New Zealand / Australia Diary
Saturday 28 April 2012

Dancing at Hobart

Saturday was to be a full working day for me - my Balkan dance workshop in the afternoon then teaching for the monthly Folk Federation dance in the evening where there would be live music from Xenos. My original plan had been to pop into Hobart in the morning to visit Salamanca Market (an amazing collection of art & craft stalls) but in the cold light of morning it seemed like a much better idea to stay home and do some organising work. Just as well I did - the inevitable list of a million and one things to do before the workshop started soaked up the time and before I knew it we were in the car and on our way to the hall.

I'd danced in the hall on Thursday evening at the weekly Hobart circle dance evening so I didn't have to worry about what I'd find there. I've had some 'interesting' experiences in the past where I've arrived at a new hall to find a newly laid carpet, or freezing/roasting temperatures and an incomprehensible (or unlocatable) heating system, or birds flying around inside, or the only power socket two rooms away, or a variety of other challenges to be faced. No such trouble here - the hall was large, airy, and had ample seating and places for people to plonk their stuff.

The only potential problem was with the sound system. The group had tried out a new replacement system on Thursday evening and it had sounded slightly underpowered for the size of the room to me. I'd talked about this with Peter and he'd brought along their older system, it had been having problems with its CD player but as I was using my trusty iPod I didn't think this would be a problem. When I tried it out it worked fine but I could hear that the bare brick walls were echoing the sound back and making it a bit hard to pick out the rhythm at times. Still, it was loud enough and easy to operate so I figured all would be OK.

The workshop had been billed as "General Circle and Simple Balkan Dances" but I knew that several of the participants were quite experienced dancers so I wanted to give them something they could get their teeth (or at least their feet) into. When I'm planning a workshop I usually end up with a list of 'possibles' that I choose between depending on how the group is coping, for this one my list was about four times as long as would fit into the time available which was good in that I had lots of options but not so good in that I had a bit too much choice at times. But once we got underway things settled down, each dance seemed to lead to an obvious one to follow it and as I was repeating each one (and would repeat them all in the last hour) the time was quickly filled. I often fall into the trap of trying to cram too many dances into a session but this time I managed to curb my enthusiasm and we finished pretty much exactly on time.

There's no way out from one of my workshops!

As we went through the final set of repeats I was feeling a bit concerned with how the workshop had gone. I'd not managed to find a volume level & tone selection that had overcome the 'echoey walls' and a couple of the tracks had been quite difficult to hear clearly and to dance to. And I was still fretting about whether my dance selection had been quite right, there hadn't been many cases of people sitting dances out but quite a few of the participants had struggled with some of the rhythms & step combinations. But it all came well in the end, the group moved with smooth ease (and a dash of style) through the dances and there were lots of grins & contented smiles as we worked our way down the dance list. Very satisfying. I got lots of very positive & enthusiastic feedback afterwards so I suspect I was just worrying too much, not a first for me.

Between the end of the workshop and the start of the evening's dancing there was a two hour break to get some supper, which was more like 90 minutes after allowing for packing things away, clearing up and the inevitable chatting. Coming out of the hall the temperature had dropped sharply and there was drizzly rain in the air, I wrapped myself in jumper & jacket (I didn't think I'd need both of these in Australia!) as we drove into town to the little Thai restaurant where we'd decided to eat. The restaurant turned out to be upstairs (my legs registered every step on the way up) and was cosy & friendly, the food was excellent and arrived fairly quickly. There were some alarming thundery noises from outside as we ate but when we emerged the storm had passed, leaving just wet pavements and some light rain. We drove around the block and came to Wesley Hall, the venue for the dancing, at just about the time it was due to start.

I came in to find Anne & Rob all set up but waiting for Alistair who was nowhere to be found. A little, slightly nervous, discussion on what sort of repertoire was possible with just the two of them was getting started when the Wandering Accordionist turned up, all smiles and (almost) ready to go. A quick chat with Anne confirmed that we were sticking to the first half list that we'd drawn up on Friday, then Dave (the evening's organiser) pointedly suggested that it was time to get going and the music started.

The stage for the Xenos gig. Note - there's still no escape!

As Xenos played the introduction to the first tune I stood with my arms raised, expecting a dance line to form up beside me. But this was no polite, genteel affair - another person started dancing even though there was no rhythm yet to dance to, and other dancers moved to join her. By the time the music got going nearly everyone had joined her line, which was a shame as she was one beat out of sync with the musical phrasing. Still, I didn't want to start off giving the impression that I was just another Whinging Pom so I joined the line and carried on without making a fuss.

After the first dance I was properly introduced and, apart from one dance that I didn't know and that Anne led, I taught all the rest. It was a bit of a struggle at the start as I had to discover how long people needed to talk & unwind after a dance before attempting to get their attention for the next one, something that seems to differ with every dance group or event. I don't like shouting at people, ringing bells or making some other noise to regain the group's focus and it doesn't normally work very well to do it that way, more often than not it just pushes the noise level higher each time. I find there's usually a kind of 'lull' that occurs a few seconds after people start talking and if I speak then I can gently lead them back towards the teaching. Mostly.

The group was very mixed with experienced dancers & comparative beginners all looking for a good night out. An unusual element was a group of about ten youngsters in their late teens, not something I see in many dance groups nowadays. They were generally keen but suffered from not wanting to look like they were taking it too seriously in front of each other, so long as only two or three were in the circle they managed really well and seemed to be enjoying it.

A delightful and unexpected surprise was to see Anne's sister Lee among the crowd. She had been singing with Xenos when I first met them but had vanished from the scene soon after with no word of explanation. She joined the band on stage for a couple of songs and, after a slightly wobbly start, was providing a wonderful harmony voice alongside Anne's. We didn't get much of a chance to chat but it was great to see (and hear) her again.

The dancing went pretty well but I felt that with a bit more preparation it could have been much better. I hadn't really grasped what tempo some of the tunes would be played at (I was enjoying myself too much in the rehearsal when I should have been working) and some of the dances didn't quite match the feel of the music. People were enjoying themselves but they were having to work at the steps at times, a couple of different choices would have made the evening flow much more freely and encourage people in their confidence. All in all it went well but I ended the evening with a long list of Things I Could Do Better Next Time.

We danced from around 7:40 for about two hours, after which we had a break for drinks & nibbles. When we came back the group was much smaller (this is apparently common practice at this event) and the dancing became much more focussed & harmonious and (from my perspective at least) much more enjoyable. The live music continued until 11:30 and in that time we did some quite difficult & challenging dances, and did them very well. Dancing to live music isn't always an unqualified delight but when it works there's nothing like it (in a good way) and this was one of those times. I ended the evening with a broad grin and a joyous glow in my soul.

Peter & Krista had long departed by this time but Anne & Rob had managed to pack the car with an extra Andy-shaped gap amongst the instruments and drove me back home. I was teaching again the next day but that wasn't until the evening, I had time to relax and recharge before then.

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