Friday, January 20, 2012

Westchester - 18 January 2012

Well, Burns' night is growing near and it falls on me this year to double deal - not only is Wednesday the 25th the last class in this winter session it is also the date chosen to celebrate Robert Burns - and I get to put together that double duty party program. So many thanks to Naomi Lasher for, lo these many years ago, sending me a list of dances with connections to the Scottish Bard.

Last week we did The Lea Rig, this week we did Red House, and Ca' the Ewes to the Knowes.

Life has been interesting which, in a very round about way, brings me to certain "Rules of Life". Bill Wagstaff, who I rather wish I had met, had one: Always buy Hondas and Apples (computers). I'm on his side now.

Last week my computer (a spotted cow if there ever was one), decided to process a number of updates even though I told it to do so "later". Top notch programming rule: never let the user specify how much later - and in the middle of class it shut down leaving me to reboot - never a quick procedure with Windows (I WANT A MAC!) and that meant Louis Perez, his wife being away, had the opportunity to fill the time by telling a joke. I REALLY REALLY want my Mac back!!

Then, this week, in trying to reconcile a number of "unknown' bands and albums, all of which had that information input, the computer 'lost' about 25 albums and the associated music files. It is a very good thing that I live nowhere near the Microsoft engineers. There would be a new term for someone (me) going on a shooting spree - "he went windows". I have spent about 15 hours relocating and relinking all those music files.
Ground down teeth and several glasses of wine later....

Other than discovering that several of the music files I had planned on using were mislaid I had a splendid evening, the dancers left happy and I will miss teaching the group.

The evenings dances were:
     Swashbuckling Iain   (32 J 2)  San Francisco 2
     Simon Brodie   (32 S 3)  18C
     Red House   (40 R 2)   7/2
     Ca' the Ewes to the Knowes   (32 S 2)  16/8
     Sunday Afternoon Jig   (32 J 3)   Dunsmuir Dances
     Monymusk   (32 S 3)  11/2


Swashbuckling Iain:- Done as a walk-through warm up dance, the music is good, the dance too. It has been a while since I last danced it so that little chore is now on my to-do list. Verification of a dance requires more that watching it takes dancing, and this dance has caught my eye again.

Simon Brodie:- Not for wimps! The last formation requires strong steps, good strong handing and forethought in the phrasing. And the music, by Dave Wiesler and Mara Shea, a set of really good, strong traditional strathspeys is wonderful... and why I chose to teach the dance. Recommended.

Red House:- The list I received said there is a connection to Bobby Burns, I don't know what it is - anyone? This is one of my favourite dances and full of opportunities to embroider and play (and over do).

Originally a 48 bar dance - 3 part music - AA BB CC - the Scottish Dance Society chose to edit out one of the As. I can understand why, but only half heartily agree.

The original (Playford ca. 1650):
A1   Set, cast to 2nd place:
A2   Repeat back to place.

That in 2 phrases of music/16 bars -  so given our modern Scottish style it would be: set for 4 bars; cast for 4 bars: that again: which is, I agree, a bit much and so the edit.

What the Society may not have realized is that in English Country Dance the term "set" can also apply to "advance and retire" i.e set advancing then set retiring. Dancers can do that or use a simple walking step instead,  which creates a delightful surge - especially where it follows the first cast- i.e. adv & retire; cast off; (here it comes) adv & ret.; cast back to place.

In English CD they keep the 48 bars but even up the dancing by splitting the parts between 1C and 2C:
A1 1C fwd & back set & cast off;
A2 2C the same. (everyone home)
B1  1C chase.
B2  2C chase (again, everyone home)
C1 1C 2M reel of 3 across (2M cuts the reel Rsh to 1L)
C2  1C 2L reel of 3 across (2L cuts the reel Lsh to 1M) and with an extra pass all end progressed.

