Computer Coaching

When a caller sizes up a floor of dancers to see what kind of material he can call, he should not do so in a manner that makes the dancers fail. Here are some thoughts on how to do that that I originally wrote in 1999 for the Call Sheet.
Non-destructive Testing
by Don Beck, 1999

When calling for a group of dancers for the first time, it’s nice to be able to “call what they are dancing.” Through the communications aid that Callerlab has provided us, namely the program lists, we should quickly be able to establish which calls the dancers have heard of and which they haven’t. For example, you would not expect the dancers at a Mainstream dance to be able to do a Ping Pong Circulate, even from standard formations and arrangements. What we cannot tell, however, is how well they can dance the calls that they do know.

You may ask, “why should we care?” Well, because dancer success rate depends on caring. Just sticking to the list isn’t enough. Even with well timed, good flowing material, some groups of dancers may not be able to dance.

Hopefully, if an experienced caller started his/her dance with a sequence that was too difficult for the dancers, s/he could quickly adjust his/her material to get people dancing again, BUT the damage would have already been done. Reactions of dancers who break down immediately are varied, but they include; “this caller calls too hard, I can’t dance to him, I’m not going to have a good time, I don’t like him;” or “I’m not a good enough dancer, I’m embarrassed (and don’t like to be), I’m not going to have a good time” etc.

Either way, you as a caller come out smelling like something other than a rose.

One alternative is to stick to very easy sequences, but with all but the newest dancers, this won’t win you any fans either. A better approach is to find out how well the dancers can dance without losing them in the process.

When I started calling, fellow callers explained that I should test the dancers’ abilities by using sequences that got progressively harder and note where they broke down. An example that I remember was to call Heads Square Thru, Square Thru with the outsides, Bend the Line, Square Thru, Centers Square Thru, etc. The problem with this approach is that if you succeed at increasing the difficulty to the point where the dancers break down, the dancers have broken down!

In engineering, they call this destructive testing, namely finding out where something will fail by stressing it until it does fail. There is also a method called non-destructive testing. In this method, you stress something only to a point where it can still recover, but observe how it reacts under these conditions. This method can also be adapted to calling and it is what we are going to look at now. We want to test the dancers to find out how well they can handle material in a way that will allow them to keep dancing.

Here are some ways that this can be done:

From two-faced lines with normal couples, call Couples Circulate, Bend the Line and watch how it is danced. After the Couples Circulate, good dancers will end in two-faced lines. Less experienced dancers will have a two-faced line but have a large gap between the two couples. Still weaker dancers will end with T-Bone couples, i.e. the couples going across the square will automatically bend the line, before being told to. The beauty of this sequence is that no matter what the dancers do, after the bend the line, the dancers will all be successful, and without their knowing it, you will have a better feel for how well they dance.

Another sequence that is revealing is to call Four Ladies Chain, Four Ladies Chain, Four Women Fold, Star Thru, Promenade Home. Good dancers will end the Women Fold with the women’s backs to the center of the square, and then the Star Thru sets everyone up for a promenade. Weaker dancers will most likely dance the Fold by having the men and women turn to face each other. The Star Thru then leaves them facing out of the square, but they can still figure out which way to go on the promenade.

Here is another example you can use. Call Heads Star Thru, Pass Thru, Swing Thru, Men Run, or anything else you want that will get you to the same setup. Then call the following getout: Couples Circulate, Women Trade, Women Run (or Women Fold), Allemande Left. With weaker dancers, the Women Run is frequently danced with the women sneaking behind the men (or the Fold again being danced with the man and the women just turning toward each other.) In either case, the Allemande Left will be successful because the corner pairs are the only ones near each other. Even though they are successful, no matter how they dance the sequence, watching how they dance it can tell a caller how much variety they can handle.

Here’s one more example of a win-by-doing-it-right or win-by-doing-it-wrong sequence. From a normal eight chain thru formation, call Pass Thru and then have the centers do several calls, and eventually have the others do a California Twirl. Less experienced dancers will get nervous if they are left facing out and will automatically California Twirl. Even if they face back in before you call it, they will get through the sequence, but you will learn something about their abilities.

Once you have evaluated the degree of difficulty that dancers can handle, then you have the even harder job of adjusting the level of difficulty to just below the breakdown level of the dancers. That, unfortunately is beyond the scope of this article, but just getting this far will make your dancers have a better time. Give it a try.
Last updated on 27 May 2006