Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Haven Branch Class - 29 November 2011

There was a nice turnout last night - 7 couples plus an extra which made a nice even number for dancing The Earl of Mansfield, a four couple dance from John Drewry, published by the Society as a leaflet. And where have I been? I know I looked at it sometime ago and I usually have enough of an eye to pick out interesting and fun dances so how did I miss this one?

There is a "John Drewry" night dance coming up this weekend in Brooklyn, NY. That means there is a strong push from dancers to "be prepared" which can be rather limiting for teachers. I have, thankfully, gotten exposure to 2 dances I would never have done otherwise: The Earl of Mansfield and The Belle of Bon Accord. I am not sure I would put them in my top 10 list but they certainly make the top 50. Fun and different enough to be attention getters.

The evening's dances were:
     Ann Arbor  (32 J 3) Bob Gregg
     Earl of Mansfield   (48 R 4)  John Drewry
     Duchess Tree   (32 S 3)   John Drewry
     The Elusive Muse   (32 J 3)   Tim Wilson
     Anna Holden's Strathspey   (32 S 2)    John Drewry
     Solway Reel   (48 R 4)  Joseph Killeen


Ann Arbor :-  It's a pleasant wee dance that does a very subtle but lovely thing: it sets the proper width of the set with the advance and retire in 2nd eight bar phrase. It is also a nice warm up to the rest of the evening. Thank you Bob.

Earl of Mansfield :- You will not survive falling asleep in this dance. And the 'hook' on which the entire dance hangs together is the bar 31-32 moment when 3rd couple must, absolutely must, end back in place with a proper gap between themselves and 2nd couple who are concurrently stepping up to top place. If 3C places themselves in the middle of the gap between 2C at the top and 4C at the bottom then poor 1st man has no idea who is truly his first corner (3L? 4L?) and the chance of recovery is, at best, poor.

Duchess Tree :- Two points. First - yes both 1C and 3C casts into the initial cross over reel but NOT in the same way. 3C is asked to (what I call) 'cuddle' cast. They dance into the middle to meet one another before they pull shoulders back and start their actual cast. I find teachers are leaving that piece of it out and dancers are doing what they are told, are not meeting, and that is throwing the timing of the reel off.
Secondly,the "Set, Circle, Turn (moving the circle along as you turn), Circle" sequence began here, in this dance, and is now, unfortunately, migrating - dancers are now doing it it other dances where there is no need to move the circle on and no has asked them to. They are doing that on their own and it needs to stop! It should remain unique to this dance (IMHO).

But the best dance of the night, the one that got a spontaneous standing ovation was...

The Elusive Muse :- Devised? by Tim Wilson and published in the San Francisco collection Measures of Pleasure this is a really fun dance full of tandem (not dolphin) half reels, a California Twirl and Set and Link for 3. A Dancer's Choice Award recipient and on the Kilts and Ghillies program in April. A Keeper!
I do not have a recording and have been using The Vale of Atholl jig medley by Mara Shea and Dave Wiesler off their Heather Hills CD.

Anna Holden's Strathspey :- One of my favourites! The key word for the 1st figure is control, control and more control. Having a good, properly wide set helps.

The Solway Reel :- The one name tune recording I have for this dance is, I regret to say, a poor one - I don't like the music chosen or how it is played so I continue to use the music I picked when I didn't have a proper recording at all. I use the Jimmy Blair set for Lady Sophia Ann of Bute off his old vinyl record Highland Dance Party. (Teacher's Choice Award).

This year the dance was on NY's Jeannie Carmichael Ball and I was called because they wanted 'my' music. I was certainly feeling warm and fuzzy (not to mention smug and self satisfied) after dancing it at West Point. By the way Parcel of Rogues is a wonderful band - two thumbs up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gentle Annie 32 S 3 E. Hurd, Del Val 25th Anniversary Book

Gentle Annie
32 S 3C(4)

  1-4    1C turn BH x1_1/2; end in 2nd place center of the dance
            and stay close:
  5-6    1C set right & strong left
  7-8    1L 2C and 1M 3C dance RH Across halfway (2 steps)

  9-12   All dance chase to other end and form lines of 3
             - 1M btwn 3C at top facing down and 1W
             btwn 2C in 3rd place facing up.
13-14   All set
15-16   1C advance to take promenade hold AS
             2C 3C turn ptnr RH half round into promenade hold.
             All end facing down.

17-24   3C Allemande - start down to begin, all retire to end
             on prtnr's side of the dance. End 2, 1, 3 all improper.

25-30  Lsh  Reels of 3 across the dance - 1M up. 1L down.
            NB - 6 bar reels. All end facing prtnr.

31-32   All cross to own sides RH.

Dancing on the Heights - 14 November 2011

I have had an interesting week that culminated in a good class this Monday.

