Briefings

Anselm Lingnau

When I took my Prelim our tutor (who is probably reading this) was very keen on the briefings – and rightly so (IMHO). We sweated about remembering the dances and getting the wording just right, only to find out later that the examiners were more interested in hearing the tone of our voices rather than letter-perfect briefings. We might as well have recited the telephone directory!

Anyway, here's my little

Guide for Briefings

  1. Speak loudly, clearly and slowly. Think of the people at the very back of the room (if you don't have a microphone). If you feel you're speaking quite a bit too slowly then it is probably just right for the audience to understand.
  2. Study up on the dance beforehand. If you have never seen the dance before in your life, your briefing is probably not going to be too helpful (unless it is for the Linton Ploughman). Look at the original instructions if at all possible – diagrams or cribs are often muddled or just plain wrong. There is nothing more embarrassing for the briefer nor more confusing to the audience than a briefing that is constantly corrected by people from the floor.
  3. Try to structure your briefing in phrases of, say, eight bars' worth of dancing. Then leave a short pause. This helps your breathing and also makes it easier for the audience to figure out where you are in the dance.
  4. Avoid bar numbers as in »2nd couple move up on bars 11-12« since nobody will be able to calculate what moment of the dance you're talking about – it's better to say »1st couple cast off while the 2s move up«. If that isn't possible – e.g., during bars 17-24 of The Wild Geese, where the 2nd couple is supposed to step up in time so the dancing couple sees where they have to end up –, try to relate the bar numbers to the current figure, e.g., »1st couple lead down the middle and up to 2nd place, 2s step up on 3 and 4« rather than »2s step up on 19 and 20«.
  5. Don't try to teach the dance in your briefing. You want to include enough detail so people will know what to do, but you don't want to take as long for the briefing as it takes to do the actual dance. E.g., a briefing for Schiehallion takes about 30 seconds, maximum.
  6. If the dance in question contains a »compound« figure like »Dance to each corner and set« or »Set and rotate«, resist the temptation of explaining all the little movements that it consists of. The dancers are supposed to know the figures – you just remind them which one comes when.
  7. Leave off the little jokes and stories that the audience has heard a hundred times before. You're the MC, not a stand-up comedian, and the people out on the floor probably want to dance rather than listen to your being funny. (At any rate, the ratio of more-or-less humorous narrative to actual briefing should not exceed 1.0 unless you really are very, very funny indeed.)
  8. Be brief. Remember it is called a »briefing«, not a »verbosing«.

Posted to the Strathspey mailing list, 18 May 1998. Revised 22 October 2000.