Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Weekend in the mountains

We had a good time this past weekend in McCall and Cascade. The Girl Scout's 'Thinking Day' event in McCall went well. About 30-40 girls and their parents took part. Each troop did a presentation on a country they'd chosen. Egypt and France were popular for some reason. Then hubby and the other musicians played for the dances Denise and I taught. I think we each did two. I taught Reel for Jeannie and Canadian Barn Dance. It went much better than I expected, and the girls picked it up pretty quickly.

Then we had to pack up the band and drive back down to Cascade to set up in the American Legion hall before 6pm. It didn't take as long as we thought it would, so we ended up having lots of time to chat over dinner. The band's membership has changed a lot in the past year, so they aren't sure anymore what to call themselves. They were going by The Bru, but recently we've been talking about finding another name.

The event in Cascade was a contra-dance. Denise taught more than I did, it being a Contra dance, but I did Reel for Jeannie and Canadian Barn Dance to give her a break from talking and shepherding :-). Most of the people there are beginners, so it's a lot of effort to get them all going in the same direction. It was fun though, and I had a lot of good comments on my teaching afterwards. That was nice to hear, since I'm usually pretty hard on myself.

After the dance, we all went back to Stacy's house. The musicians stayed up jamming until around 3am. I think I went to bed around 1am.

Anyway, we got home Sunday in the late afternoon. They had six inches of snow on Friday night up in McCall, and it was snowing on Saturday morning in Cascade. But Boise was almost Spring-like. I came home to find that some of my crocus were in bloom, as well as my tiny little witchhazel shrub. I'm so pleased it made it through the winter. Hopefully this year it will bulk-up a bit more. Lots of gardening work to do in the next few months, once the weather warms up a bit more.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Scottish Dance History (part 1)

I found Scottish Country Dancing at the local Mall, during the Christmas holidays. I was there with my roommate, doing some Christmas shopping. We were walking along on the second level and I saw these people wearing kilts in one of the open areas downstairs. So I stopped to watch. They were playing Scottish music, and one of the men was talking about some kind of dancing. The women were wearing white dresses and there were four men in kilts. Some were my age! The dancing looked really fun! I was just out of college and missing that built-in social circle. I wanted some kind of activity that got me out to meet new people. So when they mentioned where they danced and that a new class would start in January, I resolved to go.

I did my first SCD demonstration in 1981, less than a year after I started dancing in January 1981. Our class, taught by Robb Quint, did a performance for some kind of Celtic event at the local Catholic church. I remember it was spring, and raining. We danced “Wild Geese”. I even wrote a poem about it.

I was really crazy about SCD when I first started. I had lots of romantic ideas about Scotland, and how my friends and I were living in some kind of parallel world, connecting our ancestral past to the present with Scottish dance. I read straight through two or three histories of Scotland, the complete works of Robert Burns and The Scots Quair within the first year. I loved the idea that being partly of Scottish descent, I was following my heritage by doing SCD. I wasn’t the only dancer to feel that way of course. It didn’t take long to find a circle of young dancing friends that I spent nearly all my free time with. We practiced our Scottish brogues, researched historic dress, clan tartans, and Celtic history, wrote poetry, took up drinking tea, and looked everywhere for things with Celtic interlace designs on them. One of my friends, Marty, taught himself to make kilts and play the piano and accordion for dancing. We drove miles to various dance classes all over the greater Los Angeles area. I went to SCD classes four or five nights a week, including a 3-hour ‘advanced’ class on Saturdays, taught by Jimmy Lomath, that was two hours away. Six months after starting SCD, I also started Irish dance. Then about a year later I started learning Highland dance as well. At one point I was going to SCD twice a week, Highland twice a month, Irish dance and western-style fencing class on the same night, and aerobics at the gym once or twice a week. Ah, to be 20-something again.

We went to any Highland Games in California that we could drive to – Santa Rosa (now Pleasanton), Costa Mesa, Monterey, Chico, and others, as well as the Irish Fair in Northridge, which invited Scottish Dancers to demo and had Highland Dance competitions. I saw the Chieftains there once, as well as the Brown Sisters when they were just starting out. I think my last Highland Dance competition was at the Monterey Games. I just couldn’t keep both Irish and Highland at competition level, and when I had to choose, I found Irish more fun.

