[Callers] Contra / MWSD parallels?

Richard Fischer richardallenfischer at verizon.net
Wed Mar 21 16:34:10 PDT 2012

I am confused by this discussion. I believe Robert G summarized the focus succinctly as 

"The point is that modern western squares dancing took what some people think was a wrong turn that tended to make their events socially exclusive, rather than inclusive."

What I don't see is any evidence that contra dancing is becoming "socially exclusive."  And that can of course be my lack of perception!

Is there such evidence?

David M in his most recent post mentioned "some similar developments in the contemporary contra movement"--but again I don't see any of these as exclusive or as harbingers of contra becoming exclusive.  Maybe some folks can briefly spell it out for me if they do. Meanwhile, a few comments on some of the "developments" David mentioned.

* Pre-dance lessons. I know some people have strong feelings on this topic (I don't), but certainly I think we can agree that the *intention* is make the event inclusive.  And I don't know of any contra series where you're barred from participating if you don't take the pre-dance lesson.

*Dance medleys.  Yes, aimed at "experienced" contra dancers. But certainly not exclusive. For many dancers, there or four evenings of contra dance would enable them to do fine in a medley, especially if dancing with a more experienced friend.

*Traditional tunes. Well I'm no dance or music historian, but I do strongly suspect that dance musicians have always brought in new types of tunes, made up their own, or played old tunes in new ways. And the same with traditional dances. I remember a week-long class Jim Morrison gave at CCDS in Berea on all the different versions of Money Musk over the past two centuries. And I remember running into a quote from Ralph Page (from the 1950's I guess) somewhat to the effect of 'I know folks are putting in a balance and swing at the end of Chorus Jig, but I don't like this innovation.' And I'll give a separate asterisk to

*Techno contras.  We just had our first one in Princeton New Jersey. The wonderful music was provided by two gifted instrumentalists, Ross Harriss and Christopher Jacoby, and most (if not all) of it was well-phrased, and all of it quite danceable!  (I even got to do a contra dance to the wonderful old English country dance tune Jamaica (1670) adapted by them for contra.) The expert calling was by Scott Higgs. This was an event that generated a lot of excitement especially among the younger members of our dance community. It was very well attended and seemed to be a happy event for all, and most certainly accesible to all. As I saw it, the special lighting and the electronic nature of some of the music reflected a dance community's openness and social inclusiveness.

I guess I'll end by quoting Jeff's sentiments, since he said it so well:

"To me the test is: how good a time would a random person who has never
danced before have coming in off the street?  Dances in the 1970s did
well on this metric, I think dances still do, and I intend to work to
keep things this way."

Me too!


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