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Playing For Dancers

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When I started dancing (in NYC) CDSS was in charge, the main group was older than me (40's & 50's?), but there were a few from an older generation and also a strong college crowd (mostly from one school). There were a couple of periods when few new young folks came on the scene, but also a couple of significant influxes of high school students.


Some independent contra dances were started, with majorities I think in their 20's and 30's, though a few both older and younger. Dances outside New York varied, with younger crowds at some, older at others, and some fairly well mixed. This was also the time when contra dancing exploded in New England.


In New York I don't think a lot of new dancers were attracted during the late 80's and 90's, but that wasn't the case everywhere. There are changes -- call them ups and downs, if you like -- in many places, but they're not all synchronized, and I think it's misleading to try to generalize to the entire country what is happening in a particular area.

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The best way to find out what speed or tunes dancers require is to learn to dance.

So, it is the musicians fault again is it?

After working out that a "heavy jig" (asked for in Leeds) is a hornpipe, I think it would be better all round if dancers spent less time entering competitions, and spent a night a week round at the instrument class and learned to play something (not necessarily concertina).

Perhaps we then would have dancers that could tell you what they wanted and musicians that could dance.


The only tips are -

Work out whether they want 4 or 6.

Before they start, play a bit to them slowly, gradually speeding up to the tempo they require.

Watch like a hawk for the ending.

Get a metronome in your head.

Also get it into your head you will always be wrong and it will be your fault they come second place.

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after working out that a "heavy jig" (asked for in Leeds) is a hornpipe


Actually, a heavy jig is a treble jig, or a jig done in hard shoes, so it is the same beat as a jig, only played very, very slowly for beginners and very very very slowly for more advanced dancers. A hornpipe is always a hard shoe dance.


Feis musicians are amazing. They play for about 6 hours, with few breaks, except the occasional run to the bathroom. I don't know how they do it, mostly they play consistently all day long.


As far as communication with dancers, often there isn't even very much communication between dancers because they are competitive, so it is not unlikely that a young dancer doesn't know what kind of tune she needs or what speed it needs to be played. Teachers often count on parents to make sure their kids know what's going on, which isn't always practical. However, teachers, if they are even at the competition (there is quite a lot of travel involved in the Irish dancing competition circuit) are usually run off their feet at a feis, so even less likely to be around when necessary.


As for whether the dancer wins or loses, we like to blame musicians, but the judges are the bigger target. There are rules that parents are not allowed to talk to the judges or the musicians, so we blame you guys in the car on the way home! ;)

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