Contra Dance Calling Log

Update 1/1/2019: This post is no longer maintained and now well out of date as I’ve been calling and leading dancing regularly for over a decade now. I lead contra dances at regular series about New England and also in several other states. I also do special events/festivals and private Barn Dance events for schools, scouting groups, churches, social groups, etc. Please see my calling page for more information.


I started dancing Contra dances on September 10, 2007. One year later, I started writing dances. I now periodically call (lead a hall full of other dancers) one or more in an evening. This is my log of that calling experience, so I can track my progress over time.

Update 8/17/12: As I’ve begun calling more frequently, including many full evenings, I plan on re-writing this post to split the major gigs off to separate posts. I’m also looking at adding a true calendar of my upcoming events, so check back soon. In the mean time, if you wish to contact me about calling you can send email to

doncaller (-A-=-T-) veino (-D-=-O-=-T-) com

Phone: 978-255-3661. If you click here you may ContactMe powered by Voxmeup for free.

5/30/2009: First time, calling at a BIDA house party overlooking Fenway park in Boston. Julie Vallimont and Gene Albert were playing, Adina Gordon was there and gave me some helpful advice and encouragement afterwards to continue calling. Led my own first composition, “Happy Contranniversary“, from memory, as I didn’t expect to be calling that night and had no dance cards.

8/7/2009: CDSS’ Pinewoods Camp – called Happy Contranniversary at Camper’s night – very positive comments and encouragement from Nils Fredland (caller extraordinaire, Elixir member), Andy Shore (MWSD & contra caller), Mark Hellenberg (percussion for the Groovemongers, etc.) and others. And people really liked my dance too, yay!

4/17/2010: Wellesley, MA – Called Lisa Greenleaf’s Get Me Going, at our wedding reception (and while dancing too!). Ethan Hazzard-Watkins, Anna Patton and Peter Barnes playing. Sweet!

4/26/2010: Monday Contras, Concord Scout House, Concord, MA – Guest spot with Lynn Ackerson, caller, and musicians Brendan Carey Block, Debby Knight, Jack O’Connor & Cal Howard. Called Get Me Going. Went well, more encouragement to continue!

5/2/2010: Wedding Party, Concord Scout House, Concord, MA – Did my own version of a singing(!) call of the centuries old classic, Money Musk, from memory, with the stellar contra band Nightingale. My wife really likes Money Musk, so this was my little gift to her. 🙂

6/6/2010: NH Contra Weekend – Guest spot with Lisa Greenleaf, calling Jurassic Redheads, by Carol Ormand, to alternative (not folk) music. Another great experience, and I love that dance!

Next goal: call one at the famous Thursday NEFFA contra dance at the Concord Scout House, Concord, MA.

1/20/2011, Goal met: Called two dances during the NEFFA Thursday Caller’s night with the wonderful band Elixir! Not a perfect go for me, but a very good learning experience.

Due to traffic problems delaying another colleague, I ended up swapping slots to open the dance with Get Me Going (Lisa Greenleaf). That one went fine, good walk through and smooth dance overall, with a slight bobble which I recovered effectively.

My second slot was the next to last dance of the evening. I’d selected Centrifugal Hey (Gene Hubert). I had a great walk through (but for one crossed reference to neighbor vs. partner, which I’d previously made so clear that the audience quickly corrected me ;-)), but then for some reason I didn’t call the entirety of the first round of the dance (I think I was distracted by watching one confused foursome). Took me a moment to realize I was only doing it in my head, not speaking into the microphone! Was able to get it back on track and went smoothly from there. The music was great and the band members supportive.

Wonderful coaching and specific feedback by several folks including: Nils Fredland, Chris Weiler, Rachel Shapiro and Chris Lahey, et al. Big takeaway is that I need to do more practice in actually calling to music so that I can just “feel” where we are in the tune instead of counting/viewing the dancers for the phrasing. And of course, actually calling all of the first rounds of the dance. 🙂

2/19/11: Participated in Bob Isaacs’ Calling 101: Learn to Call workshop at the Flurry Festival. Biggest win for me here was the ability to ask Bob questions during and after the workshop. Things you worry over all by yourself can be either affirmed or set at ease in a few seconds talking to someone with experience… this presented that opportunity. Bob also provided a nice handout with a bunch of information for the starting caller. He had everyone practice prompting David Kaynor’s The Baby Rose to music as a group, and a few folks got to try calling it with the rest of us dancing.