The Scottish 40 bar version where the reels are on the sides: -
A1   1C set, cast; set, cast back.
B1   1C chase end below 2C.
B2   1C (1L followed by 1M) chase. End home.
C1  1M 2M pass Lsh to begin AS 1L dances down and across to below 2M's place where she enters the
        reel by giving  Rsh to her partner. Last 2 bars 1L dances home as men pass again to progress.
C2   1L 2L pass Rsh AS 1M (from 2nd place) dances across to below 2L's place where he enters the
        reel by giving Lsh to his partner. Last 2 bars 1M dances across to 2nd man's place as 1L 2L pass more
       time to progress.

My inclination would be to dance the first half closer to the ECD style and keep the Scottish version of the reels which are so delightfully different.
A1  1C Adv and Ret; set, and cast off.
A2  1C repeat, back to place.
B1  1C chase
B2  1C chase back?
C1  Scottish style reel
C2  The same.

Ca' the Ewes to the Knowes:-  The connection here is the incredible tune to which Burns wrote the words.
Dougie MacLean sings a wonderful rendition on his CD "Tribute" and Marian Anderson, Judith Linton and Muriel Johnstone have a dynamite set on their CD "North of the Tweed" that begins with the true tune.

Unfortunately Ca' the Ewes... is a song tune and the RSCDS chose to set the dance to a different tune, a strong traditional style strathspey and, in so doing, cut the connection to Bobby Burns. Sigh. FYI the official RSCDS recording (made by Bobby Crowe) uses "Miss Mariane Oliphant (Rossie)" as the lead tune for the dance.

Sunday Afternoon Jig:- The first dance that I have taught from the "Dunsmuir Dances" collection that has me less than thrilled. But it is worth trying again, and when I do I will make every effort to be in the set and dancing it. 

Monymusk:- Another of my favourite dances. It wasn't until I danced to it to music played by Liz Donaldson and all her regular suspects with the following additions: Earl Gaddis, Steve Hickman and Alasdair Fraser. Oh my did that change my mind. If the music is anything but strong, dark and handsome I wouldn't bother. If the music is all that then I would called to the dance floor.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Westchester - 11 January 2012

Another good turn out with three full sets and a few extras and a good bit of ground got covered too. The Westchester Burns Night Party and their End-of-Session Party coincide this year and I decided to do some party prep.

I was taught how to handle the bars 15-16 transition in The Lea Rig a particular way that is not as written and I wanted to address that - some dancers and teachers tend to get bent out of shape if you do not hew the line and a few of them were present. I also wanted to do some remedial work on Caberfei, one of my top 10 favourite reels (it's the MUSIC!)

The dances we did were:
     Sister Blanche of St. Andrew's  (32 J 3)  B. McMurtry
     The Lea Rig  (32 S 2)  21/5
     Caberfei   (32 R 3)  18C
     Burn of Sorrow  (32 S 2)  B. Priddey
     Flight of the Falcon  (32 J 3)  B. Priddey
     Glen Feshie  (32 S 3)  anon. - Grampian Coll.
     Montgomeries' Rant  (32 R 3)  10/1

Sister Blanche:- A simple jig with a poussette which means it is not a beginner's dance. But that didn't matter because we walked it for warm up. Cold and Raw finally hit the North East. It isn't special, but there is room in my box for simple, easy to teach dances that have a nice story.

The Lea Rig:- The dance itself is, in my opinion, somewhat tedious. The music and song however are sublime. The problem I have is that as second man I have never liked dancing between 1C as they set to one another on bars 15&16 which is how it is written. That setting is still their moment even though they have already had three of them. My other problem is that I am a creature of habit and inertia: I was taught a different way and I like that way - which is for 2nd man to dance down behind 1st man on those bars as 2nd lady turns into place - and since it doesn't change the dance in any substantive way, no one else is affected and it gives 1C their moment, I see no reason to change how I dance or teach The Lea Rig. That is basically what I said last night and I gave everyone permission to compare the two versions which they did and that was a real joy to see
Oh yes, one other thing - the move from right hands across into position for the half poussette is still one of the nicest moves in Scottish dancing, or any dancing for that matter.

