David said, " I would rather have a lump star moving promptly than a
beautiful wrist star three steps late".
Which is why I always teach the dancers to move their feet first and worry
about their hands once they are moving.
John Sweeney, Dancer, England john(a)modernjive.com 01233 625 362
http://www.contrafusion.co.uk for Dancing in Kent
Thanks to all those who contributed. Here is a summary of the key points
that were made. It is clear that the wrist lock star is indeed the standard
across the USA, with only a few areas using hands across.
Names: Wrist Star, Box Star, Wrist-Grip Star, Wrist-Lock Star, Pack-saddle
Star, Wagon-Wheel (Star), Basket Handhold
Also, but these can mean Hands Across: Millstone Star, Mill, Windmill,
Moulinet, Old Mill
Alternative Star Holds:
Hands Across (that term goes back to at least 1650!)
Palm Star (MWSD only)
Lump (Bunch of Bananas, Limp Lettuce) - to be avoided at all costs
Etymology of Mill references:
Alan Winston: Go back far enough (1700s) and you get "moulinet" in French
sources, "mill" in some English sources, for what I'm pretty sure are
Colin Hume: In the Netherlands it's called "molen" which means "windmill".
John Sweeney: The early 19th century Quadrilles and dances like The Lancers
used the term Moulinet for Star. As far as we know it was always a Hands
Across Star. Moulinet means turnstile, crank or propeller. Whether it
independently became known as a Windmill/Mill or whether it was badly
translated as Moulin = Windmill is unclear.
Wagon-Wheel: in the Appalachians it was a shoulder star - see 2 minutes in
There is a general view that the term Wrist-Grip should be avoided, and that
it should be emphasised that you don't grip (keep your thumb up top with
I like the term "Wrist Lock" since it makes it clear that we are using
wrists, and since the shape you make looks like the Lock that sword and
rapper dancers make when they interlink them all and raise them high. I
also love that wrist-locks work perfectly for three or five dancers in a
star (I call lots of different styles). But I am sure that although the
move may become even more ubiquitous, the terminology will retains its local
Any ideas on when it started?
Dan Pearl: Sylvia Miskoe, in rec.folk-dancing on March 4, 1999 said: "Wrist
grip stars became popular after the appearance at New England Folk Festival
(NEFFA) of the Lithuanian Dance Group doing their dances and they all used
wrist grips. The square dancers thought it was a neat idea and adopted it."
Any idea when that festival was?
1964 in Northern Vermont shows wrist-lock stars:
1981 Ted Sanella's "Balance & Swing" defines a star in New England as "grasp
the wrist of the dancer ahead".
1983 Larry Jennings' "Zesty Contras" refers you to Ted's book.
When choreography dictates, e.g. "men drop out, ladies chain" works
better with hands across
One night stands
This shows that ten years ago wrist-stars were common everywhere in the US
except in some parts of the South.
Amy Wimmer (Seattle):
The wrist lock is the common star formation in the Northwest, with a hands
across being the exception.
Tim Klein (TN):
I call for dances in Knoxville, TN and occasionally in the surrounding area
(Jonesboro, Chattanooga). I've been dancing here for 30 years. I recall
hands across stars in Knoxville, Atlanta, Brasstown, Asheville and points
between, but wrist grip stars in Lexington, Louisville and Nashville.
Chet Gray (KY):
I tend to consider my home dance, Louisville, KY, and nearby Lexington, as
two of the last bastions of hands-across-by-default. Wrist-grip seems to be
the default even in relatively nearby cities: Indianapolis, Bloomington, IN,
Nashville, Cincinnati. Not sure about Berea and Somerset, KY, also nearby.
Jerome Grisanti (Midwest):
I agree with Chet that Louisville's default star is hands-across, although
weekend festivals in nearby cities tend toward the millstone star. The
Midwest where I dance/call now is pretty solidly wrist-star territory (St.
Louis, Columbia MO, Kansas City, Lawrence).
Just a bit of Louisville dance community history on this subject-when my
husband started dancing there in the late '70s and I came in 1982, the
Monday night dance was a mix of English and contra. The default contra
dance star grip was the "wrist lock" not hands across as in English. We
called it a basket handhold or wrist grip. Our influence came from New
England because our friend, Norb Spencer, who started the group along with
Marie and Frank (Cassidy?) and who called much of the time-learned in New
England. We then taught it that way when we moved to Cincinnati and started
that group. Louisville only became a "bastion of hands-across-by-default"
sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s during my calling hiatus. When I
re-entered the calling scene 6-7 years ago, I was surprised and bemused upon
calling in Louisville to learn of the high regard held for their
'traditional' hands-across star style.
