In a recent post I defined a contra dance as:
- longways for as many as will
- first couples Improper, or Becket formation
- flowing choreography
- no-one stationary for more than 16 beats (e.g. First Couple Balance &
Swing, finish facing down to make Lines of Four)
- containing at least one swing
- 95% of the moves to be from a set of well-know moves that they know
(And I would add that most of those figures are connected; dancers are very
rarely asked to go on a track by themselves.)
Is that what most Americans understand by a
Are you allowed to do Proper dances at a "contra dance"? Or a
four-couple dance that has all the other characteristics listed above?
Or a Sicilian Circle (space allowing)?
But got no answer.
It depends somewhat on the community. The big-city (modern urban contra) scene
tends to devolve toward longways contra, but charismatic, opinionated, and good
callers can make a difference.
At contra dances in the San Francisco Bay Area I have seen:
- squares (and many people sit down for them)
- triplets (and many people complain about gimmicks)
- circle mixers
- proper contras (rarely)
- triple-minor contras (Sackett's Harbor - but not in the last 10 years)
- scatter mixers
- couple dances: waltz, polka, hambo
and at contra dance camps/weekends I've also seen
- grid squares
- Appalachian big circle figures
Taking it a step further - this is a popular dance
over here in the UK:
Childgrove (Playford 1701)
A1: Partner Siding; Partner Dosido
A2: Neighbour Siding; Neighbour Dosido
B1: Neighbour Two-Hand Turn 1 & 1/2 (skip step)
Partner Two-Hand Turn
B2: #1s Full Figure Eight up through the #2s (who can cast to turn
it into a double-figure-eight if they like) (skip step)
It has all the characteristics defined above apart
from the swing being
replaced by a skipped two-hand turn. And of course the moves may not be
all familiar to contra dancers. If I called that at an American contra
dance, to great music from a live band, what reaction would I get?
Depends on the crowd, but it's not something I'd be inclined to try except
under very specific circumstances.
(Except for crossover English dancers, you'd have to teach siding, your dosido
would end up with a lot of twirls in it, and you'd have to teach the figure
eight from zero, the two-hand turns at different speeds might be challenging.)
If the band plays it as they would for an English dance, the contra dancers
won't know what to do with it (as I know from sad experience). If you play it
like a contra dance tune, you won't get an English dance out of it.
(I bet Cammy Kaynor could sell it to his dancers, though.)
I was recently at a contra dance camp which had a late-night "Trash English"
session. Bluesy, swingy, low-down versions of English tunes, and dancers
responding to them with contra and swing body language and flourishes, using
the original figures as an armature on which to hang those variations. Great
music, strong dancers, really fun. Childgrove would have been fine there.
Hope that helps somewhat.
Alan Winston --- WINSTON(a)SSRL.SLAC.STANFORD.EDU
Disclaimer: I speak only for myself, not SLAC or SSRL Phone: 650/926-3056
Paper mail to: SSRL -- SLAC BIN 99, 2575 Sand Hill Rd, Menlo Park CA 94025