Calling Dances

1 Repertoire

First, "Community Dance Manuals" - clear but old-fashioned. Second, other callers: collect them. It's polite to ask the caller first.
You need about fifteen for an evening. It used to be that everyone knew them, but now you need to know them for them.

2 Music

Note that you can't tell the type from the time signature.
Phrases: come in 8 or 16 bars, A or B. For example, AABB... This forms the basis of the notation when recording dance steps.


6/8 time. 4 bars intro plus 32 bars: 16 steps equals 8 bars. "Diddly diddly". Bouncing, galloping, good for beginners, lots of drive.


4/4 or 2/2 time. "One two three (hop) and a two two three (hop) and a three two three (hop)".

Step hops

Also called Hornpipes, though they aren't. Americans play hornpipes at reel speeds.

Slip jogs

9/8 time. Strip the Willow. Unphased dances: just keep going, changing and whirling.


4/4 time, but a bit syncopated. Polkas and step hops are more modern than rants, and slower.


This is actually a music-specific term, pretty much 4/4. Fast, flat, 120 beats per minute.

3 The Night

  1. Arrive early.
  2. Identify the bar, fire exits, escape routes.
  3. Meet the band.
  4. Meet organisers, check timings - raffle, breaks.
  5. Dress up.
Watch out for weddings; people tend to be tired, drunk, leave dances.

4 The Walk-through

You can over-teach, but this is better than underteaching.
You must have the first dances down pat. They tell you about the audience you have. If you do a right-hand star and they get the left-hand back, you're laughing!
Teach the jargon as you go.
Pick a good set to demonstrate.
Teach the timing as you go: put a gallop down-and-back in the first dance.
It's okay to jump in yourself.
You may have to abandon a set if they're having real problems, otherwise it slows things down for everyone else. If someone is being difficult, go down and sort it in person - it's simpler and no-one hears your desperation. Don't watch them.
Put lots of contact in the early dances to help them get it: Grand Chains are good.
Use a simple dance if everything is going wrong. People want to do it well.
You can start with a big dance for everyone.
Do progression separately.
Longways with lots of people are good, do one early.
People know what a circle is: put them in that first.
You can play music as people come onto the floor, but this can make it difficult to encourage more people.

5 Calling during the dance

Give the rhythm as you call: "And down and two and three and four..."
Good bands phrase very clearly from the off.
Give an instruction clearly at the correct point in the music just before it is needed.
Don't panic and speed up.
You can use a longer explanation with a strong "go" word on the beat: "Right hand star - go ROUND". Reinforce the music at all times.
Stay on the stage.
Just before starting give a quick reminder of how to start.
Check the introduction length with the band.
Announce the last time through for the benefit of the dancers and band.
Do a hopstep dance third or fourth: let people know what to do with their feet when dancing.
Put dubious dances (ie your own) earlier in the playlist, so people can forget them.

6 Calling Attitudes

Thank the band by name.
It's always the caller's fault.
You are an entertainer and performer.
Don't play tricks to make the dancers wrong.
A dance is a treasure to present.