Sometime in the year or two after that first 1981 demo, the group of dancers I hung out with started a demo group. We called ourselves Flash of Tartan. Marty Morrisey, John Sawyer, Kathleen, Delphine, me, Melissa Fox, and maybe a few others I don’t remember because they didn’t last long. We were young, prided ourselves on good technique, and felt the other local SCD demo teams were pretty stuffy and boring. We wanted to get away from the overwhelming use of RSCDS-only dances for demos, and choreograph our own, more challenging things, with added Highland steps. I remember one local SCD teacher who refused to even cut the dances down to four times through for demos, because that would be altering the dance as written (feel free to roll your eyes here).

We also didn’t like the traditional white dress for women. So we went with the Highland Nationals costume – tartan plaid gathered skirt and arasaid, and a white peasant blouse. We couldn’t quite afford bodices, and no one could agree on the pattern anyway. Marty and John made military-style velveteen jackets, Prince Charlies. Very nice if you have the shape for it. We did a few performances, but it was hard to get the word out on our limited budgets. One I recall best was at the Thousand Oaks Jazz Festival. We even got our picture in the next month’s Sunset magazine. I kept that issue for a while, but I’m not sure I have it anymore after two moves overseas and back.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Banner Ridge II

Whew! Went snowshoeing again yesterday. Sunnier, warmer, and obviously more people had been on the trails recently than last time. There hasn't been a lot of new snow recently, so the trees were mostly bare and high-traffic areas were crusted over. It's a harder to walk on a crusted broken surface than deep powder in snowshoes. Your feet slip around on the snowshoe and you can't always break through the crust to make a level surface on each step.

We went to the same parking area on Banner Ridge but took different trails, Elkhorn and Twister. Have to say I enjoyed the ridge trail, the one we did last time, more. That took you up to a nice viewpoint and then along the ridge. This was fun though, in that we went off-trail more and got to wade through some deep snow. We found a hillside where we could sit in the sun and eat our lunch; potato-rosemary bread, Capitool Pyrenees sheep cheese, and a little bottle of merlot. Amazing how good food can be when you've been working hard outside in cold air.

I rented a different kind of snowshoes this time, Atlas. They were an aluminum tube with plastic webbing in the middle. Reminded me of a catamaran. They had spurs on the bottom for grip, which was a big help. Sort of like the running shoe of snowshoes. The bindings were great, held perfectly with no slipping. Ken wasn't so lucky. Halfway through our hike the toe binding on one of his broke, so he had to use a piece of rope. Always bring rope when you're snowshoeing. Wading back through the deep snow without snowshoes from where we were then would have taken hours.

On the other hand, the ones I wore did NOT float over the snow nearly as well as Ken's. Mostly because they were smaller and narrower. So in some areas he was walking over the surface while I was breaking through on every step, like walking uphill in deep sand. Still, I could run better. That was fun. It's like I imagine running on the moon would be. You take giant strides, but you can't feel your feet impacting the ground. They just sink into the snow and slow down until you take another step.

My legs are more sore this time than they were last time, but the aches are where they should be, so that's ok. I didn't get any weird pains around my knees because of strain or walking badly. That's the skill in snowshoeing (if there is one) - you have to train yourself to walk as normally as possible. It's tempting to walk with your knees pointed out, your legs wide apart, or some other strange ways, but eventually odd muscles in isolated parts of your hips or legs start to complain. Sooner or later you get tired enough that you begin to walk almost as you would without snowshoes on, and things get much easier.

Next weekend we have two music gigs, in Cascade and McCall. One is a Girl Scout thing, they want to learn some Scottish dances for their International Day. The other is an contra dance at a hall in Cascade. Then we'll stay over with some fiddle friends. Most of the band will be there too, so there'll be a jam most of the night.

Today is a holiday from work, so I'll be doing some chores around the house, and perhaps heading off to the Mall or bookstore later. Happy Pres. Day everyone!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

SCD Teaching

We started up Scottish Country Dance classes last Monday, the 4th. Last night I taught the whole evening, as my co-teacher had another commitment. It was great to have two full sets in class, and we had three new beginners return! We seem to be hanging on to more of our beginners lately. I'm really excited about that. Brand new beginners see slightly more advanced beginners sticking with it and feel they can do it too. And the likelihood that new people will find friends in class increases as the amount of people in class grows. The social aspect of a SCD class is very important in holding onto dancers. There are so many other things people could be doing. A weekly commitment to SCD class is a big chunk of free time. It needs to be worthwhile in some way, or folks will quit coming.

