New Zealand / Australia Diary
Friday 27 April 2012


With the weekend fast approaching it was time to do some preparation work. I'd been mulling over ideas for my two workshops but hadn't yet done anything about the Saturday evening live music session, a monthly event run by the Folk Federation of Tasmania at which Xenos would be playing and I would be the special guest teacher. So after another leisurely breakfast I set off to walk across Taroona and meet up with Anne & Rob.

Taroona, a southern suburb of Hobart, lies on the slopes between the Derwent estuary and "the forested foothills of Mount Nelson" so as I walked along I was treated to views of the wide, smooth river on my left and steep, wooded slopes on my right, both sides dotted with (to my eyes) relatively modern looking houses. The road was quite quiet with as many lycra-clad cyclists as cars while the river had a scattering of dinghies & yachts with larger commercial vessels coming & going in the middle of the channel.

Arriving at Chez Xenos I spent a good while just catching up with Anne & Rob. It had been over ten years since I'd met up with them in person (as with most of my Australian friends) and although we'd been in fairly regular email contact since then it's not the same. News was exchanged, lifestyle changes commented upon, old pictures dug out (in digital form, of course) and a satisfying amount of lunch was partaken of before we moved on the the Serious Business of looking at a set list for the gig on Saturday.


As a British-based circle dance teacher I don't get that much opportunity to teach (or even dance) with live music and when I am working with musicians it's usually a case of looking through their repertoire and choosing from within it. So it's quite a change around to work with a band who start off asking what I'd like to do, with the (usually accurate) assumption that they'll know a tune that will go with any dance I come up with. And a bit scary too - sometimes limited choice makes it much easier to narrow down a evening's worth of dances. Faced with a daunting blank sheet we ended up looking at the set list from the last Folk Federation evening that they'd played at and used it as a prompt sheet to come up with ideas & suggestions.

The set list provided another surprise - thirteen dances in the first half of the evening and around the same number in the second. I'd not enquired too closely into the format of the event (especially when I'd been repeatedly assured that it would all be easy & casual) and had imagined it would be a couple of hours with maybe six or seven dances in each half. Turns out the evening normally kicks off at 7:30 and carries on until around 11:30 with just a single break halfway through for tea & nibbles. Oh well, sometimes you have to just go with the flow. I can normally keep going for lengthy dance sessions (in fact I was notorious for it with my Late Night Rom events) and I had a free morning on Sunday so I figured I'd manage one way or another.


After not too long we had assembled two lists, one with a (fairly) fixed set of tunes for the first half of the evening and another with a collection of 'possibles' that we could choose between for the second half. Apparently it was common for a lot of the dancers to leave during the break and so a more flexible approach was needed for the remaining, smaller group. We had enough tunes to carry on until the small hours (something we were all keen to avoid) and Anne was happy to teach the few I didn't know so it felt like we were well prepared.

Of course this was all on a theoretical level. A few pieces had been hummed to establish that we were talking about the same thing but generally we were working on the assumption that we had enough shared repertoire or experience to plan things on paper. Some rehearsal time would establish just how reliable an assumption that was...

We were joined by Alistair, a tall, thin, sometimes fiercely intense young man who would be playing accordion with the band. After greetings, introductions and settling in various instruments were unpacked, tuned & prepared and we began to work our way down the list (in the vaguest & least systematic way possible) to see how it would actually fit together.

It's such a joy to work with musicians who really know their stuff. In most cases we'd just go through something long enough to establish the tempo & feel so I could decide which dance would go with it but sometimes the band would go on for a while and I would wallow in the glorious sound. As the day wore on my contributions became fewer and fewer as the focus shifted towards the musical arrangements & interactions and eventually I found myself becoming more of a small, lucky audience at a very select performance. Good times.

After supper I realised that the combination of small, powerful cups of coffee and small, powerful glasses of clear, fierce (in a very nice way) rum was starting to get to me so I gathered my bits & bobs (including my copy of the all-important list) and made my farewells. A lift home was (repeatedly) offered but I felt that a walk home would be good for my system, which turned out to be the right decision. Arriving home I caught up with Peter & Krista and sorted out plans and schedules for the next day before retreating to my bed. A very full day of dance awaited me.

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