Thursday, January 28, 2010

Westchester Class - 27 January 2010

Hello Westchester, I'm back! And very happy to be back I yam I yam.

A different situation this year than last. Several dancers have graduated up from the training class but they clearly have a lot still to learn. I'm not sure they realize just how much more there is to learn so I am going to have to dial back my usual programming practices. I can't scare them out of their wits but I can't let the other dancers get lazy either, so… take a deep breath ladies, I am not going back to basics and you are going to be dropped into the deep end. Hang on to this thought - its OK to make mistakes and to ask questions; that is part of the learning process. Perfection is for tomorrow so I don't mind if you're not perfect today. Just keep smiling and have fun no matter what. It is supposed to be fun you know.

Westchester, starting an intermediate class sounds like a very good idea.

Tonight's dances were:
Moles Frolic (32 J 3) Dunsmuir Dances (T. Winter)
The Caithness Heart (32 R 2) J. Attwood - L2
Rakes of Auld Reekie (32 S 2) B. Priddey - Golden Oriole
My Ain Hoose (32 J 2) H. Foss - Glendarroch #5
Wedding in Saint Monans (32 J 3) Mary S. Brandon
Monymusk (32 S 3) 11/2


Mole's Frolic – Simple, but not simple minded. One of the sweetest dances I have seen in a long time, and that's why it will open this year's Kilts and Ghillies Ball. Tom Winter is writing really good dances these days, and the Dunsmuir book is a tour de force - a superb collection of dances.

The Caithness Heart - a simple dance with a to-die-for reel of four. What a sweet entrance into the reel.

Rakes of Auld Reekie – Definitely not simple minded, or very simple. The two progressive promenade reels of three can be unsettling because they are not danced to the standard phrasing. You have to be comfortable 'bending' the timing and not everyone is. Without a clean end to the reels that final progression is nearly impossible. But when that last figure is nailed – oh the joy of it all! Another dance where the rewards for getting it right far out weigh the considerable effort needed to get there. Which is why it too will be done at this year's Kilts and Ghillies ball.

My Ain Hoose – A simple dance but wonderfully fulfilling when danced well. The reward comes when you and your partner find the perfect kinesthetic balance when transitioning into the half fig. eight from the turn. You know those moments, at least I hope you do, when everything is 'on', your balance, the weight being given by your partner, the change of direction is seamless, the dance effortless, and suddenly you are on a high; and when it is over all you can say is 'yes!'

An unfortunate fact of life - those moments happen most rarely in simple dances. Simple dances require the highest level of technique; slip up there and the energy slips away and with it the exhilaration.

Wedding in Saint Monans – A Mary Shoolbraid Brandon dance. Most dances have a moment or movement that makes or breaks the dance. In St. Monans that moment is the transition from the Cross Over (RH) into the Set (advancing). If you cross all the way to the sidelines and set cleanly moving forward - the energy builds. Get lazy and end the cross in the middle and set there - the dance fizzles. Mary Brandon rewards good, crisp, precise, technically correct dancing.

Monymusk – I wouldn't say I loathed this dance, that would be an exaggeration, but I certainly didn't like it; at least not until I experienced the dance to the right music. And that music was the house band for the Scottish Weekend at Buffalo Gap. Liz Donaldson, Marty Taylor, Ralph Gordon and the other usual suspects that included Steve Hickman, Earl Gaddis and Alasdair Fraser on fiddles. I was there, boy am I ever glad I was there that year. I have loved the dance ever since but it still requires exceptional music and, thank God, I have that. Blessed is the unknown person who taped the band. Blessed too is the person who sent me a copy of their copy. I bow to thee and to thee.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kilts and Ghillies Class - 26 January 2010

Another night with light attendance. I had 3 couples so, once again, mostly 2C and 3C set dances.

Tonight's dances:
Sage and Salsa (16S+16R) 3C set - Still Enough to Dance
It's Nae Bother (32 J 2) - 4th Carnforth Collection
The Spirit of the Dance (32 S 3) - Paterson, leaflet
The Red Baron (32 R 2) - Katherine's Book
Clydebank Strathspey (32 S 2) - Graded & Social Dances 2
Maurice (32 S 2) - Dunsmuir Dances

Sage and Salsa – I like this dance! It is the first medley (other than 1314 and Schiehallion) that I have ever liked. Following the brief setting in Double Triangles formation, the petronella turn into the sidelines into cross and cast is what lifts this dance out of the morass of the mundane. Why? How? I don't know. Magic? Feels like it. Oh! Right! That dash of hot salsa. Jane Lataille, you deserve a gold medal for this one.

