[Callers] Contra / MWSD parallels?

David Millstone David.Millstone at VALLEY.NET
Mon Mar 19 07:22:51 PDT 2012

Don Coffey is a Kentucky musician and dance caller who started dancing some 40  
years ago. He recently published in The American Dance Circle, the quarterly magazine  
of the Lloyd Shaw Foundation, an article and a chart that attempts to organize  
and show the relationships between different forms of folk dancing traditions  
in America.

Don made some thoughtful comments on trends he notices in the contemporary contra  
movement; he sees some disturbing parallels with what happened in modern western  
square dance. With his permission, I'm including those comments here as food for  
thought. Many on this list are newer to dance calling and I thought it might stimulate  
some discussion and, perhaps, might alert newer callers to some trends they might  
want to consider.

David Millstone
Lebanon, NH

---quoted material follows:

* Modern contra dancing has become a mass "movement" with the energy of a greight  
train, but most of the young people who so love contras?and contras only-- have  
no idea it is but one component of a larger, very wonderful, tradition. This horse-blinder  
focus rather reminds me of...

* ...an earlier movement, western square dance "clubs," which roared to prominence  
from the 1950s through 80s and attracted thousands. It has declined drastically  
as club populations aged, young dancers were not attracted "in," and clubby "dance  
lessons" became ever more costly and complex.

* Similar to the way the western club movement strove to standardize individual  
square dance figures so that every square dancer nationwide would dance them "uniformly,  
the same way" (as if in lock step, one might say), I perceive comparable urges  
at work in the contras-only movement. One night some out-of-town visitors to our  
Friday night dance, long accustomed to automatically lining up in improper formation,  
had repeated difficulty adapting to our simple, ordinary, Ralph Page contras.

* At least two of my caller friends, both very popular and widely traveled, have  
received open criticism when they tried to introduce a really-fun square or English  
dance to a contra dance crowd. Makes me wonder how a rowdy foot-stompin' Appalachian  
running set would have been received.

* And then there are the two whole separate worlds of "international" folk dancing  
and "AngloAmerican" folk dancing ... and why don't their two large populations  
even know each other? It's as if they were on different planets. Let's say it  
again: All these dances are fun! They are living history that we, who love them,  
are responsible to care for, to preserve by dancing them, AND TO PASS ON TO THE  
NEXT GENERATION. [underlined in the original, but I used caps here for this text  

---end quoted material (from The American Dance Circle, March, 2012)

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