I know I've seen some beginners attend a dance camp and truly enjoy
it. The ones who have a good time tend to be very confident people.
On the other hand I've also seen beginners feel very uncomfortable at
dance camps. Some, for example feel that they're holding the group
back because they aren't as skilled. Usually they end up watching
What I look at is the skills required to dance at a community dance
verses the skills required to dance at a dance camp. The skills
required for dancing at a dance camp may be over their heads. There
isn't enough time to practice and digest all of the various moves
thrown their way.
I often hear people say, "come on it's easy". But for some it isn't
so easy. People's skills vary tremendously. We contra dancers find
contras to be easy and accessible. Maybe there are other activities
that we would find challenging.
So here's an invitation for all you hot shots. Let's go white water
kayaking. You have your choice of an easy class 2 river with an
average instructor OR you can take on that roaring class 5 river with
a truly amazing instructor. You may roll over and hit your head but
you will be inspired!
The last thing I think we should consider is the experience of those
who have been dancing for some time. I'm sure they go to dance camps
for various reasons. Some may go because of the higher level dancing
and that means having few or no beginners.
My dance organization, Hands Four Dancers of Ithaca, likes to offer a beginners' workshops before an evening dance. We are now discussing whether or not to make this official policy for ALL events, including the day-long Fiddlehead Frolic in April. The Frolic begins in the early afternoon and, in 2011, will probably include a welcome contra dance with the featured band, then a couple of breakout sessions (contras with a second band vs. music workshop w/featured band; ECD vs. squares), then a contra medley; followed by potluck and an evening dance.
What are people's thoughts about the value of a beginners' workshop at such an event?
I live in the far reaches of Kent, England, ninety minutes away from the
nearest contra monthly dance and 2 or 3 hours from the nearest contra
My wife and I love contra dancing - we spend most of our holidays in the
So we have started our own club and are teaching beginners from scratch
- people who have never done a folk dance in their life.
We run our club every Monday evening in a village hall, and teach a
90-minute class every Tuesday in the local leisure centre. We also run
dances for people who want a barn dance but can't afford a band.
So we have to use recorded music.
Fortunately there are some great recordings out there. CDs by English
bands like the English Contra Dance Band and Skylark have already been
mentioned. Vertical Expression and Fiddlin' Around have also made CDs.
All with lots of danceable tracks of suitable length.
And of course there are hundreds of CDs by great American bands. Our
favourite at the moment is the new Wild Asparagus double CD "Live at the
Guiding Star Grange". Our dancers especially like "On the Danforth"
(106bpm and builds beautifully).
Two great resources:
cdbaby: http://www.cdbaby.com and select Genre, Folk, Contra Dance to
You can listen to many of the tracks and then, depending on the album,
you may be able to choose between buying the CD, downloading the CD, or
downloading selected tracks. I checked quality with them and got the
response "All of the mp3s that we sell are encoded at 200 kbps variable
bit rate and are D.R.M. Free :-)".
And Contracopia: http://www.contracopia.net/
Lots of great bands and great CDs.
As has already been mentioned, you do need to check each track. I use
Cool Edit to ensure that every track has an intro, and provides sets of
8x8 beats (also known as 32 bars, but I am a dancer, not a musician!).
I use a spreadsheet to record: Length of intro, speed in bpm, number of
8x8s, length of track, plus notes on quality, feel, challenges, etc. I
can then quickly select a track when I need to meet the changing
dynamics of an evening's dancing.
We have had great success with recorded music and couldn't function
without it. Thanks to all you wonderful musicians who have made these
CDs for us.
Although I am computer-literate and have my mp3 player with me for
backup, I prefer to work with CDs. I recently bought a Numark NDX200 CD
Deck to allow me good control - I can cue it up to start where I want,
see the remaining time easily, restart a track easily and alter the
speed if the dancers are having problems.
Yes, of course we would rather have fantastic live music every night.
And we do indeed get one of the great contra bands to come down here
once a month for our big Saturday night dance.
But recorded music also allows us to experiment - we have been using
some great swing, pop, eCeilidh and tango tracks for dancing and the
dancers love it. It is extra work for me, as finding suitable
instrumentals and editing them into 8x8s is not easy. But it is very
rewarding, and gives an experience which you can't actually achieve with
a single live band.
We will continue to spread the joy both ways :-)
John Sweeney, Dancer, England info(a)contrafusion.co.uk 01233 625 362
http://www.contrafusion.co.uk for Contra Dancing in Kent
Here is a dance I'd like to share with the hive. Hope you enjoy it.
This dance is dedicated to the memory of Jeff Ratch, a great friend, dancer,
and human being. He brought out the best of us in so many ways.
Jeff's Gypsy Duple Improper
by Paul Wilde
A-1 1's Gypsy & Swing
A-2 1's in the center in a line of four down the hall, (just 1's drop
hands) (4 b.)
