Thank You, Musicians!

Musician Appreciation by Dancers (MAD)
This article first appeared in the New Mexico Folk Music and Dance Society (FOLKMADS) newsletter, Vol. 9, Issue 6, November/December 2006. It was then picked up by the Country Dance and Song Society News, Issue 194, January/February 2007, page 12. It has been reprinted in various folk music and dance newsletters around the country.

Ideas for Dancers’ Consideration
By Merri Rudd,

A very long time ago, a musician told me, “You are one of the few who think the musicians are important. You appreciate us.”

“Important?!” I exclaimed, “It is because of you that dance is possible.”

As a caller, I have spent a lot of time attending band practices and on stage, thinking about the role musicians have in driving the dance. The music energizes, inspires, and wallops the dancers’ senses, inciting movement, excitement and, with a little luck, magic.

In the early days of New Mexico’s FolkMADs dances, the Megaband always provided the music. In 1990 the organization began to pay bands, but those fees don?t amount to much. The reason you see band members on the stage is because they love the music and playing for lively dancers. The best reward for a dance musician is seeing, hearing, and feeling the dancers’ excitement, so don’t hold back.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe Megaband musicians have played for dances for more than 20 years free of charge. Their donation of services has allowed FolkMADS to save thousands of dollars to buy complete sound systems for both communities, host special events, and cover losses when some dances have low attendance.

So, as dancers, how can we express our appreciation for the rowdy dance music so willingly provided by the bands? How about:

1. Clap enthusiastically after each tune. Seasoned bands deserve your praise; newer bands need your encouragement.

2. LOOK at the musicians on stage. When you progress to the top of the dance line and stand out for 32 seconds until you become active, take this opportunity to admire the musicians on stage. Note which instruments they?re playing. Without distracting them too much, smile or tap your foot or clog or do whatever else will show you appreciate their rhythms and tunes.

3. If a particular tune revs you up, whoop and shout from the dance floor. Bands love the synergy that comes from knowing their tune fit a particular dance so well that the dancers couldn’t help but holler.

4. Bring the musicians homemade treats to help fuel them throughout the evening (no sticky buns or other items that will mess up their strings or fingers). You try maintaining a consistent energy and strong dance tempo for 3 hours without refreshment; they need fuel just like other fine machines.

5. If refreshments are served at a dance, let the musicians have first dibs. They’ve earned the right to “eat first.” Plus, they must be back on stage in just a few minutes.

6. If you see musicians milling about during the break, don’t be timid. Go up to them and thank them for their time and music. If you have especially enjoyed their tunes, let them know! Most musicians don’t bite and are flattered to hear from you.

7. Sometimes less-experienced or shy or quiet Megabanders find themselves in uncomfortable lead musician roles due to competing commitments of other musicians. They may be the only fiddler or guitarist for the first time in their lives with the great responsibility of leading the melody or rhythm for the entire dance. These musicians especially need you. If you observe a new musician face, a fearful face, or a face with visual cues that signal a need for help, give them extra support, encouragement, and appreciation at the end of each tune. (Do this for new dancers too!)

8. Whatever you do to express appreciation, do NOT rush onto the stage. We old-timers will always remember when a caller suggested someone might kiss the fiddler in the middle of a square dance and broke the fiddler’s bow in the process. Respect the musicians’ instruments and space.

9. Some bands have CDs; shell out the $15 to support these artists. Yes, they almost all have day jobs. But their music is a labor of love; they deserve your support.

10. At the end of the night, gather at the edge of the stage and clap prolongedly and fervently. Our dances are homemade fun and we should always remember how special that is. You’d surely thank your grandma for that great homemade pie; don’t forget to thank your local musicians for those great homemade tunes! Remember, it is because of these musicians that dancing is possible.

Email me with other ideas about how to express appreciation for our musicians, and I’ll post them on this blog. Thanks to Albuquerque musician Jane Phillips and Santa Fe musician Will McDonald for helping me with this post.

(c) 2006 Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved,

2 Responses to “Thank You, Musicians!”

  1. admin says:

    Sally Jenkins of Bartlesville, OK wrote, “I organize and call for a very small community dance in Bartlesville, OK. Our dance accepts donations and splits the take between the band and the church building. I just learned that with their first “earnings” the band members all bought copies of one of the Waltz Books, so at our next dance I will make sure they get to play something from their new books for the dancers, whose donations paid for said books! By announcing where the music came from, the connection between the dancers and the musicians should be strengthened. Thank you for your other suggestions in that article too.”

  2. admin says:

    Clint Walker of the Valley Contra Dance Society in Bethlehem, PA (, reports that their group provides dinner for the band and caller at each of their twice monthly dances. They dance in a church on the gym floor, which is right next to the church kitchen. A volunteer either buys or prepares a dinner for the band and sets it up in the kitchen. Ahead of time the volunteer is provided with information on the caller’s and band members’ dietary quirks. If the volunteer wishes, (s)he gives the treasurer receipts for the dinner costs and is reimbursed. This volunteer duty rotates randomly among willing members. Band members say that having dinner waiting for them when they arrive is both welcoming and a big help. At intermission the groups serve punch (prepared by a volunteer) and pot luck refreshments. Dancers are generous and creative in contributing snacks, desserts, … That’s when the band gets dessert. Their group also provides home lodging and breakfast for out-of-town callers and band members who want it. Several members live close to the dance site, so this doesn’t require much coordination or transportation. Getting to hang out a bit with the bands and callers and hear their news from the larger dance world is a perk for everyone.