Merri’s 20th Anniversary as a Dance Caller

November 30, 2011 on 10:11 pm | In Albuquerque, Monthly Folk eNews

December 7, 2011 marks my 20th anniversary as a dance caller. I’ll be calling two dances to celebrate, one on Saturday, December 3, at the Albuquerque Square Dance Center, 7:30 – 10:30 pm with Hey! playing (I just got home from a two-hour band practice with them, and they have planned some fun surprises for the dancers). I’ll also be calling the Second Sunday English/contra dance at the Heights Community Center on Sunday, December 11, 7 – 9:30 pm in Albuquerque with Second Nature (Karina Wilson and Della O’Keefe playing, and since Gemma DeRagon played at the very first dance I called on December 7, 1991, she’ll be joining Karina and Della for this dance). Between these two dances I hope to call my top 20 dances of all time. We’ll have a big chocolate cake on December 3 and would appreciate potluck snack donations for the Second Sunday dance on December 11. If you’ve ever had fun dancing to or with me, please come help me celebrate this big anniversary. Please email or call your dancing friends and encourage them to attend. It’d be fun to have a big crowd at both dances.

I can only say this: those twenty years went quickly! I wrote a long essay in 2000 about calling. Here is a small part of it:

After I started contra dancing in 1981, I sat on the periphery of music, sometimes at a dance, sometimes a concert, sometimes around a fire in the middle of a field, or in a cabin amid piles of snow. I listened to others proliferate wonderful, rowdy, driving music and was unable to participate. I wished fervently to speak the language of music, but I never found the notes, never had any musical ability, never had a role.

Learning to call dances gave me a role. For years I admired musicians and callers and the bridges they created for the dancers. And so I learned to be a bridge. I bridge the music and the dance. I connect the players and dancers. And when it all comes together in a synergistic way, indeed, magic happens.

Getting on stage that first time in April 1991 was the greatest leap of faith I ever made. It took me more than a year to get there, fifteen months after I first attended a calling workshop with Bill "Doc" Litchman one weekend in January 1990. I could not bring myself to get on stage in front of people and interact with dancers and musicians, all alone. I practiced and struggled, and finally I stood on stage, out of excuses.

Even my non-dancing hubby Mark showed up for my debut. I gripped the microphone, I cued the band, and I called Don Armstrong’s "Broken Sixpence." Flawlessly. The dancers and musicians erupted into shouting so loud, so sustained, and so spirited that I tried calling one dance again, a few months later. On December 7, 1991, at the Lloyd Shaw Dance Center with Megaband backing me up, I called my first whole evening of dances. I only knew ten dances, and I called them all.

That first year or two of calling my knuckles stretched white and my hands ached from holding the microphone so tightly. I counted the beats of the music in my head to time my calls correctly, "1, 2, 3, 4, LA-dies CHAIN a-CROSS now…." Several years into it, I realized I knew where I was in the music, which was the second A part or the first B part, or when a tune was irregular. I became not only a dance teacher and leader, but also a band director, choosing dances to complement tunes, setting tempos, cuing the band to switch tunes, speed up, slow down, and finally stop. All of this looks easy when you gain experience. But, believe me, it’s not as easy as it looks.

Once a musician told me, "You are one of the few who thinks the musicians are important. You appreciate us."

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

And so I became a bridge to what is possible, not a big, commercial, concrete and steel giant spanning a metropolis, but a small, wooden bridge over a babbling, musical creek. Maybe Pan plays his lute on the shore or a Civil War fiddler and banjo player tune up, leaning against an old gnarled tree. And maybe the women are there in gauzy gowns, with flowers in their hair, and the men are bowing to their favorite partner. But there I am, too, figuring out how it all fits together.

Why? Because. Because I finally have a role.

(c) 2011, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

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