Somewhere south of Asheville and leading west possibly into the lower
Midwest, is the land of hands across stars. They are standard in Atlanta,
the heart of hands-across-land.
The wrist lock dominates everywhere I've danced over the years
Meg Dedolph (Chicago):
Checking in from Chicago, where wrist-grip stars are the norm and
hands-across stars need to be specified. When I started dancing, 14 or 15
years ago, in Michigan, many dancers reached for a hands-across star first,
though I don't see that so much anymore.
Jane Thickstun (Michigan)
When I was dancing in Michigan, I found it to be a mess, with maybe half
doing wrist grip and half hands-across, and everyone just throwing their
hands in the middle without doing either. I wish callers would specify for
each dance which kind of star they recommend, to avoid this kind of thing.
Angela DeCarlis (Florida):
Where I've called recently, in the Northeast and in New England, wrist-grip
is definitely the default, and I wasn't aware that parts of the south
default to hands-across. Neat!
Here to comment that Florida, where I'm from originally, holds true to its
role as the Exception to the Rule: despite being in the South, they
definitely default to wrist-grip there, as well.
When I attended the Berea Christmas Dance School forty years ago, and put my
hand on the wrist in front of me during a walk through, someone complained,
saying, "He said a star, not a mill!"
"lay it on the wrist of the person in front of you, like a pack saddle on a
horse" [Thanks! I could never work out why it was called a pack saddle! JS]
And yes, very much the default star form from my experience.
Louise Siddons (Stillwater, OK):
Here in Oklahoma I call it a wagon-wheel grip, but I think I picked up that
term in either Michigan or California when I was starting to dance contra
circa 2008. Wagon-wheel stars are the default in OK/TX/KS/MO local dances,
and also seem standard in the SF Bay Area.
Whatever you call it, today a wrist star is the US standard for most of the
Joy Greenwolfe (Durham, NC):
Central North Carolina here. In this region, wrist-grip or wagon-wheel stars
are the default. Some dances specify hands-across if the choreography asks
John Sweeney (itinerant):
I have danced in Florida, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Asheville,
Phoenix and festivals such as Berea Christmas Dance School, LEAF, Flurry and
don't remember ever seeing anyone do Hands Across in a regular contra dance.
Chet questioned the relevance of dance weekends, but my point was that when
people from different area get together, in my experience, they tend to use
wrist-lock stars, which, to me, does seem to be an indicator that it is
accepted as the default. Of course, as Chet says, some of those dancers may
well use their regional style at their home dances.
Rich Sbardella referenced MWSD: In MWSD, hands are often just put into the
center, sometimes raised as in a contra allemande, sometimes just straight
forward from the shoulder.
>From CallerLab: "Palm Star: Place all hands together with fingers pointing
up and thumbs closed gently over the back of the adjacent dancer's hand to
provide a degree of stabilization. Arms should be bent slightly so that the
height of the handgrip will be at an average eye level.. Men's outside arms
in natural dance position, women's outside hands work skirt. Some areas
dance any stars containing men with a Box Star/Pack-saddle Star: Four men
with palms down take the wrist of the man ahead and link up to form a box."
The Palm Star was the standard style around Colorado in the 1930s when Lloyd
Shaw got started, and for many years after. Pretty much, you'll only find
it among square dancers, people who danced with Calico and Boots in Boulder,
Colorado, or folks with an exaggerated respect for history. Guess I qualify
as all three.
I have heard that ladies don't join in wrist-stars in MWSD because of the
hairy, sweaty men's wrists in the south!
John Sweeney, Dancer, England john(a)modernjive.com 01233 625 362
http://www.contrafusion.co.uk for Dancing in Kent
Dear Shared Weight Callers List,
This message is for those of you who are CANADIANS and who not only call
but who are involved in ORGANIZING dances. (Apologies to those for whom
this doesn't apply. I'm putting this out on the organizers list as well
but I know that many of you are organizers and this list is so much more
The Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS) **wants to hear from you** as we
look at *how to best support *local organizers* of traditional dance music
and song throughout Canada*. We see local organizers like you as key to
creating the vibrant and thriving traditional dance, music and song scenes
we all care about!
We are running a *survey of local organizers until November 17th*. The goal
of the survey is to learn: What are you organizing? What successes are you
having? What challenges do you face? What immediate needs do you have? What
ideas have you thought of for growing your community/activities? What
supports would help you in the work that you do?
Whether you are involved in PEI fiddling, NFLD traditional song, Metis step
dancing, or other (as there are so many!) each tradition is culturally
significant. They reflect the shared values and heritage of that community
and help to define a sense of identity and belonging for individuals.
