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What To Expect at a Dance

photo of promenading dancers

We're glad you're thinking about coming to one of our community dance events! This note is to tell you what to expect, and to give you some tips that will make your first experience more enjoyable.

Before you leave home: you won't need any fancy clothes, shoes or accessories. Come as you are! If you're dressed up, that's fine; if not, that's fine, too. Most dancers bring:

  • comfortable shoes to dance in: wear shoes that you can move in safely. You want something with a fairly slick sole and a low heel. Even Ginger Rogers was uncomfortable dancing in high heels. Be comfortable, wear those "sensible shoes" your mother always told you about. Don't worry about it your first time, but many regular dancers bring a separate pair of dance shoes with clean soles (no street dirt) to be kind to the wood dance floors and help them last longer.
  • comfortable casual clothing: you want to wear clothes you can move in. The usual range is from casual to dressy casual. You may want a bandanna or handkerchief to mop your brow - this dance raises a sweat! Please don't wear strong perfume or cologne - some of our dancers are allergic.
  • a water bottle if desired, because you'll want to avoid spending time in line at the drinking fountain during the dance!

Think comfort and safety, and you won't go wrong.

When at the dance: the first thing you'll see is the hall itself. It's probably a church social hall, a school hall, a community center, or a gym, and it won't be very fancy. These are the venues with good wood floors suitable for dancing. We try to keep our prices down to make our dances accessible to all, so we don't spend money on decorations.

The lights will be full on. In this kind of dancing, you cover a lot of ground, and it's important for safety to be able to see where you're going. Change from your outside shoes to the comfortable clean shoes you brought to dance in; your feet (and the floor) will appreciate it!

If you've come to one of the dances with a newcomer's session, you'll get a brief introduction to the basics of this kind of dance before the evening itself starts. It's a good idea to do this the first time, and maybe come back to the newcomer's session more than once. No one is expected to learn everything there is to know on the first night, but one night will teach enough to have an enormously fun time. The more the better!

Dances are made up of figures, which have names like "ladies' chain" or "do-si-do". In the course of an evening, you may do ten different dances; the caller will tell you what figures make up this dance, and walk the sequence through to make sure everyone gets it. You won't be expected to have memorized the dances; you *will* be expected to listen to the caller, and to remember some figures.

Since some figures introduced in earlier dances will repeat in later dances, it's a really good idea to show up at the beginning of the evening, rather than fashionably late. (It occasionally happens that people coming to the dance for the first time will go out to a nice dinner, have some wine, and then show up at the dance an hour and a half after it starts. That sets you up to have a confusing time at the dance. For maximum enjoyment, come on time, and unimpaired.)

You and your partner for this dance interact with other couples up and down the set. If you don't know what you're doing, it will be very helpful if your partner does. If you come with a date, you should start dancing with other people immediately, and hook up again later in the evening, when you both have some idea of what's going on. If people try to split you up, it doesn't mean that they don't want you to go home together -- they're trying to help you have a successful dance experience.

Incidentally, our custom is that anybody can ask anybody else to dance. It really doesn't mean anything more than that the person asking wants to dance this dance. Offering or accepting an invitation to dance at a community dance doesn't necessarily imply that anyone's trying to pick you up. (It's not a meet-market scene. We're there to dance - although we know of several couples who got married after meeting at a dance.)

So, you wore comfortable shoes, you came to the pre-dance workshop, you found a partner for the first dance. The caller tells you what formation the dance is in (longways set, circle, square), and you and your partner take your place.

The caller walks you through the figures of this dance, explaining exactly how the dance works and demonstrating any moves that are new or unfamiliar. The band strikes up a tune - driving Celtic jigs or old-timey reels at contra dances, a wide range of tunes at English country dances, almost anything at the barn/ceilidh dance - and you're off, moving to the live music, sharing energy with the band and the other dancers, seeing a new set of smiling faces with each round of the dance.

The caller will keep prompting until everybody's got it; and the other dancers will help you if you get confused about where to go next. Body language is eloquent; if you're confused at any point, notice the nearby hand offered for an allemande or the eye contact from your neighbor inviting a swing.

When the dance ends, partners thank each other, find new partners, and form up again, and the evening goes on like that — with a 10-15 minute break in the middle, announcements about other dance events, maybe an untaught couple dance (waltz, polka, hambo, schottische) here and there, and a last waltz at the end. You go home invigorated, flushed, and happy, with the sound of sweet music in your ears.

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