy and Mitch put together a wonderful spread, a special thanks for that.

Thank goes to all the veterans. Everyone's cheer and enthusiasm filled the hall. This occasion was festive, and the club members' spirited participation made it a (dare I say) fabulous evening. I hope that every first niter can be as fun as this!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More Breaking Convention News

I would comment on the Honky-Tonk Queen contest, except I wasn't there. The winning queen was controversial - a radically new development in the history of the contest. On the other hand, Ward from Cadillac Squares was awarded a special 10-year Medallion for appearing (and not winning) in ten different Honky-Tonk Queen competitions. Congratulations, Ward!

Speaking of 10-year medallions, Lloyd Anderson, Abe Feldman, and Keith McDonald received their medallions as they walked across the stage to be embraced by Ett McAtee, then exit stage right. Ten years is a lot of convention memories, and lots of sore feet, not to mention hundreds of hours and thousands of tips. It's a happy, wonderful achievement.

The DCDC table continues to be a popular attraction. Even as I type these words, a hundred dancers, or so, are lined up ready to get their secret instructions on how to register early bird. It's a pretty bedraggled bunch, with fits and starts of consciousness. Lots of smiles and expectation are this morning's aroma, along with the coffee from the downstairs lobby.

That's about it for now. I'll report more, later.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Breaking News from Convention

Yes! Team DC Lambda Squares is taking convention by storm. Busy secret operatives staff the DCDC Central Control, a conspicuously situated table, with an important mission: to infiltrate the international gay and lesbian square dance community, and ensure that square dancers from around the world get the not-so-secret message, that Washington, DC is hosting DC Diamond Circulate, 2009.

The crew working the crowd at the DCDC table

All appearances to the contrary (some of us do look like the dog dragged us in...), the DC dancers sparkle in the halls and on the sidewalks of Denver. This weekend is a gayla epoch in Denver, 1000s of gay bowlers, volleyball players, and of course, the stars: gay square dancers. The volleyballers are in the Denver Adams Mark, the bowlers took over the Marriott, and we're in the Hyatt Regency Denver Convention Center. The 16th St Mall is lined with gay flags, and no wonder! 5,000 gay people in a four-square block area. You could meet your next husband here.

It's also interesting to note the relative ages and body types. The volleyballers appear to be the youngest and sleekest. I think some square dancers are headed over to their coliseum to do some recruiting. After all, you can't play volleyball forever. Those young 'uns need something to retire to.

Friday night, a couple of dozen people gathered in the Memorial room to pay tribute to Warren Jaquith and Vladislaw Schwartz. It was a very somber, but happy moment, because we truly remembered the happy times that their presence brought to square dancing and to our club. Warren and Vlad, we miss you, but we know that you are here dancing with us.

Monday, May 21, 2007

We're Squaring up for the Big One!

Many DC Lambda Square dancers are heading out to Denver, Colorado this week. The annual convention for the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs begins on Thursday, May 24, 2007. All week prior to that is the Gay Callers Association caller school - so it's a full schedule of square dancing in Denver for the next eight days or so.

See ya in Denver! Yellow Rocks!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sad News from DC Lambda Squares

Larry Ferri, president of DC Lambda Squares sent out this e-mail on February 27:

It is with great sadness that I pass along this news. Our dear caller, Warren Jaquith, was taken to Georgetown Hospital last night after suffering a major stroke while teaching our Mainstream class. Warren is currently in the intensive care unit, he is non-responsive, and his condition is very grave. The doctors have said that his prognosis is not good. Warren’s partner Tom and Warren’s family are with him at the hospital. Tom asked me to send out this information.

It is extremely difficult to accept that such a terrible thing has happened to Warren. He is such a good and decent person, we all love him dearly. Please keep Warren, Tom and Warren’s family in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, January 22, 2007

25 Years of Gay Square Dancing in Washington DC

The DC Lambda Squares square dance club celebrated their 25th anniversary on Saturday, January 20 at First Baptist Church near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. Many oldtimers attended, a large contingent from Baltimore sparkled, and two special guests from Philadelphia also danced the night away.

The evening featured a fabulous Italian dinner graciously prepared by club member (now chef) Nick Mattera, and his capable kitchen crew who fueled us up for the dance following with Warren Jaquith and Dayle Hodge calling all of our favorites.

Here are some photos of a very memorable evening:

Salad, Anyone? (Brian Jarvis photo)
Salad, Anyone?
(Brian Jarvis Photo)

Chef Nick at work (Brian Jarvis photo)
Chef Nick at work
(Brian Jarvis Photo)

Recounting 25 years (Brian Jarvis photo)
Recounting 25 years
(Brian Jarvis photo)

Celebrating old friends (Brian Jarvis photo)
Celebrating old friends
(Brian Jarvis photo)

What do Rich and Rosalyn share? (Brian Jarvis photo)
What do Rich and Rosalyn share?
(Brian Jarvis photo)

Steve Johnson was emcee for the evening (Brian Jarvis Photo)
Steve Johnson was emcee for the evening
(Brian Jarvis photo)

Dayle and Callie (Martin Kramer photo
Dayle and Callie
(Martin Kramer photo)

Baltimore Friends (Martin Kramer photo)
Baltimore Friends
(Martin Kramer photo)

Kitchen Consultations (Martin Kramer photo)
Kitchen Consultation
(Martin Kramer photo)

The Wilde Bunch
The Wilde Bunch

Now with Hank!
Now with Hank!

Juanita and Tonja ready to dance
Juanita and Tonja ready to dance

Kathy and Mitch
Kathy and Mitch

Tom, Char, and Warren
Tom, Char, and Warren

Mary Kay and Bob
Mary Kay and Bob

The First Couple (Brian Jarvis photo)
The First Couple
(Brian Jarvis photo)

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Year

As you can see from the January calendar, our square dance year promises to be full of all kinds of square dance activities. Of particular note are the Mainstream open house on January 8, the three-level club night that kicks off this Thursday, and the 25th Anniversary Dinner Dance on the 20th. All of these activities indicate a vibrant club, one that is growing, changing, and has a long and proud history.

Here's to an exciting and wonderful new year. I hope to see you in my square.