I just came home from the 50th NESRDC. It was an outstanding convention and it seemed that most of the folks there were having a great time. Often at these (and other) conventions I come away thinking that the dancing could be a lot better if most callers worked a bit harder at their craft. This one was not different for the most part but there was one outstanding exception.
I share the view of many that we have made modern western square dancing too complicated so I went to the “Take No Prisoners” PLUS session expecting to see the dancers struggling with material that was unnecessarily complicated and beyond their ability. I was pleasantly surprised as I watched Ted Lizotte do the best job of calling that I have seen in at least a couple of decades.
The choreography was, indeed, beyond the usual ability of most of the dancers there. But Ted called with such skill that they were able to succeed and, for the most part, to do it with smooth and accurate execution. He chose the material perfectly, called it with near flawless timing and was able to offer the extra helping words and fractional second timing adjustments that made it possible for the dancers to succeed way beyond what they could have done with “ordinary” calling. The figures he was calling were very challenging. He did many of the PLUS calls in fractions and in unusual directions and combinations that few dancers ever encounter. The reason the dancers were able to succeed was that Ted put the calls together so that each action flowed smoothly into the next. If the dancers did what felt “right” it probably was and that made many successful with material that, in the hands of nearly every other caller, would have crashed the floor repeatedly.
This experience leaves me thinking again about how we got to where we are. Clearly a skilled caller working with dancers who are interested in stretching their ability can make the experience fun. These were the dancers willing to turn out at 10:00 AM for a program labeled “Take No Prisoners.” They were probably more committed than most. As I watched more dancing through the rest of the day I saw many callers do a good job. There were many experienced callers there. Their job was to call less challenging material to dancers who were on the floor to enjoy each other at least as much as the dancing. New England callers are, on average, better than most. They mostly kept the dancers happy and having a good time.
Unfortunately, there were also some callers who didn’t do their job as well. I saw callers reading their calls and many whose timing left an extra beat or two between many of the actions. There were times when the caller’s choice of words was not helpful at best and often was confusing. In the hands of a good caller with committed dancers even the complexity we have built into our dancing can be smooth, comfortable and very satisfying. Few of us can even approach the skill I saw Ted use but some could work harder to be sure they do the best job they can.