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Matching Dances to Tunes

by Erna-Lynne Bogue

(This article was originally posted to the Usenet newsgroup <rec.folk-dancing>.)

Working with a band about tune choices is a dicey issue. In my eyes, as a caller, it means I need to

As much as possible, I try to say things that a musician can understand without having to make a leap to choreography. Like "I want the A and the B phrases to sound really different" or "The tune needs to start with a bang at the top" or "It would help the dancers a lot if the short phrases are really distinct from each other" (this for a dance with tight timing on the 4-bar phrases...).

There are all sorts of obvious things as well. If I have a dance that I only like when the band plays a jig, and I'm calling with an old-time band that only plays reels, well, I'd be sort of an idiot to call that dance. On the other hand, if I'm working with a band that I know from past experience is great at picking tunes, sometimes I'll just show them the card or tell them the dance and see what I get - often it's a surprise (e.g., I'd pick a "smooth" tune and they give me bouncy - the dance has a different flavor than I had in mind, but it's still a good one.)

On a few occasions I know that the dance sounds like it will need one kind of tune and in fact needs something totally different. In these cases, I've been known to hide the card after telling the band something pretty specific like "I want some vigorous bouncy reels and a pretty quick tempo." I've watched their surprise as what *looks* like a very smooth dance gets walked through, but it works out in the end.

Once, a whole sorority house arrived about an hour into the dance. We had already taught all the beginning stuff, but obviously we were going to have to do a very simple dance. I turned to Laura Stein and said, "I'm going to teach one of the simplest dances on the face of the earth. How 'bout if you folks play some of the hottest, craziest tunes you know?" And it worked! Her husband, "the other" Bob Stein, came running up afterwards and said, "Erna-Lynne, that's a great dance - I've got to get it from you."

"Bob," I said, "that was Dud's Reel and great music."

Makes a difference.

Erna-Lynne Bogue <ebogue@umich.edu>

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Last updated on July 30, 1996 by entropy@prismnet.com (Kiran Wagle)