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Sharlene Penman (piano), visiting from New Zealand, is the band leader for the 2019 Tea Dance.
Our fiddlers are Sarah Stefanski and Jenny Evans, both local artists.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

7 March 2017 – New Haven

I suppose the first order of business is to acknowledge the facts on the ground. The Fair Haven Heights class is effectively defunct. I am now simply part of the rotation of teachers for the New Haven class of the New Haven Branch.  I have no set dates, they change as the availability of the other teachers changes (for whatever reason). * * * Sigh * * *  (Am I being too nice?)

Well, the New Haven Highland Ball for 2017 is past. It is time to move on. The Rerr Terr ball (NJ) is next on the calendar but most of the New Haven dancers can handle the dances eyes closed. Then the Kilts and Ghillies Tea Dance and for that Prep is definitely required.

The dances taught last night:-

Machine Without Horses  –  (32 J 3)  –  Bk 12/12
Bridge of Nairn  –  (32 S 3)  –  Bk 13/11
More Bees A-Dancin'  –  (32 R 3)  –  Goldring

Les Remparts de Séville  –  (32 J 3)  –  Bk 50/2
Dave Macfarlane's Reel  –  (32 R 3)  –  Collin
Peggy Spouse MBE  –  (32 S 3)  –  Bk 46/11

***   ***   ***   ***

The Machine Without Horses:-  The Old War Horse of the jig persuasion. There are some sticking points. Getting beginners to start dancing on time, especially as 2nd couple in the track figure. Getting dancers to cast up around 3rd couple and meet above them. Remembering left from right.

What struck me though was how much the music has changed since I started dancing. Why back when, when you really didn't want the stegasaurii to flip their kilts (that long spiked tail was a real problem) the hot musician was Stan Hamilton. What he was doing on piano was different from what most of other bands were doing. His music was the go to as were Don Bartlett's, Angus MacKinnon's, and Bobby Frew's. The RSCDS music was required listening though very managed and not very inspiring - even then, as a newbie, I could hear that. Don't get me wrong – it was all danceable.

Then came the fiddlers, and especially Barbara McOwen. She was in Berkeley CA. and west coast fiddle music flourished. She moved to Boston, and east coast fiddle music flourished. What she did was open dancer's ears to the song of the fiddle where previously all we heard were accordions. IMHO she deserves a Society Scroll!

So, last night, I played Stan Hamilton's version of Mw/oH. I was not inspired and I was surprised by that. Oh it had a good beat and was easy to dance to. But today I would only gave it about a 72. I find I much prefer the Reel of Seven version. They also have a good beat, are easy to dance to, but they have the sound of the fiddle. And the sound is fuller, more complex, more varied, and more mature.  They are standing on the shoulders of the greats like Stan Hamilton, Bobby Frew, and Don Bartlett, to name just a few.  (If I don't name Bobby Brown it is because although he may have had great knowledge and ability I have never liked the sound of his band. It was very heavy handed. He beat me over the head rather than let the instruments sing - This is personal opinion, other opinions differ, and to those of that persuasion what I have just said is heresy.)

Bridge of Nairn:- If there is a sticky point in this dance it is 1st man getting out of the setting into turning 1st corner RH. And with two elder beginners who are really stretching themselves with starting SCD in their seventies teachers need to use the RSCDS method (leaving out the Baroque ballet stuff). So I had to come up with a skills exercise at the last moment - yes I do claim I planned the class, just not in the society way or standard.

So I had everyone join NH with partner and face down (to start) - set and turn toward partner to face up [1-2], set again and face down [3-4]; set and face up [5-6], set and 1st lady stay facing up while 1st man turns over R shoulder to face down (as if to his 1st corner).

In the dance they got it. Even my weaker newbie was headed the correct way and basically on time into turn CPCP.

Both these dances are on the Rerr Terr program which is designed to be a beginner's first ball - very easy.

More Bees A-Dancin':-  A very nice Roy Goldring dance. I do see the pedigree which is John Drewry's Bees of Maggieknockater. Reels of three are still an issue for our newbies but in this dance 1st couple is in promenade hold for both reels. Hard to go wrong as 1s. Much easier as a corner where you have to either know which way to go, be able to taking coaching or responsive to visual cues.

Les Remparts de Séville:- I like it. It definitely rates higher than a 72. There is a trick to it which plays against training and muscle memory. There is a LH turn into the first 6 bars of Hello-Goodbye setting. Some dancers had difficulty getting their brains wrapped around that 8 bar phrase. Once they accomplished that they liked the dance.

One strong comment from the floor - find better music. I am not convinced. The arrangement doesn't send shudders down my spine. So is it the tune, the arrangement, bad playing, or the instrument mix that wasn't liked? I dunno - it could by any of these so I really need finer discernment. The dance is on the Tea Dance and I am tempted to ask the band to find French or Spanish jigs for their arrangement.

Dave Macfarlane's Reel:- Another delight from Gaye Collin of NZ and one of my Winter Specials. When I asked thumbs up or thumbs down I got four double thumbs up and one single thumbs up and no thumbs down.

This is the only dance I got into and danced. The video is so well done that I had such high expectations that I actually came away mildly disappointed but that doesn't mean it is bad. I definitely rate it as good and it gets a thumbs up from me too.

So that makes a total of ten thumbs up.  [here] Oh my are they good! (I want to move there).
The dance is now a candidate for the 2018 Tea Dance program.

Peggy Spouse MBE:- A Good One. It is beautiful. It deserves a much higher reputation but Oh My does it take lots and lots and lots of words to get the fine points and adjustments across to the dancers! (Maybe that is why they call it teaching?) But there is another issue. I have dancers who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s  and they aren't processing they way they used to. I have to take it slower and repeat myself and walk the pieces more often.

1st few bits - getting 1st lady and 2nd man not only back to back in the middle but also with both hands joined with partner ready for half poussette. It is the partners who have to adjust the spacing so 1L/2M STAY back to back. I now voice another heresy: this is not essential technique but look good technique. The dance works with or without the dancers being tightly back to back. It just looks better if they are.

The reels across (why do people not HEAR what is said?) in 6 bars with added extensions. Another couple of pieces: Petronellas for 1st couple and loops for corners to complete the phrase.

Another bunch of pieces: Set, circles of  3 - halfway; then set and link (corners) or set and petronella (1st couple).

Whew, we can now catch our breath,  it's a circle, round and back.

I like it, and the dancers liked both how it looked and how it danced. Worth the effort!







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