Caberfei:- (aka The Deer's Antlers) - The music is, quite simply, joyful; and it is such a good dance, such a fun, playful dance and the suffering I see whenever it is done!  Half set and half reel - oh the pain, and such pain, and it's all habit. Don't you hear it? "Only 1 pas de basque?! Impossible! I can't do just one! I have to do two, one on the right and one on the left" and so forth and so on and on...

And those are three of the moments in the dance - the two half sets into half reels and the half set into the half circle. Moments where it is no longer rote, common or everyday. Where this one is different and you get to really dance. And most dances only have one or two such moments. Oh, and the other moment is the down-for-one, up-for-one lead - it too is different and eye contact with partner in that moment makes the moment.

On an esthetic note: The stag's antlers – this dance is the only one in the country dance repertoire where it is permited for the men to raise their arms and take the highland antler position. But for heaven's sake, if you can't hold your arms UP there don't do it! Wimpy arms with hands next to the ears looks horrible and that is saying it kindly!

The Burn of Sorrow:- one of Barry Priddey's easier dances and, like so many of his, includes the Tourbillon figure. The more I dance it the more I see how 'large' it can become. And that is really rather large. I am tempted to see haw far I can go in making all the moves 'touch and go' and reduce the hand holding to a minimum. Just because.

The Flight of the Falcon:- Basically 16 bars of tandem, lead change reels of three. On the New Haven Highland Ball. Which I still have to sign up for.

Glen Feshie:- A nice basic strathspey with a little kick to it. Needs good music, music that will hold the interest because otherwise the dance can lean to the tedious. I use Petr White's Kendoon Strathspey.

Montgomeries' Rant:- What does this dance have that, no matter how often all we teachers present it, the dancers still have huge smiles when coming off the floor? 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dancing on the Heights - 9 January 2012

The first meeting of the new year and and we covered a lot of territory. We looked at Terry Glasspool's dance Chocolate Raspberry Swirl from his Picton Workshop and corrected a long running error in my teaching of The Fireside Reel - I learned it some 30 years ago and have been teaching it that same way ever since - incorrectly - despite having the original directions in front of me for some 20 years. Time was also spent discussing the upcoming Kilts and Ghillies Tea Dance which should be inked in your calendar.

Date: April 28, 2012
Time: 3:00 pm start
Location: South Britain Congregational Church, East Flat Hill Road, Southbury, CT.
Band: Terry Traub and Alice Backer
Cost: $20 in advance/ $25 at the door.
Refreshments: Desserts and finger food served at the break.

The above is my current understanding and may get carved in stone in the next week or so.

The evenings dances were:
     Saw Ye My Wee Thing  (32 J 2)  25/9
     Chocolate Raspberry Swirl  (40 S 3)  T. Glasspool
     Fireside Reel  (32 R 3)  18C
     Broadway  (32 S 3 set)  C. Ronald


Saw Ye My Wee Thing:- I used to think this dance was a throw away but it is growing on me. We did it as a walk through- literally walking it because the hall was quite chill and it did a nice job of warming the muscles without stressing any. And I find I am liking the tune which is more than half the partnership. A good tune will carry a mediocre dance. A good dance will not carry a mediocre tune.

Chocolate Raspberry Swirl:- One of Terry's outside-the-box dances, that seems to be about figures crossing the phrases of the music. The hook on which the dance hangs (or not) is in the transition from Right Hands Across (5 places) for 4 corners into LHA for 6 dancers once round in 3 steps and then into an unwinding. The important distinction is between the actual 6-hands across and the virtual grouping of 3s within the bigger 6. To make the point I actually had each group of three take hands and then merge their wheels to get the 6 hands across. It worked all too well. The dance didn't fall apart as in previous trials but now there are handing issues.

