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*Freelance Traveller

The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource

#58: Dancing to the Music of the Spheres

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue.

I went to a barn dance last night. It occasionally happens. This one was celebrating the 60th birthday of someone who’d had a stroke and multiple major heart surgeries 18 years ago. He’d not been expected to live. A celebration of additional years indeed!

Of course, that meant the average age of those in attendance trended towards older and indeed the lady I sat opposite as we ate was 90+. There were some bright young things present to provide some energy although on a roasting hot evening of unseasonably high temperatures the will to put much vigour into anything was being sapped rather quickly.

I may not be much of a dancer** Although I’ve had my moments waltzing at Sydney Opera House and performing the Dorset Four Hand Reel on stages large and small round S.E. Asia, New Zealand and Australia. I’ve even performed the Filipino Tinikling when they were short handed (footed?). If you don’t know that last, this is a very good example (although it includes advanced bits we never attempted). (And yes, it does hurt when you put a foot wrong). but I’m quick on the uptake and have usually done the individual dances on previous occasions, so I have something of a clue. That wasn’t the case for several folk last night who, despite the explanations before each dance and the calling during each dance, still seemed to take every opportunity to be going the wrong way, changing with the wrong partner and generally causing mayhem if anything got the slightest bit complicated.

However, through all the “carnage” as it was described more than once, there was one individual who stood out. She was the daughter of the birthday boy’s wife (although not his daughter – it’s complicated, as they say) and she is a professional dancer. How she put up with the rest of us I’ve no idea but throughout all that was going on or going wrong she would be gracefully gliding through the steps, in the right place, on the exact beat, doing the right thing and smiling gracefully at those who were anything but. I may be able to get from A to B via a dozy-do here or a right-hand wheel there, but I’m all too aware that I’ve broken down the elements and am ‘getting through the next bit’. She was clearly in the flow of an entire dance, was seeing overall patterns and sidestepping problems as though she’d been practising for that exact combination of two-left-feet partners and confused sets all her life.

It occurred to me that this is what I want to be able to do as a Traveller referee. I confess I’ve adequately learned to break down an adventure into constituent parts, to develop elements to be reasonably interesting or at least appropriate, and to cope with (most of) the mayhem players throw at me. I seem to be able to run a four-hour convention game or even, perhaps, an ongoing campaign which doesn’t send players running away in droves. But what I dream of doing is having a mastery of a session such that all the elements come together into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, that flows seamlessly through the rules and potential story, and which allows players to completely forget they’re role playing and simply be a part of the universe the group is temporarily creating in the theatre of the mind.