Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dancing on the Heights - 9 May 2011

Well the Kilts and Ghillies ball prep season is done and I can finally get back to trying out new and infrequently done dances in preparation of next years Kilts and Ghilllies Tea Dance. Summer seems to be the only time I get for this but summer always seems to go by too fast for what I want to try. During the dance season the cries for ball prep seem to get louder and louder as dancers get older and their memory falters. Oh well, it is what it is.

Last night's dances were:

The Haggis Tree  (32 S 2) Drewry
The Silver Nutmeg  (40 J 3) Price
Solway Reel  (48 R 4)  Carlisle & Border
The Dance Wizard  (32 R 4) W. Joubert - Many Happy Hours (Pretoria)
Echoes of Strathglass  (32 S 3 set)  M. Brown - Many Happy Hours
The Captain  (32 R 3)  R. King - Solstice Party (San Francisco)
A Winter's Walk  (32 J 3) P. Stephans - Between the Rivers


The Haggis Tree - On the 2009 Kilts and Ghillies' Ball it is time to consider repeating it. It is on my "Top 50" list and every time I dance it I remember why - it is a beautiful dance to a beautiful Scott Skinner air (Herr Horloff's Farewell). When the NY Times reviews a restaurant the ratings run from "Do Not Miss" to "Worth It" to, well, skip-able. On that scale this dance is a Do-Not-Miss (in my ever so humble opinion of course).
But I know I am a little on the strange side because I like formations like La Baratte and Tournee. When they are right they are so right.

The Silver Nutmeg - One of my dance compositions. I find it worthwhile to revisit a dance after a couple of years of "sitting on it" as the Quakers would say. Time gives you a new perspective, a lessening of personal attachment and a clear, less partisan, eye. An OK dance with some nice elements but not worth a slot on a ball program. I  wrote the dance to honor the 25th anniversary of the New Haven Branch, but inspiration came a little late and I missed the deadline by a month or so.

The Solway Reel - One of my favourite dances. When I ran across the dance I had no recording so I used Jimmy Blair's version of Lady Sophia Anne of Bute. I still prefer that set to any other I have heard. Colin Dewar's set is a disappointment.

The dancers liked it but there wasn't the enthusiasm that would warrant putting it on a ball program. Struck from the short list.

The Dance Wizard - Oh my. We have a winner! Thank you Wouter Joubert:  this is a great dance. Don't Miss It! Definitely on the short list for next year's ball. Receives both a Teacher's choice and a Dancer's Choice Award.  Can be found in the Pretoria Branch's publication Many Happy Hours.
See also Iain Boyd's dance The Red Baron from Katherine's Book where I found the "dogfight" figure eight.

Echoes of Strathglass - The key is when supporting couples step up and down. When synced with 1C the effects are striking and were mentioned by the dancers; note: I did not emphasize that aspect when I taught the dance, they found it out for themselves. It was also nice to see one of Terry Glasspool's figures being picked up and used by another dance devisor.

I don't have a recording of Wouter's music so I was forced to punt yet again. Luckily there is a wonderful 3x32 set by Dave Wiesler and Mara Shea on their CD Heather Hill. Another Don't Miss It. Several dancers made the point that the dance and that music worked well together.

The Captain - Granted that there are many similarities between this dance and Mrs Stewart's Jig. It works and is original enough to stand on it's own. But choose your music carefully. R. King calls for "any good reel" but not any reel will do. It needs a really good tune. I chose Mara Shea's and Dave Wiesler's set for "Sleepwalking" off their CD Heather Hills and got lucky. Oh my! That pairing earned the dance a Dancer's Choice Award, from two different classes, and definitely puts the dance on the short list for next year's tea dance.

A Winter's Walk - Another of my personal favourites, this one from "Between the Rivers" I have not yet found that special set of tunes that brings it alive and puts it over the top. Yet it is still a good dance, liked by most of the dancers and that is going to be enough to keep it on the short list. Mind you it has been on the short list for the last four years and has not yet made it onto the final program. Maybe this year?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wilton Class - 3 May 2011

Well, the ball is done and that means it is time to start developing a short list for next year's Tea Dance.
And that means new dances, experiments and not a few crash and burns, and I had one tonight.

The evening's dances were:
A City in Bloom  (32 J 3 set)  Irene van Maarseveen (Many Happy Hours)
Phyllis' Fancy  (32 S 2)  Barry Priddey (Sutton Coldfield Book)
Farquharson Fifty  (32 J 3 set)  Irene van Maarseveen
The Captain  (32 R 3)  R. King (SF - Solstice Party Book)
The Burn of Sorrow  (32 S 2)  Barry Priddey (Silver Rose book)


A City in Bloom:-  A disappointment with this class. We couldn't see our way around a awkward moment and make it feel right. I am definately going to do this again using different music as that might have been the real problem.

Phyllis' Fancy:- Received a DCA a few months back but still it doesn't stir my soul. I originally thought it would make a decent ball dance, it is simple enough, dancers like it, but it just doesn't lift me. Maybe a few  more trials will make a difference in my outlook.

Farquharson Fifty:-  It appears to be a pattern for teaching Promenade and not really a dance at all.

