Not All Callers Are Created Equal
Calling for and teaching beginners, children and mixed age groups requires very different skills from calling for, or teaching, adults who regularly go Contra or English Country Dancing. Many callers do not possess these skills – they just assume that all they need to do is choose easier dances from their regular repertoire and/or progress more slowly than they would normally. This is fallacious!
Michael Barraclough has been calling for beginner-type audiences for over 40 years. In the USA the majority of calling is done for regular Contra Dance series and regular English country Dance groups. Calling for “one night stands” - groups who exist for some other reason, e.g. a church group, a PTA, homeschoolers, a wedding, etc – who just want to do something different, is relatively rare. However, in England, where Michael learned to call and called for over 35 years, it is the other way around. Most of the calling there is for these beginner groups and not for the aficionados. This means that Michael has a wealth of experience in this area.
Apart from being able to work with non-dancers, Michael's calling is also family-friendly. Many callers are unable to cope adequately when there are children present. He, however, has plenty of family calling experience. In England he has taught English country Dancing to school groups and for many years was a Folk Camp (intergenerational folk-based tented holidays) leader. Here in the USA he has already been booked several times to run the Folklore Society of Greater Washington Family Dance and has been on staff at two week-long family camps in the San Francisco area.
Working with children presents challenges which other callers are often not equipped to deal with. Common scenarios are: young children, unwilling to be separated from the parent they are dancing with; boys wanting to dance with boys and girls wanting to dance with girls (normal calling language assumes that in each pair, one is male and the other is female); short attention spans and hyperactive children. All these require flexibility on the part of the caller and a flexible repertoire. They also require a commanding presence and voice, yet the ability to be friendly and not be perceived as someone ordering you about. Michael understands this and has appropriate strategies.
Michael has over 1000 dances in his repertoire. As well as the sort of dances done at regular Contra and English Country Dances, he also has a substantial number of English Ceilidh dances and family dances. Most of these are simpler than the dances other callers use, easier to teach and easier to learn. They enable participants to start moving to the music sooner and to have fun without having to have extensive education first.