Yet despite the diversity, there is much commonality in the organizational
requirements across traditions. For instance, organizers of a Cape Breton
traditional square dance, contra dance in British Columbia, and les danses
folkloique Québécoises often do similar work, share similar challenges and
could benefit from similar supports. By sharing with each other, we create
more vibrant and resilient communities for all.
By participating in the survey, you are not only informing CDSS on what we
can do to support organizers throughout the country, but also other
umbrella arts organizations and the Canada Council for the Arts with whom
we will be sharing the findings. We will work to take action on common
interests that arise from the survey, some in partnership with other
umbrella organizations and many of which would be free or at little cost.
We will also look at ways to address various particular interests where we
can. (As a participant, you will be emailed a copy of the findings.)
*HOW TO PARTICIPATE:*
Complete the online survey by Thursday, November 17th. It will take 15-20
SURVEY LINK HERE: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CDSSCanadianOrganizers-EN
We hope that multiple organizers from the same group will participate.
Also - please share with other local organizers in your area. As you know,
connections within our traditions are often by word-of-mouth!
More information about the survey and larger project is available below.
We look forward to hearing from you,
*Emily Addison (pourparler list member) and also Sarah PilzerThe CDSS
*MORE INFORMATION ON THE SURVEY*
*Who is an organizer ... for the purpose of this survey?*
For the purpose of this survey, an organizer is anyone involved in making a
traditional dance, music, or song event, activity, or community happen. The
activities vary widely from house concerts to dances, folk clubs, song
circles, group lessons, jam sessions, festivals, etc. Organizers can be
volunteers OR paid, single individuals OR committees, part of a non-profit
OR commercial business, new OR experienced, run one-off-events OR ongoing
series - you name it!
*What traditions are included ... for the purpose of this survey?*
CDSS' core focus has been on traditions that have evolved in N America
and/or those with English roots. For example, traditional square dancing
from places like Cape Breton and Quebec fit well having evolved in N
America. Think everything from morris teams, traditional song circles,
old-time music jam sessions, step-dancing traditions from all over, folk
clubs that present traditional music concerts, etc. AND - we are still very
much interested in hearing and supporting the wider trad scene. Thus, if
organizers involved in trad activities such as Irish set dancing,
scandinavian jam sessions, or international folk want to participate,
*Who is CDSS?*
CDSS has been a leader and partner of traditional dance, music, and song
across North America for over a century. We provide services to members as
well as the wider traditional dance, music and song community in Canada.
If you're interested in knowing more, visit cdss.org
Tom Hinds wrote:
> There are many reasons some contra dancers don't like squares. One
> is that they take a long time to teach.
_Some_ squares take a long time to teach with any group, because they're complex even by square dance standards. Other squares take longer to teach to contra dancers than to people used to squares. I try to avoid both types if I'm doing one or two squares in an evening of contras.
There are squares that can be taught to contra dancers in roughly the same amount of time as, say, a contra with good flow but a high piece count.
> For some squares it's a good idea to walk through the figure for both the heads and sides.
True, because the two parts are so different. I avoid squares like that with contra groups unless I'm very sure of my audience.
> Depending on the caller and dancers a full length break may be taught as well.
I've seen this done way too often. I firmly believe that this practice is a major reason some contra dancers don't like squares.
Full-length square dance breaks belong in square dance workshops (e.g. at dance weeks or weekends where people are open to different material). A modern contra dance evening is no place for them. People already think squares take a long time to teach, even though that's not necessarily true. Why double the teaching time when you don't have to? If you're not comfortable ad-libbing your breaks (a major reason callers give for teaching the break), memorize two or three simple breaks that contra dancers can do without a walkthrough.
> I also highly recommend squares written by Tony Parkes. He's written
> many that are accessible and at the same time interesting.
That's always my goal when I write material. (Thanks for the plug, Tom.) If anyone is interested, I have two collections (Shadrack's Delight and Son of Shadrack), available at hands4.com, that each contain about 20 squares. In addition, I'm about to give away the farm by publishing the bulk of my personal square dance repertoire. (Well, maybe not give it away... but sell it way too cheap.) Watch for my new square-calling text and accompanying CDs with calls.
Tom Hinds wrote:
> I thought it was saddle-pack not that it really matters.
Someone (sorry, can't remember who or where) once insisted to me that it was "paddlestack," because it looked like "a stack of paddles." I doubt this very much, as I don't get any Google hits for "paddlestack" in a square dance context. I can't think of any field where a stack of paddles would make sense. A steamboat's wheel is made up of blades that I suppose are called paddles, but they're certainly not arranged in a stack. Everyone else I've heard or read on the subject of stars has used "packsaddle."
