Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Dangers of Dance Camps

No, I don't mean knee problems or losing one's job due to taking off too much time from work in order to go to dance camps - the biggest danger in going to dance camps is in turning into a Dance Snob.  I've seen it happen many times and, indeed, it has happened to me.

We begin dancing in our home communities to local bands and callers.  We love the joyful abandon, getting lost in the music, the friendships.  Then someone says to us those six dangerous words that have been the downfall of so many; "You should try a dance weekend!"

I've been the one spouting those words myself and hearing the reactions from first-timers to a dance weekend:
  • "I never knew contra could be like this!!"  
  • "You were right.  This is way better than our regular dances!"
The trouble I've experienced and seen in so many others is that once we experience the dance weekends, the local dance with its newbie dancers becomes less attractive.  I know people who will literally not go to their local dance, but attend weekends only.  Others may go to the local dance, but complain the whole time about the band, caller, new dancers, and even the experienced dancers if they aren't as hot as the dancers at weekends. We get to where we don't want to dance with people who are not on our skill level. We may even complain at weekends at the slightest perceived inconvenience to our bliss!

Our most important and challenging task is to stay connected to our local dances, which is the heart of the community.  In the introductory workshops at our local dances, don't we tell the dancers that contra dancing is all about having fun?  There are no dance police.  There is no aspect of competition or performance.  "If you're having fun, you're doing it right!"  They hear those words in the introductory workshop, but then when they line up to dance, they hear these words:
  • Make sure you come back next week when we'll have a better band.  This one is so lame but we feel obligated to hire them every so often.
  • Oh damn, the caller is going to walk it through AGAIN!  Enough already, lets dance!
And then there are the actions (which, as we know, speak louder than words!).
  • Talking over the caller.
  • Trying to talk the newcomer through the moves instead of letting the caller teach because we know so much more than the caller.
  • Twirling, dipping, spinning, or otherwise confusing the newcomers to show what cool dancers we are.
  • Groping, leering, or drooling on the newcomers (or anyone else) because we're too sexy for this dance.
Our greatest accomplishment is not to master the latest flourish, but to nurture the community.  Show up! 
Your local community needs you.  And if your local community is "lame," it needs you even more.

Appreciate the band and caller, even if you know there are others out there who could do better.  Trust me, they are not doing it for the money!  Yes, offer constructive feedback, but always from a sense of gratitude and hope for their improvement, not as a complaint or put-down.

Volunteer!  Give your time and give your money.

I do still complain.  I do have trouble having fun sometimes.  Especially now that I am a caller, I tend to be especially hard on callers.  On my best nights I smile and try to listen and follow the caller.  When I'm at my worst, I whine and complain.  When I'm at my best, I have fun.  When I'm at my worst, I have a miserable time.  

It's ironic that our biggest challenge as dancers is to have fun, but that really is it in a nutshell.  Go to your local dance and HAVE FUN!  If you're having fun, you're doing it right!  Let go of the judgments and remember what it was like when you thought your local band and caller was the best ever.


  1. Excellent post. I shared it with my local group!

  2. Sadly, a dear friend of mine, himself a talented musician who contributes much to the community, had a bad experience with a member of the "dance police" at his very first contra dance.

    He hasn't been back since, and that was in the 1980s.

  3. i'm a sub-beginner, really, but i must say that both communities i have peripherally attached myself too have been more than welcoming, the one in Pinellas Park, fl, and the one at john c. campbell folk school. i do love watching the dance, and i do love dancing, but i must confess that, at this age, i am simply too self-conscious to enjoy actually dancing contra. i ALWAYS feel that i am gumming up the works, no matter how many times i am assured that is not true, and i cringe when a new partner comes towards me because i know they really want a wide swing and i'm stopping that. it's certainly not any attitude of the dancers, it's just reality! i haven't been over to pinellas park in several years(i know i shoud start again)

  4. Excellent post. I'm involved in both the contra/square dance and international folk dance communities and your observations are spot on for both! My philosophy has also been the more dancers and the more dances (opportunities) we have, the better. Local groups are not in competition with dance weekends - they're a different entity and newer dancers should be helped to understand how to appreciate them both. I've learned that "Fancy Dancers" or "Hot-Shot Dancers" who add the extra twirls, spins, etc. or who are snobbish about whom they dance with really do this "because they can". In general, I feel they are unaware that newer dancers may be following them as role models, and in some cases, I believe they do not care - it's all about them. As these dancers mature, they may change their attitudes. Many such dancers seem to have forgotten that at one time, they were struggling as beginners. On the other hand, dancers who emulate the "Fancy Dancers" may even think that what they are doing is the norm. However, we have to live with all different types of people at dancing and perhaps some improvement feedback would be in order if the perpetrators of such behaviors are open to receiving it. Whether or not such feedback has any effects, as some callers out here in the Midwest say when things get all wound up, "It's only a dance"!