It's Nae Bother – by Derek Haynes. For beginners. In all other situations a throwaway.

The Spirit of the Dance – Another trial of the Tourbillon (the new way). Another success.

The Red Baron – Yes, I know, it's a children's dance - but I have always had a thing for Snoopy and his shot up doghouse (and the French bar maid). And for shadowing a partner.

The Clydebank Strathspey – A pleasant but unexceptional 2C strathspey from Roy Goldring.

Maurice – by Gary Thomas, published in the Dunsmuir collection, is one of the most beautiful dances I have ever seen and there is more than enough redeeming social value to payback all the effort needed to learn and perfect it. I just wish I had a better handle on how to teach it.

Bars 17-24 is a meanwhile figure and tonight I realized I have been making it harder than it really is. I deconstructed it too far, broke it down into too many details and confused my dancers.

Bars 17-20
1M 2L dance a diagonal back to back- meanwhile 1L 2M circulate clockwise around outside to end facing partner ready for a diagonal half reel of four.

There are wonderful opportunities for interacting with partner during that 4 bar phase and I was stressing those relationships, the covering and the eye contact, at the expense of the pattern. No wonder I was getting raggedy-andy dancing. My bad.

I am also struggling with the very odd transition from that reel into the poussette right round. I have not yet found a good way of teaching it. What I have been doing has been barely adequate and I do not want to be reduced to "we will keep practicing it until you get it right."

Sandra Bethray made the comment tonight that the dancers who seem to have trouble were those with a weak sense of space and position. After contemplating the situation I must say she is dead on right and that may be the key I've been missing.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Haven Highland Ball - New Haven Workshop

Done. A success for the books.

Dances covered in this workshop:

Collichur (32 J 3) 30/1
The Talcott Mountain Strathspey (32 S 3) Nutmeg Collection
The Black Leather Jig (32 R 3) Delaware Valley Silver
The Spirit of the Dance (32 S 3) Irene Paterson - leaflet
John of Bon Accord (32 R 3) 33/5
The Valentine (32 S 3) 5 Dances 2009


Collichur – Nothing tricky about this dance - but it is a nice easy warm-up to get blood flowing to both brain and muscles. The rest of the afternoon went smoothly so it must have been the right thing to do.

The Talcott Mountain Strathspey – This one isn't exactly tricky, what it has is a high piece count. By that I mean there are a lot of instructions for each 8 bar phrase. Lots of words for the teacher to say and dancers to process. And that is what makes it a "difficult" dance. It is not the same kind of difficult as a piece of spaghetti choreography, but still difficult.

The Black Leather Jig – What needed teaching here is the variant Set to Corner-Partner. I learned this figure from Ron Wallace when he introduced his new dance Da Rain Dancin' to us at Pinewoods a looong time ago now. He stressed, strongly, that on bars 2 and 6 dancers do NOT move all the way onto the side lines, but just far enough to have right shoulders pointing toward each other. Then the giving of right hands is a simple matter and that 'makes' the turns which 'make' the dance (IMHO). Pretty figure, too.

The Spirit of the Dance – Two reasons to teach this one - the 12 bar 3 couple Rights and Lefts (because it isn't common) and the Tourbillon (because I constantly see it butchered). Hmmm, my language might be a bit strong here. Let me rephrase that.

I found another 'take' on the figure that I thought might land and stick. It did. It really did. Kudos to Irene Patterson (who wrote the dance) for coming up with a wonderful description of the Tourbillon. What she said was:

1-2 1st and 2nd couples turn with two hands, 1M and 2L change places.
3-4 retaining hands on the side, both couples set.
5-6 1st and 2nd couples turn with both hands, 1L and 2M change places.
7-8 both couples cross over giving right hands, 1st couple stay facing out.

The difference in the dancing was remarkable. Never before have I seen so many dancers in so many sets dancing the Tourbillon with such ease, grace, lack of angst or drama. Ahhhh. If only I'd had her directions 10 years ago. Sigh.

John of Bon Accord – I finally got to see if my vision of the last figure really works - I mean with dancers who don't see me on a weekly basis and are not used to my peculiar ways of looking at things. Well the truth is in the dancing and, when done my way, the turns worked. And that is the bottom line. Four sets and ALL looking good, everyone one the sides lines in time to set. Excuse me but… YES!! OK, I'm done gloating now.

(John of Bon Accord was covered in detail in two earlier posts. I see no need to bore everyone to tears again.)