Surprise opportunity 2/26/11: while attending Jeff Kaufman‘s calling debut for a full night at the Concord Scout House dance, Jeff offered me the chance to guest call Centrifugal Hey at the end of one dance as the next dance. I had literally about a minute to finish dancing, grab my card and get to the mike to call it. Nice test of my being prepared! Had a good walk-through (without the N/P bobble from that last time) and did an OK job calling it with no major gaffes. Had one cycle where I called a star instead of the last circle (which works, but was a mistake) and one person mentioned afterwards that some of my calls were slightly late at the start. Good practice, I was really glad I’d done some rehearsing calling to music, as there were several new folks in a small crowd at this point and a couple of foursomes broke down – I knew right where I was and was able to get them back on track fairly smoothly. 😉

3/1/2011: A shared calling slot for a full evening at the MIT dance. Thanks to Jeff Kaufman for offering to share his gig with myself and Dereck Kalish – very generous!

Overall it was a great night (for all three of us callers and the band). I’ll comment further just on my own performance. We did a simple round robin for the calling: Jeff, Dereck, me, Jeff…

The crowd was mixed, with… a lot of beginners. Classic challenge!

I called three dances: Get Me Going, All You Can Eat (Ted Crane) and Centrifugal Hey. A.Y.C.E. was a new one for me. I’d also prepared for Al’s Safeway Produce, Chuck the Budgie and Pining for You as alternatives for programming — all new for me too.

My opener was Get Me Going. Went smoothly for walk-through and dance. I’d noticed several newcomers gripping hard with their thumbs previously while dancing to Jeff and Dereck’s slots (another caller dancing had mentioned it too), so I took a quick moment to do a style tip session on hand grips and giving weight before we started the walk-through. Got good feedback on this few minutes spent.

On A.Y.C.E., I ended up calling too quickly the second part for a couple of combined calls in the A2 and B1 parts (eg: saying Gypsy & Swing vs Gypsy… and Swing) which got one line (yes, only one of two ;)) off time by 8 beats. Jeff came up and suggested a fix – I found another spot to do something else and it got back on timing. I’m getting a lot of learning and recovery practice in. 🙂

Centrifugal Hey went great, smooth overall.

I got several compliments on my dance choices, simple enough for beginners but still fun for the experienced folks in the crowd. And I was invited back for a caller’s night on May 17th! I’m thinking I might like to do some more of this calling thing. 😉 Thanks to the folks who came out to support us!

5/17/2011: Back for a caller’s showcase evening at the MIT dance. There were 6 of us calling. We’d loosely coordinated our dances by email, which worked out well. I ended up with two slots, the 4th in the first half and 2nd in the second half. This can be a challenging venue, due to a mix of very experienced and many very new dancers.

I’d prepared 4 new-to-me dances, based on fit with my colleagues’ selections and a range of difficulty:

  • Small Potatoes – Jim Kitch
  • Cal and Irene – Dan Pearl
  • Another Flirty Attempt – Marian Hepburn
  • A Rare Bird – Bob Isaacs, var: Lisa Greenleaf

The evening started with a very small crowd. My predecessors called some foundational dictionary dances and a mixer. When I got up for my first slot, we still had a small, mostly experienced crowd with some newly adept beginners. So I selected Another Flirty Attempt, which built on all the prior moves and added a (full) hey into the mix for the first time. I’d got 3/4 of the way through the walk-through when one dancer asserted their group needed to be caught up. As the rest of the hall was in position through the B1, I offered that we would do a second walk-through to do so. They insisted again, and I offered once more. The venue was small enough that their repeated assertions disrupted anything else I could think to do. During this exchange, a bus load (literally, of college students) had entered and started to tack on to the lines, nearly doubling the crowd. So I decided to roll back and start over with another dance with basic moves, Small Potatoes, which went smoothly despite the band having kindly tailored their music to my first selection (BTW, Forks of Nature is great). My colleagues agreed I’d done all that could be done and I sincerely hope that was true.

Additional folks continued to arrive through the break, so I chose to forego the other dances I’d prepared and bring out a failsafe for my second slot: Get Me Going. The band again tailored their music selection and this time we stayed aligned for a very enjoyable dance.

Let’s just say I continue to get a lot of great practice from these experiences — and the good news is, I was invited back yet again.

9/5/11: Shared calling gig for the Concord Scout House Monday Contras series. I coordinated the program with Dereck Kalish, Jeff Kaufman and Andrew Stout, working with the band Forks of Nature plus Jack O’Connor. We each called three dances, which we programmed via a shared Google Docs spreadsheet.

I prepared several new to me (and totally new) dances for this event, and one of my own dance variations as well. The evening went great, and I ended up calling Broken Transcription (my dance based on Broken Sixpence by Don Armstrong), Redbeard Reel (a new dance by Bob Isaacs written as a contribution to the Concord Scout House benefit auction) and A Rare Bird (Bob Isaacs, var. by Lisa Greenleaf).

