Calling

I've been dancing since I was quite small. In that time I've tried lots of different styles, and loved every minute of it. I've been calling and teaching workshops since I started university in 1996, and aim to pass some of that enjoyment on.

Most events are evening dances, where I take the part of the "caller", who teaches the dances and "calls" the moves once the dance has started until I think everyone can do it without calling. The skill of the caller is not just in giving clear instructions, but also in creating a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere and choosing an appropriate selection of dances that will maximise the enjoyment of the dancers and show off the best aspects of the band.

I call for all levels of dance, which means that whatever may happen I can adjust the programme of the evening to suit, ensuring that everyone has an enjoyable evening. Because I like variety, I work with lots of different bands rather than staying with any one band; I am lucky enough to have worked with very many bands including some of the best bands in the business. The current list of bands I have worked with (as of the end of 2012) includes Arm in Arm, Atlantic Crossing, Beatroot, Bag o' Tricks, Belshazzar's Feast, the Big Round Band, the Bismarcks, the Bohemian Band, the Bristol Players, the Brookfield Band, the Bullenbush Band, the Burdock Band, the Burlesdon Village Band, Cambridge University Ceilidh Band, Chalktown, Cheap Jack, Chesapeake, Climax Celidh Band, Cock and Bull, Dampier's Round, Deo Volente, the English Contra Dance Band, English Rebellion, Ethel's Cats, the Falconers, Fat Harry, Fendragon, Fiddlin' Around, Firebrand, Folkus Pocus, the Gloworms, Hekety, Hobson's Choice, the Hosepipe Band, Hot Rats, Ivel Valley Band, Jabadaw, Jim and Denis, Junction 24, Keeping Thyme, Kelly's Eye, Kendal Green, Knotted Chord, Laughing Gravy, Melodic Evil, Meltdown, Momentum, Mooncoin (two different bands of that name), Mouse's Nest, Narrow Escape, Newfolks, Nota Bene, Nuada, Orange and Blue, Peeping Tom, Pendragon, Pigzear, the Playford Liberation Front, Random, Run of the Mill, Skylark, Stick Shift, Stömp, Stowfolk, Sunbury Baroque, Tam Lin, Tradaree, Triple Time, Vertical Expression, the Weston Country Dance Band, Whapweasel, the Wide Glide Band, the Woodpecker Band, Xim, and of course many other unnamed groupings and one-evening only lineups!

I call or teach the following types of dance:

English Ceilidh / Barn Dancing

This is where I started calling. It's lively, accessible and unencumbered, a living tradition of community dancing for fun that is still popular at weddings and other social gatherings. These days there are also a lot of really hot bands out there, and it can only be a matter of time before some of these guys get properly famous. Webfeet has more discussion on the subject, and differences between what is meant by English Ceilidh and Barn Dance.

All such events are suitable for beginners, however the proportion of beginners in any evening varies wildly, from evenings where there is not a single person in the room who has done it before (common at weddings) through to festivals and monthly series where the vast majority of the participants dance on a regular basis. If you are a beginner at the latter type of event, you are in for one heck of an experience, since the best bands and dancing are to be found here – the learning curve is obviously steeper, but the other people there can help you out. Don't feel that you are intruding into their enjoyment (fortunately most people will recognise that new blood is essential to the success of the dance) – just mix around the floor, and remember that enjoyment is more important than accuracy (meaning you can mess about with the dances as much as you like so long as you don't stop others enjoying themselves in the process).

American Contra Dancing

Contra dancing is what American dance addicts do instead of English ceilidh. It's high-energy, extremely flirty and mesmeric. Whereas the energy in English ceilidh is largely vertical, in Contra the energy is completely horizontal, as you fly from person to person around the set, never letting momentum going to waste. It's become increasingly popular over the last few years, especially amongst English Ceilidh dancers looking for a bit more of a challenge.

I am completely hooked on this now and seem to go to more Contra events for fun than pretty much any other type of event. I started calling at Cambridge Contra Club, and now call quite regularly at places such as the London Barndance Company at Cecil Sharp House, which has to have one of the best contra series to be found this side of the Atlantic!

Playford Dancing and English Social Dancing

John Playford was a publisher in the mid-17th century who published a lot of "country dances" which were being danced in the English courts at the time as a bit of light relief, loosely based upon the dances done by the country folk. It was the equivalent of Barn Dancing for the rich at the time. At the beginning of the 20th century Cecil Sharp, reviving interest in all things traditionally English, interpreted and taught these dances. Since then new dances have been written in comparable styles. More details.

The Round, the university group where I learned to call, was started as a Playford group and still around half the dances on any given evening will be in this style. I find it immensely frustrating that, outside of the Round, there is currently a vicious circle of age affecting these dances – as the dancers get older, the dances tend to be played more slowly and less vigorously, the younger dancers are therefore not attracted, and so the average age keeps going up (which isn't to undervalue those dancers who keep it going of course!). In my calling I hope to pass on some of what attracted me to the dances, such as their great variety of speed, complexity, vigour, shape, etc. (Which means if you want an evening of dances which are walked, I'm the wrong caller for you!)

French Couple Dancing

As a kid I was constantly amazed by foreign folk dance forms – I was lucky enough to partake with my family and folk dance group in many foreign folk dance exchange trips. I remember the French dances the most (although I think it was mostly to do with the music of the incomparable hurdy-gurdy!) As an adult, I was quickly taken by the French couple dances – a variety of dances done primarily just with your partner, in contrast to the other dances described on this page. The music that goes with these dances is stunning.

There are a handful of basic dances, which dancers going to an evening of French dance are expected to know – after that, you can make up your own variations or copy those whose dancing you like. The French tradition is also very much alive, and new variations are coming from France and over here all the time (especially for the legendary bourrée).

I have done quite a bit of teaching at Cam-French (my old home club) and occasionally at other clubs such as Pied à Terre, plus various festivals such as Towersey. More recently I tend to play more than teach, as I've got more into the music, but I'm happy to teach if asked, particularly for beginners.