Let me begin with some ancient history.
I began dancing in 1976 and was soon doing a lot of the road trip thing. One of the road trips was an annual pilgrimage to the Delaware Valley Hogmanay ball where I met Eleanor and Robert Hurd who were a strong presence in the country dance world of contra, English and Scottish. Fast forward a few decades.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9th, at the Westchester end of session party Bob Houghton taught a dance (from the Delaware Valley 25th Anniversary book) which I had looked at years ago but never taught as I did not have the necessary music, a medley of Stephen Foster songs, and in his introduction to the dance Gentle Annie he mentioned that the dance had been written by his sister Eleanor who had married Robert Hurd and they subsequently introduced Bob to Scottish dancing.

Well, the dance stole a piece of my heart. I know this because I could remember it and write it down when I got home.  I have taught it twice since then: on Sunday to Naomi Lasher's performance group - The Loch Leven Dancers, and on Monday to my class on the Heights. The response from both groups were smiles and applause even though I did not have the Stephen Foster music. Bob has promised me access to his tape when I am finally moved in at Livingston Street, my electronics are up and running and I am able to make digital copies of his analog tape. Cheers, whistles and stamping from resident peanut gallery.

Gentle Annie is utterly charming and I realized I needed to revisit the Delaware Valley 25th Anniversary book and re-view the dances. There are a number of good dances there and I have done the following: The Black Leather Kilt, The Blue Route, Bubbles in the Pond, Gentle Annie, It's Not Rocket Science, The Man in Waiting and Pete and Marilynn's Welcome Home. Commendable dances all - leaving me with five more dances to check out. The book is Recommended.

Back to Monday: I had notice that several of my regulars would not be attending and I was somewhat worried - Needlesly. The 8 dancers who showed up were great and that allowed me to play - the dances I pulled from my back pocket were all ones I have been looking at and wanting to test. Except for The Captain and The Dean Bridge of Edinburgh I had not taught any of the dances before this evening.

Monday evening's dances were:
   The Captain  (32 R 3)  SF Solstice Party Book*
   Gentle Annie  (32 S 3)  Del Valley 25th (E. Hurd)
   Faradh Nam Fidhlearan   (32 R 4)  Many Happy Hours (Joubert)
   Bubbles in the Pond   (32 S 3)  Del Valley 25th (K. Nealley)
   Home and Away   (32 R 3)  Skelton - Celtic Book
   Dean Bridge of Edinburgh   (32 S 3)  23/4*

*  These dances are on the Kilts and Ghillies Tea Dance program.


The Captain :-  A nice easy dance for everybody and there is a "kilt" moment between bars 24 and 25. The music I have been using is the Shea/Wiesler set for Sleepwalking and with that set of tunes the dance is smoking! I usually don't use reels for warm up dances but with only 2 bars of setting this one works if kept a bit down tempo.

Gentle Annie :- A gentle dance, a lovely dance. Reactions have been nothing but positive.

Faradh nam fidhlearan :-  By Wouter Joubert, Pretoria, South Africa. My initial reading had me thinking a degree of difficulty of 5 out of 5 was appropriate. Dancers thought 3 to 4 out of 5 was more accurate. The one essential is this: dancers have to move! during the hands across into the tandem reels. The only other emphatic point is how the ladies end the reels of 3 and enter the reels of 4. Last figure (back-to-back and circles of 4) was considered by most of my class to be a cop out. My thinking is that if the dance is a difficult one then the dancers need the breathing space. If it is merely of middling difficulty then the dancer don't need the respite and my dancers are correct. I'm still on the fence.

Bubbles in the Pond :- Nice dance! - and that is also the response of the class. This was, as they remember it, their first exposure to the "Bubble Up" figure though I am sure some were present when I taught it in July 2009 (Station Master's Jig (Michael Bentley)).

In the bubble up Kate calls for the dancers to be on the sides facing in every two bars and the only way that can happen (IMHO) is if the dancers drop hands after every half turn. That is how I taught it but it needs exceptional dancing and rehearsal to be covered and looking good. Both the dancers and I preferred it when hands were kept throughout the moving turns.

Home and Away :-  I thought I was going to have trouble with this one - it has the same middle figure as the dance "Best Set in the Hall". Which, as it turned out, most of the dancers knew so I didn't have any trouble at all. Lovely figure, lovely dance and the 2 half dolphin reels at the end are simply spiffin' and liked by all.

Christopher's observation that after setting to their corner 1st couple is always casting back to their own sides was very helpful

Dean Bridge of Edinburgh :- This dance is a sleeper but be warned - in Pilling the diagram for the last figure is VERY WRONG! No hands! And I (unlike Christopher) like the last figure. There may not be much eye contact/interaction between unpartnered dancers but there are lots of opportunities with partner.

As written the description of bars 17-20 call for 2 sets of half R&L. One standard (starting across), the other a variant (starting on the sides). What I see is 2 changes of a grand chain, and my dancers find the idea of the "chain" easier to comprehend.