I can only speak with reference to calling at NEFFA, as I have never applied to DownEast. As some of you may know that Linda Leslie is NEFFA's program chair, I will note that the program chair does not select performers for contra sessions.
Regarding NEFFA 2007, the following notice is now posted at http://neffa.org/perf_app.html - The Program Committee is not prepared to take your application at this time, since it is too late to apply for this year's NEFFA Festival. Please note that the application to perform is always available during the month of September, with a deadline in October. If you'd like to get an e-mail notice of application availability, send a blank e-mail to NEFFA_Performers-subscribe(a)yahoogroups.com
So you can note on your calendar that September is a good time to check the NEFFA web site, and also arrange for a notice to pop up in your e-mail.
The NEFFA application invites you to come up with a briefly-described theme for your session, with a title of 20 characters or less. IMO, use your own judgment as to how important the theme is. If you are offering a concept that's really meaningful to you, don't be afraid to describe it. If what you really want to do is just call some hot contras, then IMO I wouldn't go overboard on the theme.
Unlike Northwest Folklife, callers and bands apply SEPARATELY to the New England Folk Festival. And I believe that this is a very good thing for beginning callers who hope to have a chance at getting onstage. This mix-and-match policy gives a fresh perspective for experienced performers, and can be an eye-opening experience for newcomers who may get to work with seasoned veterans. I will never forget calling at NEFFA with Northern Spy, a band that has worked with caller David Millstone for 25 years. And where was David during this session? Out on the floor, happily dancing to the music of his own band. NEFFA's selection process made that wonderful hour possible for me.
For what it's worth, the first year I successfully applied I asked for a "Festival Orchestra" slot, which means that instead of calling a themed, hour-long session I called two dances in the Main Hall with the assembled orchestra and then got off the stage as the next Festival Orchestra caller had a turn. IMO, the key here (as well as in submitting a session proposal) is to choose dances that you know by heart, can teach well, fully believe in, and love to share with a crowd. You don't want to have second thoughts as you approach the microphone.
If you're wondering why performer applications are required so far in advance of a festival, note that NEFFA may have 1700 performers, many of whom perform in multiple sessions (perhaps performing alone, and with a participatory dance group, and also with a concert performance group!). You can't doublebook a performer (or larger groups to which she may belong), you have to give her time to move from one venue to another, plus a bunch of other scheduling etceteras that would drive me loony to contemplate further. How scheduling was done in the days before computers is beyond me.
Robert Jon Golder
164 Maxfield St
New Bedford, MA 02740
I try and call the dances of Rich Blazej whenever I can and this one's a
Halloween favorite, re-done as "Werewolves and Zombies".
*Garfield's Escape* -- circle of couples PLUS ONE EXTRA in the center
A1 All into the center EIGHT steps and back, menacing the Garfield
A2 Circle left, circle right
B1 Women (werewolves) promenade single file to the right, while men
(zombies) "star" by the right -- each man puts his right hand on right
shoulder of the man in front - including Garfield.
B2 Caller hollers "Escape!" ("Boo!", or maybe "Braaaiiins") and all men
run to the outside and swing with a woman in the outer circle. A new
Garfield remains in the center.
Rich himself named this after Garfield the comic-strip cat, way back when
he was cynical and funny (the cat, not Rich).
"The single man remaining at the end of the dance is entitled to a pan of
lasagna and some fresh kitty litter".
My favorite normal tune for this is the minor jig Coleraine, played at a
slightly slower lurch-y tempo, but if I'm lucky the band'll do the Alfred
Have fun, just thought I'd share -- and I'd love to hear how it goes if you
do it, and what variations emerge.
Linda Leslie's suggestion of gyre as a replacement for gypsy bubbled around
in my brain and a new (I think) dance percolated up. It has a twist that
isn't the gyre (which I consider just new nomenclature); women casting out
of the swing to travel from one minor set to another (similar to gent's
movement in Scoot by Tom Hinds).
I haven't gotten to test it with dancers yet, as I just finished running it
through with pegs on my desk; but I wanted to share it in support of a new
A Gyre for Linda
by Luke Donforth
(4) Pass through to an ocean wave (ladies left, catch right with partner)
(4) Balance the short Wavy line
(2) Walk forward
(3) Shadow gyre right 1/2
(3) Gents gyre left 1/2 in the middle
(16) Neighbor gyre right and swing
(8) Men allemande Left 1-1/2 WHILE women cast cw around whole set one
(8) 1/2 Hey, passing partner by right shoulder
(16) Partner gyre right and swing at home
As for the other aspects that have been discussed:
I pronounce it with a softer g sound. For reasons unclear to me, gyre has
different accepted pronunciations; but (to my knowledge) gyration doesn't.
As for using the term (which I clearly support); it costs me nearly nothing
to switch and helps make the dance more accessible for some; both in
dropping a term some find offensive and making the name more descriptive of
the move. My job as a caller is to help share the joy of dancing, and if
this does that I'm in favor of it.
As part of thinking about how whether non-gendered terms would work for
mainstream contra dances, I thought it would be good to ask callers what
they thought. Is it something where most callers were only willing to call
Gents/Ladies, or are they more flexible? Do they generally support this
sort of change, or do they think it's a bad idea?
