by Andy Bettis
A while ago I was asked for some advice on leading dances that spiral in and out again. As my reply seemed to be of some help I thought I'd pass it on to a wider audience, along with some other points that I remembered later. Here, then, is my Beginner's Guide to the Spiral:
Choose your dance well. Ideally (at least for beginners) it should progress a good distance in one direction and have very little 'in and out' motion. Simplicity is also a big advantage, the process of following a labyrinthine path is much more powerful if people don't have to think (too much) about what their feet are doing.
Make sure your music is long enough to get in and out again. If it's too short copy it twice (or more, if required) on a tape rather than having to break the circle to rewind or reset it. Getting the right length for a given dance and group size is tricky and is best done by experience, although even then it mostly comes down to guesswork. Depending on the dance step you might be able to use some simple figures at the end in case there's lots of music left after returning to the circle - changing the dance direction or going in and out together for example.
Don't have anything in the centre. This may sound obvious but I've seen lots of groups spiral in towards a candle or other centre piece. Even if it doesn't get knocked over people will be worrying about it and will be distracted at the most powerful point in the dance. On a deeper level having a central focus can represent a 'goal' to be reached, rather than moving inwards into the unknown.
There are two points that I ask dancers to pay particular attention to in a spiral - keeping up and not straying. By 'keeping up' I mean paying attention to the neighbour on the 'leading' side and adjusting their step to stay comfortably close to them, rather then waiting to be pulled along. This is especially common when people are moving from the initial circle onto the spiralling path. 'Straying' is when dancers don't follow the path of the person in front, either by 'cutting the corner off' or exaggerating a tight turn. Either of these causes the flow of the pattern to be interrupted as dancers bunch up or stretch out, distracting them from the ritual form. Pointing these things out in advance can help people spot problems developing and take care of themselves without waiting for 'teacher'.
Of course you can help avoid (or at least minimise) these problems by leading the line along a smooth and even path. Remember that you have more freedom of movement than the other dancers and that people coming after you into the centre will have both the inward and outward lines to cope with.
Start in a circle with an experienced dancer on your right (assuming the dance moves to the right) who knows what's going to happen. Let the group get comfortable with the steps before releasing your right hand and starting to move inwards.
Spiral in gradually, so long as you're not actually stepping on the toes of the people behind you there should be enough room to come back out again. As a spiral develops the outermost dancers tend to drift away from the centre so you will probably find more room than you expect on the way out. If you're using a dance that has some 'in and out' motion of its own give yourself a lot more room, remember that you'll end up with two lines of people, back to back, both stepping backwards.
When and how to turn in the centre are the trickiest parts of leading a spiral, however if you know what to do then you turn when there's enough room left to do it. I know this sounds silly but maybe explaining the 'how' might shed some more light on it...
You need to remember to turn into the dance rather than out from it. If you think of turning to face your neighbour and then moving along the line this gives the general idea, although in practice this might be too sharp a turn and the first person you end up face-to-face with might be the third or fourth in the line. Imagine making an 'S' shape across the centre of the circle, having turned to face your neighbours you gently turn to face outwards (remember that turning inwards puts less strain on your arms than turning outwards, so the second half of the 'S' will be bigger than the first).
So you turn when there's still room to make the 'S' in the centre! If you can try walking this through with some friends before the Big Day it will help a lot, I promise.
Having reached the centre and faced the Minotaur/contacted the higher (or lower) level/gone through the transformation (or however you like to think about it) you now have to guide the dancers out again. In a lot of ways this is more difficult than going in - any direction will lead away from 'home' but only one will bring you back! It is important to be a true leader at this point, to neither drag people along your path or be uncertain and leave them 'lost', but instead give a steady hand that they can rely on.
If your spiral has become too tight in the middle it can be easier to just walk (in rhythm) until you get enough room to return to the dance step. As with all stages of a spiral it is important to keep moving and avoid build-ups or bottlenecks in the line.
On the way out don't worry about making eye contact with everybody (but don't actively avoid it!) as people going into the spiral may be in a very different frame of mind than those coming out.
When you reach the outside again continue for a while after passing the last person in the line, then turn inwards again and lead the line back into a circle. I find it helps to make my steps smaller at this point so that the line can fully unwind and there's no overlap (arms often get stretched during the spiral). If the end of the line does overlap just carry on with smaller and smaller steps until the last dancer passes you, then take their hand.
Try to finish up back in a circle, this gives everyone the experience of entering and leaving the labyrinth. If you do end up in a coil when the music finishes lead the group out by walking the spiral, preferably in silence.
Finally, put all of this advice aside and follow your heart.