The summary of star-forming style is fascinating. It's nice to have a description of dance practice that's based on multiple witnesses. So often in researching dance history, one is confronted by bald statements with no idea whether they represent widespread practice or are solely one person's view of what's done in one area (or even what that person thinks _should_ be done). Example: In 1941 "Allemande Al" Muller, apparently writing in New York's Hudson Valley, declared flatly after describing a couple of allemandes, "There are no other calls involving the word Allemande. You can never allemande your partner." This would have been startling news to the master caller Floyd "Woody" Woodhull of Elmira in the same state, who routinely called "Allemande left with your corner, allemande right with your partner, allemande left with your corner again and a grand right and left."
I was thinking about what I do at the "welcome to our contra dance"
introduction, and what dance would easily move in to that. Noodling around
with moves, I thought of a sequence with glossary moves, but I didn't have
it in my box. Anyone recognize it?
(8) Neighbor Do-si-do
(8) Neighbor swing
(8) Men allemande Left 1-1/2
(8) Partner swing
(8) Promenade across the Set
(8) Long lines, forward and back
(8) Circle Left 3/4
(4) Balance the Ring
(4) Pass through
During the introduction, I often teach the progression with a "ring
balance, walk past this neighbor", and I wanted something that included
that. There are lots of great accessible dances with that (The Big Easy,
Easy Peasy, etc), but I'm not seeing one with a partner promenade
(something I also use in the introduction; to go from a big circle to lines
of couples for a contra set).
If someone already wrote it, I'll happily give them credit. If not, I'll
call it "If you can walk, then you can dance" (which I'll note is not an if
and only if statement).
I started dancing in the Boston area in the late 60s and the transitions B2->A1 in Chorus Jig and Rory O’More were exactly as Jim has described them. It was in fact fun to vary the transition from one form to the other to make the dance more interesting. Both rolling into a cast off and pulling across (after moving back but not letting go from the swing) were both great fun. It needs to be remembered however that the style of swing was generally different back then. Most people used some form of barrel hold (as was promoted by Ted S.) rather than a ballroom hold. (Also important for dancing in often very crowded halls.)
Over the past several years, we have had several ‘extra’ dances here in Tallahassee that are advertised to the contra dance listserv and elsewhere as old-time or square dances, or old time square dances, with live music. We have had anywhere from 8 to 30 dancers come. One of the things we heard from dancers was that they did not like being left out — wanting to dance but not enough dancers for a full square. We decided on a policy of leaving no-one sitting who wants to dance. That means that we don’t decide what dance to call (at least not for sure) until we see how many couples stand up to dance; and it means that I have dances ready to go for 4, 5, 6 or 7 couples. With 6 or 7 it can be a longways set, a contra, a circle mixer, or a big circle square-dance. With 8 or 12 it’s a 4-couple square. Folks seem to appreciate the concern for their enjoyment, and there are plenty of good dances to choose from for any number of couples. (Although I could wish for more good five-couple dances, the vast repertory of circle mixers comes in handy.) I have also used a couple of 6- or 9-couple dances I learned from Phil Jamieson.
Others have recently dealt with the situation where you have only three or even two couples.
Richard, I also recall reading that comment about Page's opinion on Chorus
Jig--I think it was in A Time to Dance, but might have been in Shadrack's
I find a ball room swing that ends facing up and casting down the outside
> (one’s own side) a lot of fun - but perhaps you mean if you end the swing
> facing down - that certainly doesn’t flow as well.
I was particularly thinking of an improper cast, yes, but the other depends
on the specific choreography, partner, music, speed, and line spacing.
Sometimes it works just fine, as you say, but the floor pattern isn't as
elegant and the relative speed can be all wrong for the dance narrative.
If you are swinging to improper and then are supposed to cast down,
however, that's simply not possible from a standard ballroom swing; the
best you can do is end the swing facing down and step apart to go down the
outside. Then the dance loses its visual structure because there's no
It also doesn't work well if you are supposed to cross and cast--the timing
changes because you are already close together, plus you need to
I may have a somewhat unusual way of enjoying and assessing the flow of
dances, because I always envision them from above as I dance. I'll
tolerate somewhat non-flowing choreography so long as the visual pattern
created is crisp and elegant. On the other hand, dances that don't create
a distinctive and pretty floor pattern irk me greatly if the sequence isn't
100% natural. (This includes just about every dance that needs the phrase
"ooze" or "shift" to describe the progression. Circling to a slide, or
promenading, or similar things are fine; "oozing" makes me think of