I wrote to people who have called BIDA in the last year, plus the ones who
are currently booked, to ask them whether:
- A dance like BIDA switching to gender free terms is better, worse, or
about the same.
- They have a preference between Larks/Ravens and Jets/Rubies.
- They would be willing to call Larks/Ravens or Jets/Rubies if a dance
Of the 18 callers I wrote to, 17 responded. Of them, all but one was
willing to call Larks/Ravens or Jets/Rubies, though several said (without
my having suggested it) that they wouldn't be willing to call Lead/Follow.
Many of the respondents didn't say whether they were in favor of the
switch. Of the 11 who did respond, it was 5x yes, 3x ambivalent, and 3x no.
Nine callers preferred Jets/Rubies because they find it easier to say, but
no one so much that they were willing to call Jets/Rubies but not
Some freeform responses, lightly edited:
"I prefer Jets/Rubies, but only slightly. I can see the benefit of
'L'/'R' matching the default swing ending position with the initial letters
but I think I'd make fewer mistakes with Jets/Rubies. Not enough to sway a
"My personal preference is for Jets/Rubies, but that's just because it's
easier for me to say right now. I'm sure that if I practiced Larks/Ravens
would be fine too. If the point of using gender free terms is to distance
the roles even further from gender, than I'd go with Larks/Ravens.
Jets/Rubies sounds very similar to Gents/Ladies, and some callers slip up
and say 'Gents' for 'Jets'."
"The birds are arbitrary terms and seem to have fewer unwanted(?)
associations than the rock terms. So I'm for the birds."
"I'm not wildly positive about either Larks/Ravens or Jets/Rubies, but
if I had to choose one set, it would be Larks/Ravens. To me, Jets/Rubies
carries a lot of baggage: It sounds enough like Gents/Ladies that it
invites the reaction 'Who are they trying to kid?' The lack of logical
association between jewels (inanimate objects) and dancing (an intimate
human activity) makes the use of Jets/Rubies feel as if the series is being
run by an in-group with a secret language. (I realize the two foregoing
reactions are contradictory, but these are gut reactions, not necessarily
rational ones.) Also, 'Jets' makes me think of the gang in West Side Story,
and also of airplanes (more inanimate objects). To sum up, the word in a
dance context has no positive associations for me, and some negative ones.
Larks/Ravens has no baggage for me, doesn't reinforce gender stereotypes,
and has a built-in mnemonic with the L/R initials."
"Enough people are offended by 'Jets' sounding too close to 'Gents' that
I think Larks/Ravens is a much easier sell."
"My preference would be Jets/Rubies, because the sound similarity to
traditional terms make the transition easier. (I understand that that very
feature makes it the less desirable choice in some people's view.)"
"As a caller who learned with Gents/Ladies, I find Jets/Rubies the
easiest to use."
"I've never used Larks/Ravens. I've used Jets/Rubies, and felt fairly
comfortable with it. Larks/Ravens makes more sense to me. Definitely happy
to use either one."
"I have a preference for Jets/Rubies but the only terms I *will not use* are
"I don't have a preference between those two sets of terms. I am also
comfortable with Lead/Follow, but know that this is also a challenging
choice for some people and I understand why it's maybe not the best pick. I
like it because those terms have dance connotations"
"I like Jets/Rubies because regular contra dancers from other places can
come in and dance without needing anything to be explained to them since
the terms are pretty similar to Gents/Ladies. Also, Larks/Ravens sounds a
"As far as Jets/Rubies vs Larks/Ravens, I like using Jets/Rubies because
they sound almost the same as Gents/Ladies. For my rhymes and patter, it's
a pretty easy substitution. But my first impression of the terms is that
they are still kind of gendered, or at least can be interpreted that.
'Jets' sounds aggressive and masculine, and 'Rubies' are definitely
"I can't imagine trying to turn a singing square gender free."
"From the point of view of a caller trying to get a new set of words out
of my mouth when significant chunks of my teaching and prompting are
automatic, I think that I would prefer Jets/Rubies for a few reasons.
First, I think that I would manage to confuse myself and stumble around
switching 'Gents' to 'Larks', which starts with the same letter as
'Ladies', and might be more likely to flip-flop the two. Also, I know that
it has been successfully used, but the initial consonants of Larks/Ravens
aren't nearly as contrasted as are those of Jets/Rubies (or of
"Not really a preference, although as a caller perhaps Jets/Rubies is a
slightly easier transition."
Just wondering if anyone else is experiencing a bump in requests for
community/family dances? I feel like the last month or so, there's been an
uptick in schools and community centers requesting them. Could be a local
fluctuation, or something bigger. Anyone else getting that impression?
Possibly I'm projecting based on my own desire to build community through
dance, but a couple years ago I was knocking on doors trying to make these
happen, and now they're knocking on our door.
Hope you're all having a similar experience!
I could not locate use of the word "bland" in the post you reference.
In any event...
