Variations in local styling can be very unsatisfying unless:
1) visiting dancers are prepared to accept the local styling
2) if the caller sees problems then they explain what the local styling is and ask visitors to respect it
At my contra dances I always ask visiting callers to announce, during the first Star that they call, that our local styling is Wrist-Locks. This is important in my area as there are lots of local dancers who do country dancing where the default is Hands-Across. It always amazes me how reluctant callers are to do this. Some of them seem terrified of actually doing any teaching of style or technique.
If everyone just does what they want, you end up with uncomfortable Allemandes and Stars.
I just spent a month experiencing this at MWSD sessions in Phoenix.
For example, the CALLERLAB manuals are quite clear for Waves:
“STYLING: Dancers should use hands-up position.” “Hands Up: Hands are joined in crossed palm position;” “Swing Thru: All hands are joined in hands-up position, elbows in close. Exert slight pressure to assist opposite dancer in turning. Arcing turns should be utilized rather than pull by type of movements and should flow effortlessly from one turn to the other so that you are in a sense, "weaving" along the line.”
But because there are regional variations CALLERLAB could not get a consensus and finally published “Styling has also been standardized. While great strides were made in the 1970s and 1980s certain areas and groups continued to use styling that did not match the approved styling (e.g., “hands up” vs. “hands down” in Ocean Waves). In 1992 our membership acknowledged its inability to have one styling used by all dancers with a motion which said, “CALLERLAB recognizes that regional differences in styling exist.””
As a result callers are scared to tell people what they should do, and with a community made up of dancers from all over the States (enjoying the sunshine in Phoenix) it was a mess. I would be doing Swing Thrus down the line with Half Allemandes and then the next guy is offering his arm horizontally at waist level, making the experience less than satisfactory. And most stars were lumps where everyone grabbed any part of anyone else’s hand that they fancied.
Moves like Promenades can vary without problem since how you do it doesn’t affect anyone else.
Terminology is a completely different matter; everything works as long as the caller defines their terms carefully. I do lots of different Dosidos, but give them different names, otherwise it would be impossible for the dancers to follow the call, especially when I do a dance which uses three different Dosidos!
John Sweeney, Dancer, England email@example.com 01233 625 362 & 07802 940 574
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Chet Gray wrote:
<<In regards to the present variety in role terminology, I may be fairly alone in this opinion, but I hope we never intentionally arrive at a grand consensus.
I love that different terms for roles have sprung up in different communities, just as I love that so many wonderful terms have sprung up for eye-turn/shoulder-turn/spiral. I love hearing "allemande", "hand turn", and "hand 'round" in different communities. I love that "dosado" means drastically different things in different long-lived community ("square") dances. I love that some communities default to hands-across stars while others default to wrist-hold stars. I love that there are at least three different promenade positions, and each is default in different communities. As much as my engineer brain would enjoy it, I hope we never have a CALLERLAB to strictly define terminology and steps for contra dances.>>
One of the things I’ve long lamented about the modern square dance movement is the disappearance of regional variations. If square dancing is viewed as a hobby, it makes sense (given the mobility of people in industrialized countries) to standardize the meaning of calls, hand and arm positions, and other rules and customs. But if it’s viewed as a folk art, it’s a crying shame to lose the variations. To me, standardizing a folk dance form is like saying there’s only one right way to cook chicken. (Given how far MSD has strayed away from tradition and toward homogenization, it feels to me as if they’re saying KFC is the only right way to cook chicken.)
The contra dance world has never had an entity like Callerlab with the clout to convince local groups to standardize, and I don’t think it needs one. Two of the big attractions of contra dancing (IMO) are its lack of regimentation and the small number of terms a newcomer must learn. That small number (again IMO) means that adjusting from one village to another is not difficult: Typically only 3 or 4 terms out of 15 or 20 are understood differently.
A big question in my mind is whether there’s anything approaching a consensus among contra callers (and interested organizers and dancers) on any points beyond the obvious: that dancing should be enjoyable and a dance venue should be a safe space. I would strongly caution folks against thinking there’s a consensus when only a small percentage of callers and leaders has been heard from. I’m thinking here, not specifically about the gender-free vs. gendered issue or which gender-free terms to adopt, but about the big picture – which includes those issues, but also includes standardization vs. local styles, “gypsy” vs. a new term (and again, which one to adopt), and which, if any, of the many new movements to expect dancers to memorize. This last issue is much on my mind, as the contra vocabulary has more than tripled since I started dancing. Do we really want to go down that road?
Getting back to the issue of gender-free terms (though I’ve changed the subject line to allow more general discussion), I hope that here, as elsewhere, we can feel free to experiment and not feel constrained by what other people and groups are doing.
New book: Square Dance Calling (ready Summer 2017)