The Valentine – Why? Because the dance is new, the central 'gypsy' figure is unusual enough to warrant coverage, and the misprint in the original publication needed to be corrected. (Correction made in Scottish Country Dancer No. 9, October 2009, page 6). My conclusion (based on today's test): The dance is uncomplicated, pretty and a keeper.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book 46 Workshop

To all who showed up and danced their hearts out: Thank You, a thousand times Thank You.
To the New Haven Friends for their generosity in opening their Meeting House for us - a thousand times Thank You as well.

We were given nine dances to test. There was a nice mix; some were simple, some were sweet, and some were monsters and one was worthy of the title "Massacre on Elm Street".

First Category: Strathspey (four dances).

Taking last place in the category was Dance No.64 - Watching it danced I thought it deserved better. The swapover half reel into 1L leaving and going her own way for 4 bars was a lovely move. One person commented negatively on how asymmetric the dance was; not always a problem in my opinion.

First Runner-Up was Dance No. 78- a medley, 64S+64R square set, it both looked and danced better than it read or walked. One comment was that the sequence was more interesting in quick time.

Taking "First" in the category but not Best of Show, winning my heart and status as my favorite dance of the day, was Dance No. 39. It is simple, it is sweet, it is not a world changer but it is a keeper.

In the Jig category (2 dances):

First runner up was Dance No. 65. Nice concept but the Half Rondel was just not enough to overcome the yawn factor.

So, even though we never quite got the dance to work (we were on a tight schedule and there just wasn't enough time to work out all the kinks) the winner of the Jig category, and taking home a check of $0.00, was Dance No.83 with an Espagnole and promenade half reels of three on the sides.

With three entries the final category - Reels:

Winner of the "Monster of the Day" award was Dance No 49, the one we ended up calling "Massacre on Elm Street." An 80 bar reel square set, it had, by far, the most interesting and original choreography of the day. The dance is ALL about the transitions, the sheer number and variety of them being its downfall. Additionally, given the time constraints, the Schiehallion Reels and the double wide wheels needed far more practice than we could give them. In the end it came down to this - there simply wasn't enough social value in the dance to adequately reward the effort expended in perfecting it. A shame, because it clearly came from a crooked mind (and I love minds like that).

And now the moment we have all been waiting for: winner of its category and Grand Champion of Batch No.5 - Dance No. 95! Short form (in 3 words or less) – the most fun!

The Dances:
No. 25 – 32 S 4
No. 39 – 32 S 3 set
No. 49 – 40 R 3
No. 64 – 32 S 3
No. 65 – 32 J 3
No. 71 – 80 R 4 square set
No. 78 – (64S+64R) square set
No. 83 – 32 J 4 (3C 4C improper)
No. 95 – 40 R 4 (2C 4C improper)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kilts and Ghillies Class - 12 January 2010

A full set tonight - what a joy.

This week's dances:
The Back o' Bennachie (32 R 2) J. M. Duthie - 8 Dances
Ca' the Ewes tae the Knowes (32 S 2) 16/8
John of Bon Accord (32 R 3) 33/5 (Roy Goldring)
The Duchess Tree (32 S 3) John Drewry - Brodie Book
Glen Falloch (32 J 3) Jean Attwood - Alexander Dances 2
Mrs. Fitchet (32 S 2) Hugh Foss - Angus Fitchet Album

Ca' the Ewes tae the Knowes -
The second figure is the dance. The biggest disapointment is the music. The music chosen is a good traditional strathspey and it fits the dance well. I like the tune, truely. It is a good tune - but it just isn't the song tune. And that song is one of the most heart rendingly beautiful songs I have ever heard. And the Society chose not to use it. I don't get it.

John of Bon Accord -
A very good dance. But every time I teach it the instructions drive me to distraction. I want to say 'to drink', but I'm not much of a drinking man.

"Four progressive half-reels of three across the dance – danced as follows:"
The only clue as to how the reels actually work is buried deep in the text that 'follows'. Why do it that way? Why not say it the way it is and say it up front: four progressive diagonal half reels of three. 1M finishes each reel in 1L's, 2M's, 2L's, and 3M's positions respectively… and so on and so forth. No additional clarifications, amendments or dancing notes needed. Which is as it should be.

I object to the vagueness of the directons for the reels- but the directions for last figure are actually worse because it is the very specificity of the directions that are the issue.

The instructions for bars 25-32 read:

25-28 2nd, 1st and 3rd couples turn partners with right hands
three-quarters round to finish in a line up and down the
dance; facing partners and retaining right hands, all set.

29-32 2nd, 1st and 3rd couples turn partners with right hands
to finish on own sides and then, joining hands on the sides,
set to partners.

