I recently became a dance caller and I was telling people how much I hated calling dances. I told them I would much rather be dancing than calling. I hated the pressure of being up there, the pressure of being responsible. I hated the many days of worry before, and the tension on the day of the dance: setting up the hall, the band, the refreshments. I hated it.
But people kept quoting me back to me. Didn't I say that I wanted to call more dances. Didn't I say that I was doing all this because I wanted to become a better dance caller? And then they would tell me that it is clear that I love to call since I went to all the trouble of creating these dances to give myself a chance to call more.
For awhile I could not stand the situation I kept putting myself into -- I kept arguing with other people about how I felt. How stupid could I be, arguing with other people about how I felt. But I argued with them because real life is never as simple as all I've said so far. Much more was going on -- much, much more that even I was not fully aware of.
Part of the reason I hated calling dances was, as I explained earlier, the pressure. I wasn't yet good at it. Yes, my dance calling was clear and I did many things right. But I was tense -- tense all of the time -- and what I transmitted to the dancers was tension. I meant well -- I wanted them to have a good time -- but what they sensed, sensed deep down -- is that I was very tense. They could not relax, they were not totally at ease. After all, the man in charge of them was a nervous wreck.
No wonder I hated calling. One of my main motives for starting my dance series was to give people another evening's worth of fun, and what I was doing was making people tense. No wonder I grew to hate calling.
Just as I was arguing vehemently, with others, about how much I hated to call -- foolishly arguing about how I knew how I felt -- I no longer felt the way I said I felt. Just recently I called a dance in Grand Rapids. I had a wonderful time; I did a beautiful job. I was relaxed, in control. I explained well, called well: I had a heck of a good time and so did all of them.
Is there a point to all this? Yes. To the extent that we are mortals, we will change our minds. I once hated calling; I now love calling -- especially when someone else sets up the hall, gets the refreshments, etc. In "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock," T.S. Eliot wrote: in a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Another lesson I learned is that what you learn to do well you learn to love to do.
A crisis -- a crisis in calling. This is too tough -- if I'm going to do it well. I am going to have to pay a lot of attention the music, the way a break is called in a square....
But that is not all. I have a hall to pay for, a band to hire, advertising to put out for a dance, and, and why am I doing all this?
My initial motives were pure. I wanted to offer people other evenings when they could dance to live music, and I wanted to become a better caller.
But I hate the pressure of calling. I hate performing and I hate spectating. I love participating. I love to dance, to play tennis -- to move my body vigorously -- and I don't get to move my body at all when I call a dance.
Why am I doing this to myself? In public, I am a perfectionist: I will not stand up and perform unrehearsed. I am petrified of performances -- and I have been in clogging groups that perform, and Folk dance groups that perform, and Scottish, and Morris -- but I am gradually dropping out of all performing groups. I am not into dance to be seen, to be complimented. I want to dance my brains out. I will help you organize the dance, but when dance time comes all I really want to do is dance.
Why am I doing this to myself? I have already encountered hostility from several members of the dance group I belong to. They see me as someone who relies on their membership to make my dances a success -- and they fear competition.
Of course many people are supportive -- want me to offer the community another night of dancing -- but I hate the pressure of performing -- and suddenly I see how woefully inadequate I am to truly deliver the goods -- to make the dancers have a fun evening of dancing.
I have lost my temper when they haven't danced the way I wanted them to. No, I haven't yelled at them, but as my son once said, I firm voiced them: I forcefully repeated & repeated "Allemande right, your right, your right, your right."
I have lost my cool, and it is no excuse that it was late in the evening. Why am I doing all this to myself?
The praise I will receive, already do receive, when I call well? Of course I love it when I get it. Of course it makes me feel good, but I get lots of positive strokes from other things I already do well -- teaching, playing tennis, dancing -- and I love to dance. I will dance all night long, have danced all night long many nights.
So why am I doing this to myself? I said I am a perfectionist in public. I don't like to goof; I don't like to look like a fool. I don't want to deliver an evening of bad dances.
And I answered myself. I am able to deliver an evening's worth of good dances to many people -- and there is a need for that in my city. Dancers are hungry, and the level of the beginning dancers has remained too low for too long, and some callers are not teaching the dances as quickly as they could teach them.
Do we ever know why we do what we do? Of course not. I am lying to myself -- and to all of you. The question remains -- and will for awhile remain --Why am I doing this to myself?
Copyright © 2001 Henry Morgenstein