Six of us are going to a workshop and ball in Portland, OR, early in March. I think a few others are planning to go to a workshop and ball in New York later in Spring. So my co-teacher and I are using dances from those two programs as our dances for the first half of the year. When the Asilomar program comes out we'll start using those as well. Workshops and Balls are great social occasions. You meet new people who become friends, you experience new teachers, and you have lots of fun learning about SCD dancing. All of this helps with retention of dancers back in their home classes.

I really want to help my dancers improve their dance technique. As always, most people can do a reasonable version of the steps when we're doing step practice. But as soon as some of them get into a dance, much of their step accuracy goes out the window. I see all kinds of things - skipping, walking, hopping on the wrong beat, running, pushing, scrambling even - instead of the steps. And then there are all the other aspects of good dance technique, such as posture, musical phrasing, giving hands, and eye contact, that aren't always there either.

All of these things can add a lot of enjoyment to dancing by increasing the positive social contact during a dance. The least obvious thing is the dance steps, and yet they really are a basic building block. The ability to do the steps in even a basic way ensures you are moving rhythmically with other dancers, instead of at odds with them. It makes it easier to get through the more difficult partnered figures. It increases your efficiency of movement, so you can travel the distances needed without scrambling, or worse, getting there too early.

There are various things a teacher can do to help dancers work on all of these parts of good technique, and for some people it works pretty well. But what it really takes, and I've seen this in myself and all of our more experienced dancers, is the personal realization that doing the steps well helps you cooperate better with other dancers, you get more relaxed because you're in the right place at the right time, and then other people start to treat you as if you're truly a dancer, rather then just a beginner.

That last bit is probably the most important. People don't enjoy feeling like a burden to their partners. The social acceptance factor (peer pressure) becomes important to the individual dancer, and the positive social feedback as they improve their dancing feels good. People start asking you to dance more often. Once that happens, most SCD dancers are on the road to improving their steps and other technique because they want to, not because their teachers are always nagging them.

The difficult part is reaching that point! Giving new dancers the opportunity to find out they DO want to be a good dancer that lots of people (strangers even!) enjoy dancing with really helps. Once the social acceptance becomes important to them, they're hooked.

Workshops and balls are a good way to do this. At a ball you see people dancing in a purely social atmosphere, rather than class. You can compare the better dancers with those who are obviously new. Some of these social lessons aren't so fun, because newer dancers sometimes find it more difficult to ask others to dance, and more experienced dancers aren't always good about asking beginners. But beginners soon start to notice how much fun it is to dance in a set with truly good dancers. And by that I mean the ones who make an effort to be helpful and work as a team in the set, without being condescending, or even rude, to less experienced dancers. Those people are the ones I want my new dancers to get exposure to. The rude ones are another kind of object lesson, unfortunately.

The hard part for a teacher is getting dancers ready to attend a workshop. There is a certain amount of basic competency required to attend one, and that's where a teacher and a class with friendly, experienced dancers comes in.

So I have a lot of work to do. There's only next week to teach before the Portland workshop. But other things are coming up that my dancers may want to attend. So I need to keep that in mind - maybe I can get a few more new dancers hooked!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Morning After

Wow! We went to the Canyon County Democratic caucus last night. What an amazing difference. The lines went out the door and around buildings. It was incredible! Who knew there were that many democrats in Canyon County of all places! My sister and I went to our Congressional District 1 in 2004. I think there were around 400 people there. This year, Brenda went to the Ada Co. one (it went by county this time). There were 8,290 votes cast in Ada, and 1,635 in Canyon, the reddest county in the reddest state. What a difference a visit from Obama made! The majority of delegates in both went to Obama, 80% and 76% respectively. A record turnout everywhere, and very heartwarming to see.

I have pictures, but they're on my phone, and I'm not sure I have the cables to send them to my PC. Have to figures that one out. But if you're interested, have a look at the photo gallery at http://www.idahostatesman.com/397/gallery/286670.html

We have yet to see if Obama will be our candidate, but it's looking better. All that, and 3" of snow last night that I don't have to drive in!