2's hand cast 1's to change places (1's forward, 2's backing up).
Return & fold the line into a circle (1's facing down).
B-1 Circle L 1x
Pass Neighbor 1 by the R (1's down, 2's up) Gypsy L w/ next
B-2 Return to Gypsy Neighbor 1 by the R, meltdown into a Swing
Dancers: The gypsies are our connection in this dance. Gypsy for all
Notes: At the ends, don't cross over, but face your P as you would N-1 and
pass by the R to gypsy N-2 by the L. Return to your P (still acting as
N-1), gypsy R, swing, and end facing back into line crossed over. At the
top of the set, this allows you to do a 2nd gypsy & swing w/ your P, now
that you are the new 1's.
Keith Murphy's tune, "On the Danforth" seems to fit it ever so nicely. Any
suggestions of other tunes that go well with it would be greatly
appreciated. Ed. note suggests smooth jigs or reels at an easy tempo.
(Thank you Lisa.)
It is a relaxed and somewhat fluid dance (I hope) that begs an easy tempo.
It might work for a bit of a breather in a hot hall. As a friend pointed
out, there's no physical connection during the gypsies, so a relaxed pace
keeps people from sliding around.
PS I think the dance is gender free as called above. Comments welcome.
> I have a vague recollection of hearing about sung contras one time, and was
> wondering if indeed there are any, and any resources available for learning them
> (from here in Australia). Just hearing Ralph Sweet on the CDSS website doing The
> Auctioneer reminded me.
There's at least one. Check out the 2008 Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend syllabus, online, page 47. Dave Colestock called the singing contra "The SGB Contra" to the tune of Sweet Georgia Brown. Dave adapted the dance from one, on record (vinyl), called "Sweet Georgia Brown Contra." More details in the syllabus. I couldn't get the tune out of my head for weeks after dancing to it, doggone it. Dave's on this list, so he may want to add more himself.
I have a vague recollection of hearing about sung contras one time, and was
wondering if indeed there are any, and any resources available for learning them
(from here in Australia). Just hearing Ralph Sweet on the CDSS website doing The
Auctioneer reminded me.
The piano - 88 little mistakes waiting to happen; Peter Barnes
Indeed, Ralph Page used to chant along with the music in quite a melodious way.
Not sure if you'd call them "singing contras" since he wasn't always following
th exact tune, but he did call some dances as one would a singing square, with
plenty of rhyming couplets and with the calls coming at the same time as the
Here's an example he provided of how he'd call Lady Walpole's Reel.
Earlier today on sharedweight.net, Dan Pearl credited me with devising
lyrics to Petronella. I wish I deserved it.
I've heard several callers sing dance directions to the tune, Sarah Gregory
Smith among others. But I think that most of us who are familiar with a sung
version learned it from Dudley Laufman, either live or recorded.
Dudley says that in the case of Petronella, he embellished the habit of
chanting the calls that we both remember from Ralph Page. And he adds that
several callers used to chant the calls to many dances along with the tune:
Duncan Hay, Joe Blundon, Dick Best...Today Ralph Sweet does it, too.
Years ago I did make up verses giving dance directions to some of the
classic contras, singing each either to the classic tune or to a
counter-melody that I devised if the fiddle tune was not very singable. But
I believe that the version of Petronella that Dan quoted is Dudley's
Zounds! What a topic. :-)
Maybe someone do dissertation research on this, also addressing the connected themes of perfectionism & high achievement among (a) leaders in general, from business to community to education to gov't, and (b) hard-core dancers in general. (An alternative thesis: Does the society of callers tend to attract a high proportion of analytical souls?)
I had some off-list exchanges about my post, and one person sent this:
"I often think of Sigmund Freud's phrase, 'the narcissism of small differences.'"
It may relate to keeping perspective, but in any case I thought it was a quote worth sharing w the larger list.
> Message: 3
> Date: Mon, 2 Aug 2010 10:51:12 -0700
> From: Joyce Miller joyceling(a)sbcglobal.net
> In any case, I've been wondering for many years if the society of callers might tend to attract in higher proportion folks who are hard on themselves (and therefore others), expect perfection, and have been (or want to be) high achievers. I don't recall ever seeing this topic broached on any callers' discussion group.
> But I know from my own experience how those impulses can lead to a loss of perspective.
Tony Saletan (formerly from Boston, now in Seattle) has been known to sing lyrics of his own devising to chestnut contras. For example, for Petronella:
'round to the right, and you balance to your partner. You go
'round to the right, and you balance once again. You go
'round to the right, and you balance to your partner. You go
'round to the right, and you balance once again. Now
down the center with your own. Turn around come right back home.
Cast off with the twos and you right and left right over.
Right and left -- go over and go back again... etc.