Excerpts from The Beginner’s Catechism copyright © 1990 Larry Deneberg. With updates and additions copyright © 2015 Stanford International Folk Dancers.
What in the world is going on here?
This is one of the regular sessions of the Stanford International Folk Dance Club, and these people are folk dancing. 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 folk dancing 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. So get in the circle and pay attention to the teacher (but 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 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.
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. Many 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 and listen.
What if I want more teaching?
Most of our evenings are preceded by early teaching, an hour session of nothing but teaching; many sessions are aimed at beginners. There are also other folk dance sessions around the area with other dance groups, some intended primarily for beginners. Check out the myriads of flyers that we always have available or ask somebody official-looking for suggestions. Refer also this interactive map of many dance groups in northern California.
How do I know when any particular dance is coming up?
At the head of the room you will find a table where the music is being played. There we have a clipboard where you might write your dance request as well as find an index of our dance collection by name. This clipboard is the medium of communication between the dancers and the programmer, that much-hassled person who picks out and plays the dances done each evening. He or she tries to keep half a dozen dances ahead of what is played and keep as many as possible coming. If you would like advice ask the programmer or anyone else seen frequently making their own requests.
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 occupation?” 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 at the front 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 $7-10.
Can I just drop in any time?
Absolutely, each time we meet. Unlike dance classes offered at community colleges or many studios our club is operated by volunteers and is more flexible—no pre-payment or registration is required. You’ll find the people here likely to be friends and fun to dance with so you’ll want to make it a habit to come.
How much is this going to cost each week?
Admission prices are kept low to encourage participation. Stanford International Folk Dancers is a not-for-profit club—admission collected helps pay for room rent and a small compensation for the volunteer instructor. On live music nights or special workshops the admission price also reasonably compensates the talented band or guest instructor.
What should I wear?
Come to dance with soft-soled shoes or dance shoes that you wear only indoors. We encourage you to wear comfortable and flexible clothes so you may enjoy dancing as long as you can.
Got another question? Email us for answers!