This is a real challenge dance. First time through is rough because there are so many small details that everyone has to remember or the dance falls apart. I am on the fence over whether or not the dance is a really a repeater. I saw great satisfaction in the mastering of the dance but not the spontaneous joy of a great dance worth doing and redoing. No Dancer's Choice Award for this one. Better music would help. There are very few 40 bar strathspey recordings, none of them spectacular, and this dance, I think, needs its own special music.

Fireside Reel:- I learned this dance from teachers who had it from their Boston teachers and, as I found out from Bob Houghton (teaching Tenafly, NJ on Jan 4), we all had it wrong. And the insult to this injury is that Ken Way (teacher in Middletown, CT) tried to point it out to me a few years ago and I didn't get it!

The opening 8 bars for the different dancers are uneven, not symmetrical, there being overlapping phrases.
1M dances bars 1-4; 2L dances bars 3-6, 1L dances bars 5-8.

1M has 2 bars to cast and 2 to turn 2L with the RH.  He has had his 4 bars and is done. 2L has 4 bar of dancing: she has a 2 bar turn with 1M (starting on bar 3) about half round, and then 2 bars to dance up and curve right into top ladies' place as 1L begins her 4 bars - she has 2 bars to cast, and this is the important point, NOT around 1M (in 2L's place), but rather she enters between 1st and 2nd places - i.e. above 1M - and then has 2 bars to turn 2M.

Broadway:- Fun - and growing on the dancers each time they dance it. Recommended!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Elmsford - 4 January 2012

A lovely evening, with two sets and a bit. Nothing esoteric on the program so we were able to get through 8 dances.

The dances were:
     Trip to Gatlinburg  (32 J 3) Shengzhang Tang
     Meyer Lemon Strathspey  (32 S 2) Houston 30th
     Scotland's Gardens  (32 R 3)  R. Goldring
     Gypsy Weaver  (32 S 3) D. Peet
     The Captain  (32 R 3)  Russ King
     The Nurseryman  (32 J 3)  37/7
     Strathglass House  (32 S 3)  13/9
     Flowers of Edinburgh  (32 R 3)


Trip to Gatlinburgh:- A simple, jig with a variant weave making it progressive. Very good at warming up the dancers but otherwise a bit on the light side. Fun occasionally.

Meyer Lemon Strathspey:- Introduced to me by Ralph Stoddard who was teaching at the Nutmeg Workshop held in Middletown, CT., this past fall. Good dancer he, also good teacher and all round good person. Dance is somewhat simplistic but that means you must dance it clean because any error is most obvious.

While simple the dance is good enough that it is going one the shortlist for the next program I devise (at the suggestion of Miss Wendy).

Scotland's Gardens:- From the pen of Roy Goldring, a lovely dance in MHO, and except for the awkward end effect, would give The Highland Rambler a run for the money.

Gypsy Weaver:- The music, by Liz Donaldson, is simply divine and the dance ain't bad either. It's all about eye contact but please don't over play it. Keep it respectful and the dance is worth doing again. Camp it up and it is only funny once because the dance doesn't go there and big googly eyes simply don't fit. Play is fun when not overdone.

The Captain:- Yet another round of applause. 1M gets a great kilt moment and considering what I am seeing now I eagerly await the evening when all the men are wearing their kilts. Even the ladies dancing as men are getting into the swing of the moment.

The Nurseryman:- One of the top 10 jigs IMHO. The transition out of the LHA into lines of three across advancing is one of the great moments in Scottish dancing. The secret is to drop hands about half way round and spiral out into the lines across and then the dancers can surge toward the other line. If dancers hold their hands too long forming the lines is problematic and there is no momentum, and tonight, finally, the class began to get it. Oh yeah!

Strathglass House:- The music makes the dance and calls for good strong steps, and when that is there...

Flowers of Edinburgh:- One of the standards for good reason. I've done it lots and it is still good fun and went really nicely to an old recording - George Stirrat and his Band ca. 1960. It is really something when you can hear the band having fun.