  5. Definitely an excellent post, and thank you! I've been a part of the Boston Gender-Free contra dance community for 25 years (I started this community back in 1988), and I agree whole heartedly. Both dance events, the local dance and the dance weekends are a part of what makes dancing good. My philosophy and the philosophy of our community is, if you really want to enjoy your dance weekends, a part of that is putting some of that joy and dedicated effort into your local dance to help make it a fun and friendly, warm and welcoming community for all to enjoy. As an experienced dance, who yes loves a hot experienced contra from time to time, I still get my greatest joy from being an active participant in helping the new folks who come to our dance for the first time. To be really effective and to ensure new folks feel welcome, it takes a gentle guidance, patience, encouragement, taking some time to help new folks with moves so they too can enjoy the dance the way you do. If we don't take the time to encourage new folks, and make it our goal to help them along, eventually the energy for the dance weekends shifts from being a fun and inclusive friendly community to one of elitism. Eventually if there are no new folks to draw from and add to the weekend events, much like anything else that goes nurtured, they dwindle, become less attractive, and eventually die off from lack of interest and leadership.

    I feel a real commitment and a responsibility that, as a caller, a community organizer and a dance leader with a vision, that it is vital that we all take a part from time to time to step back, welcome someone new, join the dance with them, and help make their experience wonderful. You might surprise yourself. It is often in giving, even a little, that we can reap so much. Think about it!

    Have fun dancing!

    Chris Ricciotti

  6. I enjoyed reading this. (Hi, Chris Riccioti!)

    Over the years and decades, my body has gotten less suited to contra (arthritis in shoulder and spine). I really enjoy welcoming new people into the community, as well as dancing with old friends. But sometimes dancing hurts. And that's when I think, "I wish there weren't so many beginners" or such.

    I've learned: if I'm feeling cranky, I sit down. If talking quietly with friends (or other folks), listening and watching don't make the crankiness pass, I go home.

    And come back when I can share the delight of the dance with whomever The Dance puts in my path.

    judy goldsmith

  7. I can relate to Eileen, the first dance I attended I was pushed shoved and snapped at. I've never returned to dance though I have played for numerous dances and I love to dance in other formats. I relate it now to the way I teach fiddle and I try to be endlessly patient and kind no matter how squeeky and slow my student is. So I did learn from the dance police-just not about dancing! Amy Hopkins

  8. So many good points. I am reminded of the phrase I used to hear as a kid, if I didn't like my supper, to think of those starving kids in (wherever). Now that I live in the midwest, and my closest "home" dance is two hours drive away, I want to say to complainers, "at least you have a home dance." I don't always find bliss, but I usually find a great measure of joy.

  9. A fun reminder, I was introduced to dancing at the Flurry, by dance gypsies. For my first nine months of dancing it was a festival or Greenfield. By the time I got around to finding my local dances in the Albany, NY area, it was too late. I was spoiled, a snob. I do still seek out and occasionally support a local dance. But we all know, it's not the same...

  10. Great post. If we just focus on our partner at whatever level they're and facilitate them feeling they are in that magical moment the most important person in the world. Happiness is an inside experience.

  11. Really well stated. Thanks! Also, Bruce Hamilton has a great one-pager about this, titled "When you're not the caller". Google finds it easily.

  12. Lindsey - the Bruce Hamilton piece is referenced in my blog post about dancing with newbies - http://jolainejonespokorney.blogspot.com/2012/11/dancing-with-newbies.html

  13. There are some excellent local dances out there, with all the spirit of a dance weekend. Contra is intrinsically fun, so if the local dance is lame, it may be a problem with poor location, lack of publicity, or too many troll dancers who leer, criticize, injure, or otherwise spoil it for newcomers (or regulars).

    Experienced folks can help with some things on the dance floor, but also consider volunteering to help the organizers. It takes effort and good decisions to make a local dance thrive.

  14. Great post, Jolaine! Thanks! I will share.

    So so true! So fortunate to be in a very loving local community where we look out for our new dancers and encourage and dance with them, also.

    AND I can totally relate to what you are saying. Thanks

  15. Beautifully written, and SO true, JoLaine. I'm so glad that Dave brought it to my attention. Thanks!

  16. Guilty of a few of your points. Thank you for the post and a resolution for the New Year.
    Mark G.

  17. Really good food for thought (just found this thanks to a link in a Facebook group)... I do remember coming back from a dance week in St. Croix waaaay back in 1997, dancing every night and some afternoons, and then going to the local Ann Arbor dance the following Saturday after my return, and thinking, "wow, these dances are sure slow here!"