I mostly like to sit these kind of conversations out but, not for the first
time, I am provoked. First let me say that I have been dancing contras and
mostly traditional New England squares since the 1970s. Secondly I devote a
great deal of time to either dancing or calling or preparing to call. And
yet I must remind you, in fact we must remind ourselves, that it is only a
dance, no more, no less, and not a reason for acrimony in a world beset by
so many painful and unnecessary divisions. Secondly as perhaps everyone who
has danced at such events as I did in the 1970's in Burlington Vermont can
tell you an evening normally included 4 squares. At that time they were
strictly New England Squares and as such strictly matched to the phrases of
the music. Over the last several years I have been privileged to dance
where a different tradition of squares was rooted. Dancing traditional
southern squares is a different experience. Why would I want to choose
between them? In the 1970's, when I started, Modern Western Square Dancing
appeared to be done by a different group of dancers. We did not mix. And I
am therefore not in a position to say much of substance about it, although I
do notice that several figures from Modern Western Squares have entered our
vocabulary and enriched us, as have several from the English Country Dancing
tradition. Folks, we are in a time of enrichment - just look at the music
played by many of our most popular contra dance bands - and I hope we
broaden our sources of enrichment further. Much further. Yes, we do this
without much sense of the traditions that have come before and that we come
from. When I was "coming of age", as my father might have put it, many of
us loved folk music for the feeling of connecting with the ancestors of our
shared cultures that it gave us. This is not part of the experience in
contra dancing for me. That is a shame. But throughout we have been part of
a public, evolving tradition, that once included both contras and squares.
Please be careful too about assumptions about what any of us is familiar
with. Many on this list, and even in this discussion, have a great deal of
experience with all of these traditions, and have contributed greatly to
their enrichment. Whatever their opinions they sure know of what they
speak. And, at the very great risk of alienating everyone, I ask you to
remember it is only a dance. Not a movement for social change, nor a real
source of oppression. Enjoy.
Rickey Holt, Fremont, NH
[mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Greg McKenzie
Sent: Monday, March 19, 2012 3:08 PM
To: millstone(a)valley.net; Caller's discussion list
Subject: Re: [Callers] Contra / MWSD parallels?
David Millstone quoted Don Coffee as writing:
Modern contra dancing has become a mass "movement" with the energy of a
greight train, but most of the young people who so
only-- have no idea it is but one component of a larger, very
wonderful, tradition. This horse-blinder focus rather reminds me of...
Oh dear! Here we go again.
The square enthusiasts are putting forth another tome-complete with graphs
and historical references- about how contra dancers are "limited",
"short-sighted", "narrow-minded" or just plain ignorant in their views
the dance tradition that they have loved for so many decades.
This annual tradition of denigration would be humorous if it were not so
insidious and insulting to people who have dedicated so much to building a
new tradition that has made called dancing available to so many people who
would not have otherwise ever tried it.
Instead of repeating the old saws about how bad contra dancers are, our
square dance calling friends might consider educating themselves about this
new tradition that they seem to know so little about. For those of us
dedicated to holding open, public, contra dances for our communities this
movement is much more than merely a "component of a larger, very wonderful
tradition." It is, in fact, an evolution of even older traditions and,
perhaps, an alternative to the square dance tradition that has become so
moribund and unavailable to the general public.
For many of us, introduced to contras as our first social dance experience,
one of the defining factors that drew us to contra dancing was the fact that
it was NOT square dancing and it did NOT require that we attend separate
classes to learn it.
The fact is that contras are attended by a wildly eclectic crowd of people
with varied dance experience and interests. Yes, about half of those in the
hall frequent contras almost exclusively (43% attend contras only), but
almost 40% of those in the hall are enthusiasts of some other dance form and
attend other dance forms at least six times a year. About 20% of those in
the hall are not enthusiasts of any dance form.
(Note that only 3% of those in the hall attend square dances regularly.)
Square dance calling enthusiasts should consider that the contra dance
tradition might be something different from what you are familiar with, or
from what you *assume* it is. These open, public social events attract a
different mix of people, have a different purpose, and require a different
set of calling skills than many other forms of dance. When
callers-unfamiliar with the contra tradition-insist on presenting square
formations while presuming to tell the dancers what they *ought* to enjoy,
it is not surprising that many folks will decide to sit out. It would be
better to first educate yourselves about who is in the hall before calling
one of these events. Here is one place to start:
I look forward to an ongoing discussion about the evolution of social dance
and the great contributions it can make to our world. That discussion will
be most productive, however, if we start with a clear understanding of what
it is that we do NOT know.
Callers mailing list