(This page is a part of the contradance pages maintained by Kiran Wagle)
Words and Confusion in Teaching and Calling
Installment 1, sound-alikes
by Jim Saxe
(This article was originally posted to the Usenet newsgroup <rec.folk-dancing>.)
On April 26, I wrote: "I'm looking for examples of ill-chosen words and phrases used in calling or teaching contradances and/or ("traditional") square dances. I'm particularly interested in words that can lead to choreographic confusion because they sound like something else, because they have more than one plausible interpretation, or for some other reason."
Below is the beginning of a summary of the examples given in the
responses I've received, together with examples I've accumulated
from my own dancing and calling experience. But first some
comments and caveats.
The examples given below and in the later installments to follow
should be read with a critical eye. Ideally, they would clearly
illustrate direct connections between poorly chosen words on the
part of callers and confusion on the part of dancers. In practice
the words reported may not be what a caller actually said, but
only what the caller remembers having said or what a dancer
remembers having heard. Any confusion that was later observed may
have been due to a variety of causes, which might or might not
relate to the caller's choice of particular words.
the caller may have chosen inappropriate material, failed to
understand the dance thoroughly before presenting it, failed to
verify that all dancers were correctly positioned after each
figure in the walk-through, or failed to maintain the dancers'
attention. Or other words that the caller said earlier than the
ones reported might have sowed the seeds of confusion. Or the words in the example might be words that some caller avoids (or
that somebody thinks callers should avoid) for fear that they
*might* cause confusion.
The same words that are effective with
one group of dancers may be ineffective with another group.
Alternative "better" wordings suggested in some of the examples
may not actually be more effective in a given situation than the
original "bad" wordings. Contorting your teaching in order to
avoid the words used in a "bad" example - or in order to set the
context for some clever bit of "good" phrasing - may do more harm
than good. In short, these examples and any associated
commentary are no substitute for your good judgment.
I've made some attempt to group the examples into categories _
sound-alikes (covered in this message), ambiguities, timing
problems, etc. - but many of the examples could equally well fit
into two or more categories. In such cases I've made somewhat
arbitrary decisions, being more concerned with writing the
examples down that with devising an ideal system of classification,
My thinking about words to use in teaching
and calling dances has benefited (I hope) from interactions
with many dancers, musicians, and callers over the years,
and I won't even attempt to list them all. Of course none of the
above-mentioned individuals necessarily subscribes the opinions
expressed in what follows. In fact, I'm not so sure about some of
those opinions myself. But enough preamble. On to the examples.
Here are some examples involving sound-alike words--words
that sound similar to other words because they share a syllable or
even a vowel sound. Note that not all these examples necessarily
involve ill-chosen words. In some cases the potential problems
might be avoided by more careful enunciation or more careful
teaching rather than by a different choice of words.
A caller's use of a particular word may have the unfortunate effect
of suggesting a different usage of the same word. Here are some
examples that I subjectively chose to categorize as sound-alike
phrases, rather than in some other category.
- "A!" - directing the band that they should now be starting the A
part of the music, but heard by dancers as "Hey!"
- "Centers" - pronounced as "c'en'rs" and thus potentially heard
as "ends". I noticed this one while listening to a tape of
my own calling and hearing what I thought at first was "ends
arch ends dive." I don't remember actually seeing problems during
the dance, so perhaps an effective walk-through made up for my
later sloppy enunciation.
- "Ladies change" - heard as "Ladies chain."
- "End ladies chain" - intended to mean a diagonal chain by
two ladies at the ends of facing lines of four during a square
dance, but heard as "and ladies chain," setting all the ladies
into motion (this despite a successful walk-through with just
the end ladies chaining at that point in the dance).
- "Four in line", and "Forward and back" - to tell the dancers what
to do after the two swings in a dance. Prompts with unique first
syllables (e.g., "down the hall" vs. "long lines") are better.
- "On the corner, allemande left" - I'm not sure about the origin
of the term "On the/your corner" (at the corner of the square?).
In any case I once saw a dancer who evidently heard "on" as "honor,"
taking a quick bow to his corner before the allemande each time
this call was used.
- "Partner" and "Corner" - easily mistaken for each other in a
noisy hall, especially if the call is something like "Allemande
left your partner." The old gender-biased expression "corner
lady" actually served a practical purpose in distinguishing these
terms, since the expression "partner lady" was not used.
- "Start ..." - "... a right and left through", "... a hey", etc.,
heard as "Star".
- "Switch" - heard as "swing" when shouted from the sidelines to
tell a pair of dancers that they were out of position.
- "With" - potentially heard as "swing" in phrases like "With
your corner, allemande left."
If the hall is noisy, the acoustics are poor, and/or the sound
system is poorly adjusted, or the callers' enunciation and mic
technique are poor, it's easy for some words to become completely
lost (i.e., be sound-alikes for nothing). This can be
particularly troublesome with words like "not" and "don't":
- "Balance forward and back" - in a ring of eight. Understood
by some dancers as an eight-count "forward and back" during
the walk-through and danced that way (despite use of the call
"balance" without "forward and back") during the dance, thus
turning the timing for the following figures into a scramble.
- "Do-si-do" - an old traditional name in the south and west for
the figure now called "do-paso" and numerous variants, easily
confused with the New England do-si-do (the latter being
referred to as "back to back" in English country dance, and
as "do SA do" in modern western square dance), even when the
caller takes pains to be explicit about the distinction during
- "It's a long swing" - leading some dancers to form long lines
immediately on hearing the word "long."
- "Go right into ..." - "... a left hand star" or other figure.
- "right hand star" and "right and left through" - said with
"right and" and "right hand" having simila cadence and
- "Go 'round - continuing with something like "... that big 'ol
ring" as patter during a grand right and left, but leading
dancers to expect "... your own and the other way back."
- "Star thru" - suggesting "star" to dancers not familiar with
this inaplty named (in my opinion) figure borrowed from modern
western square dancing.
- "Swing thru" - suggesting "swing" to dancers not familiar
with this inaplty named (in my opinion) figure borrowed from
modern western square dancing.
While I'm on the subject of sound-alikes, here are some examples
of words that may not cause any actual confusion, but that
suggest stale puns.
- "Don't get below those two's" - said to keep the swinging active
couples in Chorus Jig from drifting down the set, but apparently
causing more dancers than ever to cast out through the wrong
spaces when the word "don't" got lost in the din.
- "Ladies chain over but not back" - heard as "Ladies chain mumble
- "Chain the ladies."
- "Half ladies chain."
- "It's a short swing."
- "Duck ..."
- "Space out along the lines."
- [From English country dance:] "Skip "
Thanks to all the people who've help me compile the examples in
this message and in the messages to follow, either by their
responses to my queries on rec.folk-dancing or through recent
private conversations. These include: Bob Archer, Jenny Beer, Bo
Bradham, Roger Broseus, Ron Buchanan, Harold Cheyney, Brent
Chivers, Charlie Fenton, Jim Fownes, Michael Fuerst, Anne Hillman,
Donna Howell, Larry Jennings, Jon Leech, Alan Gedance, Jonathan
Griffiths, Jackie Hoffman, Paul Marsh, Greg McKenzie, David
Millstone, Russell Owen, Obejoyful, Ted Swift, Tony Parkes, Dan
Pearl, Ted Swift, Kiran Wagle, and perhaps others whose names I've
Stay tuned for Installment 2.
Jim Saxe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
GO to the contradance home page,
the article index,
the list of books,
the list of dance weekends,
the list of bands, musicians, and callers,
the page of random pages,
or the top of this page.
Last updated on July 27, 1996 by
email@example.com (Kiran Wagle)