Musings on Definitions

Clark Baker

February 2004

Recently the definitions committee has been faced with updating the definition of Shakedown. Looking at some of the issues and decisions faced while changing Shakedown will give you some insight into the definitions business in general. For those who haven't encountered Shakedown, it is a 4-dancer call usually done from Couples Back-To-Back to end in Facing Couples.

Starting formation #1:
Couples Back-To-Back

Dance action #1:
Left-side dancers Run and Roll. Right-side dancers Quarter Out and Run.

Let's explore various definitions of Shakedown and their implications.

First question, "For which dance program are we writing these definitions?" Although Shakedown is currently part of C-1, its dance action could be appropriate for any program, even Mainstream. A possible goal would be for our definition to be accessible to all dance programs. At the same time, we shouldn't allow this goal to create a longer or more convoluted definition than necessary.

Our first dance action uses the Plus suffix "Roll" and the A-1 call "Quarter Out". If we wanted to rewrite it using Mainstream language it would read:

Dance action #2:
Left-side dancers Run and Face In. Right-side dancers Face Out and Run.

This is not bad and has a certain pleasing symmetry about it. The two parts are each described in terms of Facing and Running. While Face In is not a call on the Mainstream list, it is a common English phrase and is used as part of Tag The Line Face In. Our use assumes two properties that the English phrase may not have: that of a 90 degree turn and that "In" is towards the center of your group of 4, not the center of the set. The use of Run can also be a problem. As used in calling, Run usually has a "runner" and a "runnee". Our use of Run asks a dancer to be the runner and to "do their part" of a Run. While I believe this is acceptable, even in Mainstream definitions, there has been controversy as to when "do your part" can be introduced into general calling.

Now let's leave Mainstream behind and consider the pre-1998 C-1 definition.

Dance action #3:
Beaus Run and Roll while the Belles 3/4 Zoom.

Beau and Belle are concise ways of naming the left- and right-side dancers of a couple. They are introduced at Advanced, and are used in calling and definitions at Advanced and Challenge. The "while" lets us know that two dance actions are taking place simultaneously. While this could be assumed in our first two tries, it is better to have it stated explicitly. The big problem with this definition is the "3/4 Zoom". While it is not heard in calling, in the 1970's and 1980's 3/4 Zoom was used in definitions of a few calls. Let's explore what is wrong with 3/4 Zoom.

Fractions can be used in several ways to modify the dance action of a call. For 1-part, continuous action calls like Zoom, a fraction less than 1 (e.g., 1/4, 1/2, 3/4) asks the dancers to do that fraction of the dance action. That is, start at the beginning of the call, and dance the requested fraction (e.g., the first 1/2 or 3/4). Zoom has two components: the path you walk, and the turning action (a full 360 degrees). A 3/4 Zoom should have us walk 3/4 of the path while turning 270 degrees. However, those who wrote the old definition wanted "3/4 Zoom" to mean "walk the complete path of a Zoom while only doing 3/4 of the turning action". Today, this dance action is properly called 3/4 Stable Zoom. Stable means to dance the call's path without changing facing direction. Fractional Stable means to dance the call normally but after turning a total of the specified Fraction, dance the remainder of the call Stable.

Dance action #4:
Beaus Run and Roll while the Belles 3/4 Stable Zoom.

Try #4 fixes the 3/4 Zoom problem, but it isn't appropriate to use a C-4 concept to define a C1 call.

Dance action #5:
Beaus Run and Roll while the Belles Quarter Out and Box Circulate.

When the Challenge committee tried to fix the 3/4 Zoom, they used "Quarter Out and Box Circulate". While this is correct, I don't like the use of Box Circulate because it is using too large a hammer for the job. Box Circulate has a leaders part and a trailers part. In this definition, the dancers will always be leaders so we don't need to define Shakedown with a call which has a trailers part. If you ask the average Challenge dancer "Does Shakedown have a Box Circulate in it?" the answer would be "No".

How can using too large a hammer for the job cause problems? It may allow the call to be done from other formations than those envisioned by the call's author or definition writer. In writing definitions we generally want to document how the call works today without allowing applications which violate the "sense" or "essence" of the call.

I call the essence of a call its gestalt. Some calls have a strong gestalt (like Right And Left Grand and Shakedown) while others don't (e.g., Acey Deucey is simply centers trade in pairs while the ends circulate). As far as I know, we don't ever document a call's gestalt. I don't know if we could. It would take more words than people are willing to read, and not mesh with most learning styles. I would like to believe that most dancers have the same gestalt for a call like Shakedown. The main way to gain insight into someone else's gestalt for a call is by asking them if certain applications are proper or improper. If you assume that a caller will only use applications that he considers proper, then dancing to that caller and observing how he uses the calls will gain insight into his gestalt for those calls

Guess what? All of the 5 tries at defining Shakedown violates my gestalt for the call! Consider a Right-Hand Box Of 4. Everyone is a Beau. On a Shakedown they would all Run and Roll. The definition works and yet this is nothing like a Shakedown to me. At this point we have three alternatives:

  1. Do nothing and allow Shakedown from a Right-Hand Box Of 4 (and other places).

  2. Change the words of the dance action so that they only work from Couples Back-To-Back.

  3. Add a restriction to the starting formations.

In general, callers hate restrictions. They want the starting formations to be recommendations. If they can find a clever starting formation for which the dance action works, they demand the freedom to use it. Usually we can accommodate them by choosing the words of the dance action carefully. In this case we must add a restriction to the starting formations:

Starting formation #2:
Couples Back-To-Back only

One must be very careful when using "only" in the starting formations to not preclude an unusual formation which still meets the call's gestalt. In this case, most would accept Shakedown from a t-bone Box Of 4 in which everyone is a leader.

