It's all right if you've 2 left feet
Caller Paul Rosenberg once dreaded hitting the floor; now he enjoins others, including kids, to learn

First published: Monday, February 13, 2006

When Paul Rosenberg was in his 20s, dancing scared him worse than almost anything else.

"I used to hide in the bathroom during weddings so I wouldn't have to dance," Rosenberg said.

That all changed in 1980, when Rosenberg met a girlfriend who dragged him to contradances until he finally got out on the dance floor. He soon fell in love with it.

Soon, he found himself wanting to move beyond just dancing. He had had some experience as a master of ceremonies at running races, and thought he could translate that into dance calling. Now, 25 years later, Rosenberg makes his living as a dance caller.

The Capital Region is home to a vibrant dance culture that celebrates everything from contra to swing to square dancing. And at the center of that culture is a handful of very busy callers.

Many callers, dancers and musicians will be on hand for the annual Dance Flurry, which is held in Saratoga Springs each winter and has become the most popular of Capital Region dance festivals.

The event, which runs Friday through Sunday, features a variety of dance styles and regularly draws more than 5,000 people from across the country. Dances taught include New England contra, African conga, swing, Lindy hop, salsa, tango, polka, English country, Balkan, Cajun, Zydeco, Quebecois, country western, ragtime, reggae, klezmer, rock and roll, Scandinavian, Scottish, Irish, Romanian, Israeli and hip-hop.

"It's the prompter who teaches the dance and gets the dancers to go through it a few times," said Andy Spence, founder of the Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music and Dance, which regularly holds dances in the area. "There are some singing callers who sing squares and Kentucky running sets."

Most of the local callers started out as dancers and have been honing their craft for decades.

"I was going all the time, and eventually I got recruited to help run the dances," said Rich Futyma, 52, who has been dancing for more than 20 years. "Then I started calling. It's not all that hard to do it."

Contradancing is similar to square dancing, but there are a few major differences. First off, square dancing tends to use prerecorded music, while contra relies almost exclusively on live musicians. Also, contradances tend to incorporate more styles and formations, with music based on Irish jigs and reels or Scottish and French Canadian influences, Rosenberg said.

Dances can come from a variety of sources, Futyma said. Sometimes callers write their own dances, but there also are published books of calls, and callers can pick them up from listening to each other.

The dances and songs tend to stick to a standard length so they can be interchangeable. For example, tunes usually are 32 bars of music, which are broken up into eight-beat segments.

"The music essentially tells you when to stop one movement and start another," Futyma said. "You and your partner dance that set of figures one time through, and then do it with another couple."

It's all right if you've 2 left feet

One of the main reasons Rosenberg decided to become a caller was because of what he saw as an elitism among the callers who populated most of the dances in the 1980s.

"I was noticing that the callers were all coming from out of town and they were not paying attention to the beginning dancers," Rosenberg said. "They were calling all of these complicated dances and there were always beginners who were floundering."

The problem of elitism among some callers and dancers still pervades, Spence said.

"If they come to the dances early, they can get some instruction. Otherwise, it's trial by fire," she said. "If they expect dances to survive, they have to help the new people."

Rosenberg has taken his love of teaching dances a step further and today travels to many schools to instruct children.

"I love doing it because everybody is smiling and getting into it," Rosenberg said. "It's especially fun for someone like me who had so much trouble learning to dance."

Danielle Furfaro can be reached at 454-5097 or by e-mail at

Photo captions

Paul Rosenburg calls a dance at the Albany Family Dance at St. Teresa Social Center, Jan. 8, 2006. (Luanne M. Ferris / Times Union)

Jeanne Ringwald, 9, does a summersalt to get through the line at the Albany Family Dance at St. Teresa Social Center, hosted by caller Paul Rosenburg, Jan. 8, 2006. (Luanne M. Ferris / Times Union)

Dancers Manon and her husband, Michael, N'Dolo, take a spin with their 19-month-old baby, Robin, in a carrier, Jan. 8, 2006, in Albany. (Luanne M. Ferris / Times Union)

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This page last updated on October 18, 2006.