Did you not read the paragraph following that which contained the reference
to diet soda? The author stated that others may disagree. Obviously, you
disagree. Please don't belittle the views of others as you demonstrate your
I happily agree with most of what Neal wrote. I don't go contra dancing to
dance with guys, primarily. I go to dance with women. Yes, for me there is
quite a (fortunate) difference between dancing with men & women. I'll dance
with men but those "sublime" moments have happened only when dancing with
Couples dancing originated as gendered. I would argue that it continues to
be primarily gendered simply because couples are gendered whether
identified by physical difference or role predeliction. I know of
homosexual dancers who have preference for one role over the other; they
are not ambi-dance-trous in that sense. I.e. they do not get a similar
level of enjoyment dancing both roles.
Argue away, but please avoid the "holier than thou".
Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2017 22:49:24 -0500
From: Ron Blechner via Callers <
I have danced at a bunch of genderfree dances, as well as my home dance
having a lot of people who dance both roles. I can't say I've ever had this
"diet contra" experience.
My home dance is widely known among musicians and callers as a lively crowd
who brings good energy to performers. Proper and improper have little
relevance, but that doesn't stop a seeming endless supply of new
choreography being generated and called by various callers. Does it really
matter if I'm allemanding or swinging with a particular gender? I guess a
person can still choose to only dance with one gender if they really felt
But saying that genderfree dancing is bland? I mean, it's a folk community
dance. The whole point is we all dance in one big set together. If dancing
only to swing people of one gender means so much that contra is "diet"
without it, I would ask what exactly contra means to you?
On Feb 13, 2017 6:17 PM, "Woody Lane via Callers" <
I basically agree with Neal. I would not want to replace gents and ladies
with other arbitrary terms. For many of the same reasons.
Caller, Percussive Dancer
home: 541-440-1926 <(541)%20440-1926> cell: 541-556-0054 <(541)%20556-0054>
On 2/13/2017 2:51 PM, Neal Schlein via Callers wrote:
I do not want to replace gent and lady as terms, based on my own experience.
Some context: I've been dancing for between 29 and 37 years, depending on
how you count--my parents met at a square dance and I grew up dancing. I
started calling about 18 years ago, and dance/call ECD, Scottish, squares,
contra, ballroom, and folk styles at varying levels of proficiency. Seeing
a man dancing the lady's role, or a woman dancing the gent's role, has
never, ever phased me. It's fun to swap, requires technical skill, speaks
well of a dancer who can do it well stylistically, and sometimes is
necessary to fill out a set. It is also an important skill for any caller,
and one callers need to know how to handle when it happens in special
situations; the callers I grew up with talked about when they first
encountered gay or one-gender crowds in the 60s and how they struggled to
adjust on the fly.
That said, I first encountered "gender-free" dancing at a Heather and Rose
(?) ECD dance outside of Eugene, Oregon about 15 years ago. I didn't know
what I was walking into, and thought it was a normal ECD event until they
lined up and started teaching.
They used several dances I was familiar with; I had been teaching some
older ECD dances for a graduate folklore class and recently returned from
Berea's Christmas Country Dance School. Aside from momentary confusion,
adapting to the unfamiliar terminology and random line-up was not a problem
What I couldn't adapt to was how being made "gender free" changed the
character of the dances I knew. They became less elegant, less
interesting, and were lessened overall. Switching between an A and a B
position meant nothing aside from (possibly) a slightly different floor
pattern. Proper and improper had no relevance. There was no stylistic
mastery needed to switch dance sides because any clue as to historically
demanded or intended stylistic differences had been stripped out--there
weren't even ROLES anymore, merely positions; there was nothing to hold
onto even as a guideline for playacting. The dances completely lost their
flavor and character. They became like Caffeine Free Diet Crystal Coke.
(I mean, honestly...WHY WAS THAT EVER MADE? Just drink water!)
Other folks may certainly disagree with me, and I have followed and agree
with the many counterpoints, but I personally believe that the terms
"gentlemen" and "ladies" (and their derivatives) positively influence how
people behave and relate, and definitely how a dance is done. I don't
worry about that at special or family events, of course; I just want
everyone to get up and have a good time. But encouraging folks to learn
both roles to become better dancers is only meaningful if there is a
meaningful difference between the roles.
I am a happily married man and prefer to dance with women as partners and
corners. I don't mind dancing with men, but that's not what I go to dances
for; if I wanted to get close to a bunch of sweaty guys, I'd play
football. If we're honest, we can admit that the vast majority of our
general dancers (both new and old) are probably similar. So why not let
the dance reflect that? That's more likely to win friends than taking a
wonderful dance with character and making it into "gender free diet
Just my 2 cents.
Youth Services Librarian, Mahomet Public Library
Callers mailing list
For anyone who's fooling around with left swings, in knee-saving workshops
becket: from improper, circle RIGHT ;) 3 places
A1. circle R 3, turn to new Neighbor, swing! (standard clockwise swing)
A2. Long lines forward & (returning) Gents Neighbor roll away along
Gents RH chain (standard courtesy turn with roles reversed)
B1. Gents pass R: full hey
B2. Partner gypsy L (or seesaw)
swing L (counterclockwise)!!!