Starting formation #3:
Any 2x2 in which everyone is a leader only

This is better but doesn't provide the reader with a hint as to the most common starting formation. This is solved somewhat with:

Starting formations #4:
Couples Back-To-Back or any 2x2 in which everyone is a leader only

OK, now we have good starting formation and a dance action which isn't obviously bad. What next? There are several areas in which most of the dance actions proposed so far have problems. From a learning prospective, calls which have two separate dance actions (e.g., leaders and trailers, centers and ends, beaus and belles) are harder to learn than those with the same description for everyone. Consider the following:

Dance action #6:
Quarter Right, Counter Rotate and Roll

Now everyone has the same part. This is closer to my gestalt for the call. It does allow for 1/3 Shakedown and 2/3 Shakedown, and perhaps even 1/2 Shakedown (where you do the first third and half the middle third). Most people agree that Shakedown doesn't have parts and it shouldn't be fractionalized. We have a fix which is seeing increased use:

Dance action #7:
As one smooth move, Quarter Right, Counter Rotate, Roll. This call cannot be fractionalized.

When taken with the last starting formation description, this definition is a good one. There are still some concerns. When used as a teaching definition, new dancers will probably dance the 3 parts in a choppy fashion. It may never become a smooth action for these dancers. It might be easier to smooth out "Quarter Out and Run" (2 parts) than the 3 parts. Or, it could turn into a call whose dance action has diverged from its definition (e.g., Pass The Ocean). Or, callers could ignore the "smooth move" and "fractionalization" statements and start calling "2/3 Shakedown" and "Secondly Twice, Shakedown".

Another concern is Counter Rotate. It is a large hammer for this use. The dance action is one that works from almost everywhere. Some callers may ignore the "only" in the starting formations. In an attempt to address all of the issues presented so far, Vic Ceder proposed the following:

Dance action #8:
Dancers move one position to the right as they turn 3/4 to the right.

This is a little confusing and others suggested something like:

Dance action #9:
Dancers move one position clockwise in their formation while turn 3/4 (270 degrees) to the right.

This definition is interesting because it isn't written in terms of other calls (e.g., Beaus Run and Roll). Instead it tells all the dancers where they go and instructs them to turn their bodies as they go. The definition is likely to appeal to dancers who are kinesthetic learners (which is not a large percentage of dancers). Dancers who are used to our typical definitions probably will not resonate with this one.

There is one other problem. Sometimes we expand calls into larger formations. For example, Tag The Line is also defined from lines of 6 and 8 dancers. If I had a line of 8 and asked the dancers to "Tag The Big Line" or better yet, "Line Of 8, Tag The Line" I expect most dancers would understand what I wanted even if they had never been taught or danced this variation. The same goes for Shakedown. If I had 6 dancers in Back-To-Back Lines of 3 and called "Lines of 3, Shakedown." I would expect them to end in Facing Lines of 3 "around the corner" from where they started. If the lines were at the sides of the hall, the resulting lines would be at the heads. Only dance actions #6 and #7 have this result. The rest either don't apply at all or produce an incorrect result.

How important an issue is this? It is hard to say. It is unlikely that "Lines of 3, Shakedown" will be called very often. At C4 it would be called using the 3x3 Concept which provides a precise formalization of this idea. Should we accept dance action #9 or go back to #7?

I like dance action #7. While I tell the dancers the definition (or they have already read it), I teach them to think of Shakedown as a "Turn And Deal Around The Corner". I also tell them to head to the right and that it ends in facing couples. This makes it a smooth, 1-part dance action.

Let me conclude by summarizing some of the main points:

  1. Definitions serve as a communication tool between callers and dancers.

  2. The definition may not be the best way of teaching a call.

  3. While how you teach a call is very important, it isn't a definition.

  4. The definition may not be the best memory aid for dancing the call. Do you dance Linear Cycle by its 3-part definition or its mantra (Hinge, Fold, Follow, Peel)?

  5. Many calls have a gestalt -- the definition should follow it.

  6. We want to document how a call has been used.

  7. Use vocabulary appropriate for the dance program.

  8. Consider the dance program at which this definition will be used.

  9. Try for a short, concise definition. Put the "extra" stuff in a comments section.

  10. Pay attention to how your definition allows fractionalization.

  11. Pay attention to how your definition allows rolling, sweeping, and flowing.

  12. Have everyone do the same action when possible (as opposed to centers/ends, beaus/belles).

  13. Use the smallest hammer necessary.

  14. Define calls from their smallest starting formations.

  15. Avoid unnecessary restrictions on starting formations.

  16. Consider possible extensions and variations while writing the definition.

  17. Diagrams help. Diagram a common case and the corner cases.

Revised: $Date: 2005/11/26 21:52:10 $

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