[Callers] Alternate Role Terms

Alan Winston winston at slac.stanford.edu
Fri Jan 4 03:30:06 PST 2013

On 1/3/2013 6:22 AM, Louise Siddons wrote:
> Two people made the point about different roles not necessarily being lead/follow roles, and I think this is true. But in the case of the courtesy turn -- or even an open chain -- i do think that the dance is improved/perfected by one person allowing themselves to be led by the other. Yes, you *can* get where you need to go without help, but it's a better dance if you don't. I could twirl myself when I waltz with someone, too, but it's a lot less satisfying.
I'll have to grant you the courtesy turn (indeed, I sometimes teach that 
as the gent sweeping the lady around). although I have a heck of a time 
getting a satisfying courtesy turn out of a partner who doesn't get it - 
and, really, it's fairly complicated to get how to share weight when 
you're in that position.

I have a harder time than that leading the open ladies' chain in 
Elizabeth in the kind of seemingly-intuitive light physical guidance way 
I lead waltzing, partly because the ladies are off turning each other 
half the time.  (In that figure, a lot of ladies-role-dancers don't 
really want to take six foot falls to turn the other lady and do more of 
a three-count pull by and then they're way early.  I feel like if I were 
leading that figure more of them would be on time rather than early.

> I think for me the key point is that when you have a lot of figures that are improved when the same dancer in a couple, or the same gender throughout the group dance, is leading, then the dance becomes a dance that is characterized by a lead/follow structure. Not necessarily limited by that, but it is one aspect of their overall character. And that characteristic can be strong or weak in any dance form or style -- it isn't black and white.
>> And on a similar front, English dancing has ladies chains, both open and with courtesy turns.  Would you argue that English dance is inherently lead/follow?
> I would suggest that the transition between ECD and contra demonstrates an increase in the lead-follow characteristic of the dance that is analogous to the increase in lead-follow characteristic between contra and, I don't know, polka. (I would also suggest that we can trace a decrease in lead-follow characteristics through 20th-century dance forms all the way to hiphop, if we look for it -- but that's getting off-topic.)
Not a monotonic decrease - which may not be what you're saying anyway.  
I think non-led social dances or
variations of them have been happening for a long time, from Charleston 
circles and Shim-Sham through
the Twist (a not-very-led partner dance) and country-western line 
dancing, right in parallel with highly-led
foxtrot, swing, jive, hustle, etc, through to swing revival and salsa craze.
> At risk of, in some sense, changing the topic dramatically: I have to admit I'm always surprised at why people feel so strongly negative about the idea of lead-follow as a trait of contra dancing.

Can't speak for anybody else, but for me the idea that country dancing 
is essentially a lead/follow activity and that the roles should be 
called lead and follow (which doesn't necessarily follow on) is 
distressing because
I was able to start country dancing (with Regency dance, 35 years ago) 
readily and fairly unthreateningly because  all I had to do was my part 
and I only had to get myself to where I was supposed to be; I was doing 
an adequate job of executing choreography on the first night.  
Contrariwise, it took me 3 years to waltz adequately, and a big part of 
that was anxiety from being supposed to be in charge, to be "leading", 
when I didn't know what I was doing.  If I'd had the same kind of extra 
anxiety-producing responsibility in country dancing I might never have 
started.  I don't want to bar the door to other people like me.   And I 
do genuinely think the lead in country dancing is very widely 
distributed,  and that country dancing will work far better if everybody 
takes responsibility for their own geography.

> Does it rub up against strongly-held community values of democracy/egalitarianism? And if so, does our communal practice justify our belief that we exemplify those values? Why is the contra community so enthusiastic about the question of lead-follow (and why is it, generally speaking, so open-minded and progressive re: gender roles), and yet hardly anyone ever talks about the racial segregation in the community?
I'm not making a claim for democracy/egalitarianism, which is hardly 
supported by the voluntary authoritarianism of everybody being supposed 
to do what the caller says because the dance will work better.  I don't 
know about anybody else.

As to the racial segregation of the community - I'm going to assume you 
mean "of the community", that is, that contra dancing is very largely an 
activity of white (and Asian, and sometimes South Asian around here) 
people - it bugs me a bit but I don't know what to do about it.  I'm 
kinda hoping that the white middle-class youth who've grown up with 
somewhat less de-facto segregation and actually have multi-racial social 
networks (they do, right?  that's not just a Berkeley thing?) will bring 
their friends if we can get them to keep coming themselves.

(I'm thinking "in the community" would mean that we had separate but 
equal contra dances for different races, and and what it seems to be 
mostly is that we have contra dancers nominally open to all comers but 
practically speaking only one segment of the population is represented.)

Have you read Danny Walkowitz's book _City Folk_?  Discussing English 
country dance in America in the 20th century he points out that ECD was 
initially done in the US by white people, and it still is, but that the 
definition of white people has expanded from the starting time to 
include people of Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Asian descent.

-- Alan

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