The Beginner's Catechism


Answers to Questions Frequently Asked by First-Timers

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What in the world is going on here?

This is one of the regular sessions of the MIT Folk Dance Club, and these people are folkdancing. You can do it too. Please read on.

How do people know what to do with their feet?

Many of them don't. The rest know this particular dance and are doing its steps.

What do you mean by ``this particular dance?''

The dance that belongs with the song now playing. Each dance is about three minutes long and has its own name, music, and steps. So everyone in the room is theoretically doing the same thing at any one time. In the course of an evening of folkdancing we play about sixty different dances.

How does anybody learn sixty different dances?

It's much easier than it sounds---you could learn a dozen dances tonight! The dances are built out of a few basic steps and everything repeats several times during the music. By the way, no one knows all the dances we play; if you did every dance, you wouldn't have time to meet people and socialize and make friends.

OK, how do I learn a dance?

There are two ways. First of all, we teach dances at every session: Somebody stops everything, asks people to make a big circle, and shows the dance step by step. Every night we teach two or three dances. On Beginners' Night we teach more like eight. So get in the circle and pay attention to the teacher. (If you don't feel like learning the dance, we beseech you to be as quiet as possible.) Every dance taught will be played again later the same evening and most will be reviewed the next week.

So what's the second way of learning a dance?

By watching. During the early part of the night (and throughout Beginners' Night) dances are easy enough that you can pick up the pattern without being taught. You will see lots of people standing behind the lines of dancers, following along and learning the dance. Just try not to interfere with the people who know the dance. Be sure to find somebody knowledgeable to watch; they tend to hang out at the front of the line. Conscientious experienced dancers will be happy to dance next to you and talk you through dances as they are played, especially on Beginners' Night. (Another flyer presents more folkdance rules of the road; look on the checker's table.)

Can I just do that all night, even past the teaching time?

Absolutely. There's just one catch: as the night goes on, the dances get harder. On Beginner's Night this isn't so true, but on other nights the level progresses toward fast, complex, or otherwise tricky dances. Don't worry---you'll be doing them soon, since you'll get the feel of how to pick up harder dances. Don't be too quick to leave, either. There's always something for you to try, and it's fun to watch.

What if I want more teaching?

Most of our folkdance evenings are preceded by early teaching, a half-hour session of nothing but teaching; these sessions are typically aimed at beginners. There are also lots of other folkdance sessions around the city, some intended primarily for beginners. Check out the myriads of flyers that we always have available or ask somebody official-looking for suggestions.

How do I know when any particular dance is coming up?

In the corner of the room you will find a blackboard with people clustered about it. This blackboard is the medium of communication between the dancers and the programmer, that much-hassled person who picks the dances done each evening. On one side of the blackboard the programmer talks to you. He or she writes the names of the dances that we're going to do, trying to keep half a dozen dances ahead of the game. The other side of the blackboard is for requests: People write the names of dances they want to do, and the programmer works in as many as possible.

What about couple dances?

What about them? When a couple dance is taught or danced and you want to try it, you need a partner. To get one, proceed toward a likely looking person (men or women can do the asking, by the way) and choose from the following: ``Want to learn this?'' ``Do you know this one?'' ``Do you have a partner?'' ``Would you like to try it?'' After the dance, you can continue with ``What's your major?'' or whatever. You couldn't be any worse at it than is the author of this incomparable document.

What if I hate it?

Impossible. Anyway, if there's something you think is particularly bad (or good!) be sure to write a comment in the comment book on the checker's table. We need input from beginners desperately; we already know what the old-timers think.

What do I do next week?

That's easy: come back! Next week some different dances will be played, but many will be the same. That way you can practice what you know and learn some new ones. Or you can come just because there are a lot of people having a good time. Either way, it's a pretty good evening for a quarter.

Copyright (C) 1990 Larry Denenberg

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