Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Collection of Critiques

A few months ago, several members of our family participated in a thoroughly pleasant evening of English Country Dancing with a room full of friends and acquaintances. Typically what happens after such an event is that I go home and write up half a dozen pages concerning said event in my journal. These pages are usually lists and descriptions of who was in attendance, which dances were done, what interesting conversations were had, what new things were learned, etc., etc. However, the journal entries pertaining to that particular evening in April, while including portions along those themes, took on a rather different character from the standard. This time, my overview was focused primarily on the composition of the dances we had done that evening - measuring the enjoyableness of some as compared to others, considering the aspects of each, and drawing conclusions as to what contributes to a well written dance. This post is basically an extended version of the dance analysis I began that evening.
(journal excerpts and dance titles in italics)

The first dance of the evening was The Circassian Circle, which is an excellent dance for starting with, as it gets everybody going with simple steps and a highly adjustable activity level - a perfect warm up! Being a mixer, it also allows for the greeting of many people within a short amount of time, which is another desirable quality in a first dance of any event.

Up next was Flowers of Edinburgh, the ultimate dance for all those who love skipping in figure eights. :)

It was somewhere around the middle of the dance when it struck me just how BORING Flowers of Edinburgh is - at least for one who has been doing it for three years (or somewhere thereabouts) - and I began wondering how it might be elaborated on to make it more interesting. So far I have been considering rewriting it as a triple minor, either elaborating the figure eights somehow or using a mirrored hey somewhere. It will take some more thought and a bit of scribbling little "proof of concept" illustrations, but surely something could be done...

It is my firm belief that if it is not possible to carry on a conversation with one's partner during a dance, that dance had better have really neat steps and at least some degree of challenge to it! Flowers of Edinburgh only uses two steps (figure eights and two-hand turns), yet somehow manages to completely block out the possibility of having a connected dialogue with one's partner - or with anyone else, for that matter!

Though I have not come up with a way to fix the conversation block without abandoning the character of the dance altogether, I have been experimenting with expanding on the basic theme to make the dance at least somewhat more challenging. Once the layout is solidified, perhaps I'll post the calls here for your review and further revision.

Yellow Stockings was next, if I remember correctly. Now here is a dance that was just not well thought out! I'm all for a balance of partner/neighbor/corner interaction, but this one just doesn't have a balance - scarcely even a mixture! This is a dance for the corners, and no mistake! (Though that is a mistake, and a major one...)

Supposing you are the second lady. You two-hand turn your corner for twelve counts, watch your partner two-hand turn your neighbor for twelve, stand still for another interval of the same duration, and finish out with rights and lefts. In the full course of the dance, you only interact with your partner for six counts! Yes, the first couple has twice that, due to the six counts allotted to the brief sashay down and up... but really! It is ridiculous to go to the effort of finding a partner, lining up in the longways sets, taking hands four, etc., etc., only to spend the greater part of the time with a bunch of corners! Dances are usually written so that one actually gets to do something with the person they asked... I can't imagine why this one wasn't!

The best part of Yellow Stockings is undoubtedly the music. Ah, how I love it! I still think it would be neat to dance The Hole in the Wall to this recording. Totally different in feel, of course... but neat!

Then there was Bare Necessities - I love that dance! Mainly for the music, of course... :) The dance itself is flowing and elegant, and is in the less-than-usual set-up of three couples in a circle; also, though the steps are fairly common, the progression is interesting and requires a bit of thought and good timing to execute well.

One dancer in our set of six remarked that Bare Necessities would look nice from above - this threw me into a whole new strain of dance analysis! At first I thought, "leave it to a videographer to talk about a dance in terms of what it would look like in a top-down shot!" Immediately afterwards, however, I began to realize just how right he was in this assessment. A star for three? Grand rights and lefts ending in a twirl? Waltzing? A gypsy once and a half around, and a graceful step backwards for a starburst progression? Of course! What could possibly be better for an aerial view? He was absolutely right in his observation! Still, I must admit that this thought would never have come to me... my thoughts are usually elsewhere... for example, at the moment in question I myself was overwhelmed by the beauty of the swelling strings in the recording; indeed, so bursting with delight was I that, in a rare expression of feeling, I came close to smiling!

Juice of Barley... this one, I think, would not look good from above. It certainly didn't look nice from the top of the line when we made it there - it was so lopsided-looking during the "weave through" portions! Everybody bunched over on one side, people having to turn sideways in an effort to not collide with the people they were going between... also, the lines themselves weren't straight. Ugh.
Still, the music was great! One of the finest improvised renditions by Bare Necessities, though perhaps not one of their crispest recordings.

Later in the evening we danced Auretti's Dutch Skipper, another longways for as many as will in 6/8 timing. This dance is fairly basic, by which I mean there is nothing extraordinary or surprising about it. As such, however, it provides a good illustration of the "typical" English Country Dance.

The first couple steps down the set, then casts up to place for a two hand turn. This sequence is then performed by the second couple from the opposite direction. Next, there is a two hand turn for the first corners, followed by the same for the second. Partners face again, maintaining friendly eye contact for the set twice, and the round is completed with three changes of a circular hey to progress. All the while, everyone is moving in time with the calmly joyful music so proficiently performed by Bare Necessities on piano, violin, and flute. The result is a thoroughly pleasing dancing experience!

An interesting segment of the evening came when we all attempted to learn The Young Widow, a longways dance in triple minor formation - sets of three couples down the line as opposed to the more typical sets of two. Since none of us were very familiar with this formation (and some of us not at all!), it took awhile to figure out what exactly was supposed to happen and make it actually work out with some measure of style. In the end, everything worked out.

The final two dance experiences of the evening were dancing The Scottish and beginning to learn The Laendler! The former was thoroughly delightful, as always, and the latter only somewhat less so because I had no idea what I was doing! Ah well... both were excellent!

Though I've been harsh on many of the dances we did that evening, let me hasten to say that it truly was a delightful time - indeed, 'twas one of the top three dance events I've ever attended! The conversations were pleasant, the people-watching was entertaining, and the dancing was grand! I just happen to like picking things apart, and thought I'd share some of my opinionated analyses. :)

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