The Captain:-  The third time the charm?  I have taught this only twice before, in October of 2001 and November 2010. No strong response on any one's part until tonight when it caught fire. Music called for was 'any good reel" so I used Dave Wiesler & Mara Shea's recording of "Sleepwalking" off their CD "Heather Hills" which definately qualifies.

Class voted it a Dancers Choice Award on the basis of it's simple, but lovely, flow.

The Burn of Sorrow:- This one caused me problems. I don't deal well with simple dances that don't get danced well. Maybe it was mental burn out being the last dance of the evening after all. I still get thrown for a loop when experienced dancers can not handle Right Hands Across followed by loops, then LHA followed by subtly different loops. And after all the dances that I have taught that have the toubillon in them, for the dancers to have not clue one is mildly disturbing and raised my blood pressure. I did not do well. Sorry guys.
But it is a nice pleasant, mostly simple dance that enough dancers liked that they voted it a DCA and I will dance this again in a heartbeat.

Kilts and Ghillies Tea Dance - 30 April 2011

A hit, a palpable hit.

Thank you to all who helped make it happen. And thank you to all who came and had a good time.

We had a really good band (Thistle Hill - Jim Stevenson-Mathews, Rebecca McCallum and Lisa Gutkin) playing superb music; we had a good program; and I think I can say we all had a really good time. We fluctuated between three and four sets on the floor for the entire afternoon and for the last dance there were still three sets on the floor, one of them with five couples. YES!

Personally I think the first half was the best first half I have ever experienced. I had a huge grin on for most of the ball. When I didn't it was because I was briefing, didn't have a partner, and wasn't dancing.

Hooper's Jig turned out to be a better opener than I expected. Burn of Sorrow went onto my "Top 50 Strathspeys" list and Jim Stevenson-Mathews used Calum's Road, one of my favourite tunes, as the name tune. What a delightful surprise that was!

 Auchindrain was also a delight. After hearing the midi file on Nigel Gatherer's web site I was so taken with the tune I just had to write a dance for it. The band really liked the tune too, but commented it was a very difficult tune to play. They certainly practiced it a lot I must say.

Mrs Stewart's Jig, Da Rain Dancin', and Monymusk are all good, solid, pleasant dances that have earned a spot in the standard repertoire and on my "Top 50" lists. The Cashmere Shawl is on my 'top' list but deserves wider acceptance - My humble opinion is that it belongs in the standard repertoire. It is certainly good enough, it is also easy enough, and it is just different enough to be crisply refreshing.

The Fireside Reel, with that music (Peat Fire Flame), is a winner and that 'knockout' moment for 1st and 2nd ladies is a magic moment when it works. And did I mention the music?

The second half didn't fly quite as high. It had too many esoteric dances grouped together. Don't get me wrong - esoteric isn't bad. The dances are all wonderful dances, some are my very favourites in fact. But they needed leavening, and having Quarrie's Jig and The Piper and the Penguin at the front end and Scottish Reform and Mairi's Wedding at the back end wasn't effective leavening. One or more of them should have been spread among the core of the half. And that is why the first half was the better one.

Gypsy Dreams is simply one of the most beautiful dances I have ever seen or danced. The box setting is a superb innovation and the flow of the dance approaches the sublime. It is so good that I have moved beyond mere toleration into admiration and actual liking of the Tournee.

Knights' Heys is a unanimous Dancers Choice selection. It was heartily cheered and then encored. After Linnea's Strathspey most of us were wearing broad smiles. Gordon of Straloch succeeded nicely. It fit it's music and the music was so beautiful it nearly brought the hall to silence.

The highlight of the Ball though, for me, were the youngsters. Paul and Clarissa McRanor brought several youngsters and both Katie and Margaret (11 and 9 respectively) from my class came. Margaret came up to me after with a huge grin on her face and proudly announced she had done four dances. It was the grin that said it all. It was all the grins from all the youngsters that I will treasure.

For me though the Tea Dance was only a qualified success because the one thing we didn't have was a full house.  Financially we were slightly in the red. I don't have the numbers yet (so no exactitudes) but I believe we had a loss but that the loss was under $200.

So what went wrong, why so few dancers wanting to come and share our ball? 

Actually I don't think anything went wrong. Oh there were a lot of people with conflicts. Too many events happen in April. Easter (usually), The Rerr Terr ball in NJ, NEFFA festival in Mass., weddings, you name it. 
All contributed to a drop in numbers as does the aging of our dance population with its issues of memory loss, dementia and declining physical abilities. 

All the above are contributing factors, but the major reason is, I think, philosophical. We can break the population into three groups: those who look at a program to see how many they know and those who look to see how many they don't know. Too many unknown dances and the former won't go. Too many known dances and the latter won't go. 

I belong in the latter group. I like new dances. Rather I like finding new beautiful dances with beautiful music and I like sharing them and a ball is a wonderful way to do that. The difficulty, I think, is when new for new's sake begins to drive the teachers. Which isn't quite what I want to say -- I love looking for new dances that are joys to dance. These dances should get exposure and a chance to become part of the repertoire. Finding new dances and simply moving on to other new dances serves no purpose. Finding new dances that are worth doing again, many times, and then doing them again, many times, does serve a purpose. It allows the dance to evolve, to stay fresh. And then we can go back to the 'standards', and they too are fresh, all over again.