All my dances went well, but I observed a small number of dancers having difficulty with the A1-A2 parts of Rare Bird. It was one of those alignments of less experienced dancers arriving in the same foursome at the same time well along in the dance. So I started calling again to keep things on track and moving, and after a cycle or two that alignment of the planets cleared itself and all was well. Just more experience of what happens and what to do!

Next goal: call a full evening’s program at a regional dance. DONE!

12/17/11: My first solo gig, at the Northboro contra dance. A fun challenge, which went great.

I had planned a program of more basic, very connected dances based upon the crowd I was expecting. It turned out that we had zero newbies and kept most of the crowd from the start right through to the end, which made me want to stretch the material in the second half. I ended up pulling up a few cards I’d prepped for another venue, and modified a bit for better connection/orientation (eg: in A Rare Bird making the pass bys into pull-bys, gypsy to allemande, etc.) and all went well.

To the best of my recollection, my program was:

  • Alamo Intro – Circle – Al Green
  • Get Me Going – DI – Lisa Greenleaf
  • Broken Transcription – DI – Don Veino (yet another variant on Broken Sixpence)
  • Polymorphous’ Reel – DI – Christine Hale (dance written & named in honor of the prior incarnation of the band – requested by the organizer)
  • You’re Among Friends – DI – Bob Isaacs
  • Butter – Becket – Gene Hubert (my video of this night’s walk-through and dance at http://youtu.be/pqSoOvu2wI0 )

–Break–

  • Nail That Catfish To The Tree – DI – Walter Davies [+Bob Dalsemer] (unfortunately, the eponymous tune was not in the band’s portfolio)
  • Special Delivery – Becket – Nell Wright
  • Redbeard Reel – Becket – Bob Isaacs (written for dancers that were present)
  • A Rare Bird – DI – Bob Isaacs, var: Lisa Greenleaf, plus mods on the fly by me
  • The Big Easy – DI – Becky Hill

I had two points of trickiness in my teaching. In Special Delivery, my prep notes were unclear about whether the B2 L Chain was across or on diagonal. I taught it straight across then figured it out in the walkthrough it was diagonal. In Rare Bird, I had not refined my language enough in prep to clearly describe the current N pull by coming out of the LH Star at the bottom of the B2, resulting in me having to talk more than I planned and run through a second time to get it across. I now have better card notes for both.

I got a bunch of tips and info from the SharedWeight callers list, and put a bunch of it to good use – hope to apply more soon. I got good feedback from several dancers, had fun with the band, and the organizer was very happy (and invited me back).

4/28/12: Second solo gig, at the Northboro contra dance with the new band Firefly (they were great!). Went great overall. To the best of my recollection, my program included the following new-to-me dances along with a mix of previously called dances:

  • The Raeden Reel – Bob Isaacs
  • Winter in Summerland – Jeff Spero
  • Back Road to Bolton – Lisa Greenleaf
  • Sweet Music – Amy Kahn
  • Amy’s Harmonium – Cary Ravitz

At the request of the organizer, I also gave a guest caller (Charlie Moquin-Miller) the opportunity to call a dance. I’d recommended he prepare The Baby Rose (David Kaynor) and Butter (Gene Hubert) using a charted calls source. He did so well on the first go that I had him do the second one in the last half.

A video from the evening is posted on YouTube, showing The Raeden Reel, which was composed in honor of my daughter.

6/18/12: Led a shared caller showcase at the Concord Scout House Monday Contras series, with my peers Heather Carmichael and Don Heinold. My dance choices were:

  • Jefferson and Liberty – Trad.
  • Further and More – Lisa Greenleaf
  • Special Delivery – Nell Wright
  • The Tropical Gentleman – Kathy Anderson

All went well except for my instruction on The Tropical Gentleman. The B1 of the dance has some great but fast paced and unusual (for contra dance) motions. I should have done a demo of that part in the first walk-through, instead of trying to describe it solely. In all honesty, I’d crafted my actual calls for this dance but not completed my instruction planning before my slot came up. I’d nearly changed my dance selection to something more straightforward and probably should have done so, instead of driving forward with this dance. The dancers really enjoyed the dance and my actual calling went smoothly after the over-long walk-through. I got comments about my call timing being right-on. More learning!

Next goal: call a full evening’s program at a major venue.

9/3/12: My first solo calling evening at the famous Concord Scout House, at the Monday Contras series. I’ve covered this gig in a separate post.

Coming up 11/24/12: Calling the Gardner contra dance, with The No Name Band.

Coming up 11/26/12: Concord Scout House Monday Contras series.

Coming up 3/23/13: Calling the Parish Center for the Arts contra dance in Westford, MA with the OH, CONTRAire! band.

Coming up 5/18/13: Calling the Northboro contra dance with the band Jump Start (whose members are all dance friends of ours). Fun expected!

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