The troubling words being "facing partner" because that is exactly what you get. On bars 27-28 you have three couples squarely facing partner. The result: the first three-quarter turn looks pretty good, but the second three-quarter turn is just plain ugly, and I do mean ugly. When they face the dancers lose the shape of the turn and they then spend most of bars 29-30 trying, and usually failing, to regain it. That, in turn, makes them late onto the sidelines where they invariably fail to take hands and set all higgidly piggidly. UGLY!

What I now teach is this: dance the first three-quarter turn but turn your head to face your partner, not your body. This maintains the shape of the turn since you are still facing the correct direction. Now the second turn can be as good looking as the first, the dancers get to the sidelines in time to take hands neatly and the lines looks good. It's simple and it works.

Glen Falloch –
Yet another winner from Jean Attwood that deserves a place in the standard repetoire. Just keep the Rights and Lefts on the compact side.

The Duchess Tree –
An early Drewry dance and a classic.

Mrs. Fitchet –
Discussed at some length in the previous post ;-)
What became clear tonight is that sloppy dancing, for whatever reason, won't cut it in this dance. Correctly timing the fig. 8 is critical to the transition to the half diamond poussette. Miss the first and you will miss the second and you will miss the fun.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dancing on the Heights (Friends Meeting House)

Happy New Year.

A good class tonight. Six dancers so mostly two couple dances.

But first, many thanks to Susan Leff for the cider and the goodies.
Chocolate and shortbread - yumm!

The program:
Belfast Almanac (32 J 2) Hugh Foss - Glendarroch #24
The Caithness Heart (32 R 2) Jean Attwood - leaflet
Mrs. Fitchet (32 S 2) Hugh Foss - Angus Fitchet SD Album
Lang May Your Lum Reek (32 J 2) Barry Priddey - Scottish Dance Archive #72
Lady Mary Douglas (48 J 3) The Imperial Book Vol. 1

Lady Mary Douglas – directly related to Miss Mary Douglas (RSCDS Book 10/11). Same source (Wilson's Companion to the Ball Room, 1816), different interpretation. In my opinion Miss MD has NO redeeming social value. Lady MD on the other hand is a do-able and moderately pleasant dance with this caveat - you must keep the set compact, especially the opening reel. Let the set spread and you're behind, forever!

Belfast Almanac – I love that Hugh Foss stretched the boundaries of the traditional forms and that Miss Milligan considered his ideas "dangerous." I love that this dance is basically a romp consisting of standard figures with several moments of exquisite subtlety should you choose to accept them. The delightfully worded assessment "…simple, but not simple minded" fits.

It has a fugal opening:
1-8 1C set advancing, turn RH; half figure 8 though 2C.
9-16 2C set advancing, turn LH; half fig. 8 through 1C position while 1C set, cast; set, dance up (near hand) to face out in partner's place.

When the couples advanced for both setting steps (bars 1-2 and 9-10) they had difficulty in setting up good turns. But, what if 1C danced the first pas de basque in place and moved forward and to the left on the second pdb; wouldn't that leave them in good position to take RH cleanly for the coming turn? And what if 2C moved forward and to the right on the first pdb, and danced the second one in place; wouldn't that leave them in good position to take LH cleanly for their upcoming turn? Answer: Yes and yes. And the solution is both subtle and asymmetric, and I like that. Observers will experience an itch, they will wonder, but will they see?

Bars 25-26 - A tricky bit this. There is a moving arch and the dancers have to trade places (sides) with partner. I suggest 1 bar for the arch and 1 bar (no hands) for the 'crossing'. The move is a reprise of earlier movements – bars 5-6 for 1C and 13-14 for 2C, and is the set up for the six bar turns that complete the dance. Smooth transition, proper hands and covered turns. When they get it right – Oh my! Be still my heart.

The Caithness Heart – Another winner from Jean Attwood. Simple, and the entry into the reel of 4 is as sweet as can be. How shameful that the only dance of hers that is getting programmed here abouts is The Falls of Rogie.

Mrs Fitchet The transition into the half diamond poussette - pure genius. The moment - priceless.

Lang May Your Lum Reek – Wow! Put this one on your short list of "Gotta Do" dances. I know several good, popular dances from the Scottish Dance Archives but why this one isn't a part of the standard repertoire is beyond my ken!

It is fun. No… it is more. This dance is exhilarating! The first 16 bars are so ho-hum and then Barry socks it to you; and the final 4 bars is so simple and neat that it damn near gives me goosebumps.

I grant you the third figure is intimidating but take the time to figure it out and you will be re payed ten fold. Trust me. This dance is a keeper.