In my message of August 25 about rollaways, I wrote:
... There are indeed--as others
have pointed out--a few dances with actions where one dancer stays
(essentially) stationary while another dancer rolls past, but such
dances are rare. I'll save further comments about that for a
future message ...
Here are the promised rantings, er, comments:
First off, I agree with Chris Page and others who have pointed out
that such actions are quite rare in contemporary contra dancing. I
think that most experienced contra dancers are habituated to assume
that a roll[away] involves dancers changing places, whether or not
the caller explicitly says something like "with a half sashay" or
"roll ... to swap". Thus I agree with Chris's advice:
If you've got a dance that has one person staying
put while the other rolls in front of them, I'd recommend being very careful to
indicate that in the walkthough/written dance instructions.
In the more usual case, where the assisting dancer does shift
sideways into the other dancers place, experienced dancers won't
need explicit instruction, but some of the new dancers may. And
note that dance jargon like "with a half sashay" may mean nothing
to new dancers.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now I come to the main point of this message.
So far we've discussed two interpretations of rollaway:
1. Dancers swap places. (Very common in contemporary contras)
2. One dancer (the "assister") holds his/her ground while the
other dancer rolls past. (Rare in contras)
In practice, there's a third thing that can happen:
3. Assister shifts just partway into the other dancer's place.
I now describe two examples of situations where this has come up.
* * * * * * * * * *
Example 1 (Rainbow Walk)
In a message on August 21, 2015, Erik Hoffman described something he
has seen in the old-time square dance revival scene in Oakland, CA:
There's a move done in a square called "The
Rainbow Walk." It consists
of four "up to the middle and back that way, and rollaway with a half
[While Erik hasn't said who does what, my experience is that men
their successive corners from left to right. --js]
The callers that I've been seeing teaching this
are all saying "the man
stays put," which I -- dancing the "man's" part cannot do.
When they do it, the women make a circuit around the square and come home.
The way I do it is with the changing places described above, which I
find much more satisfying. When this is carried out in a square, the
result is the couples end up half-way across the square.
Like Erik, I prefer the interpretation in which adjacent dancers swap
places during the rollaways. And I think it odd that a caller would
actually say "with a half sashay" and then teach that "the man stays
put." But rather than muse about the perils of the folk process, I'll
get on with my story.
As a break figure in a square dance at a mostly-contra event, the
caller called something that moved everyone half-way around the square
(e.g., grand right and left four changes; meet partner and swing) and
then continued by calling the Rainbow Walk--that is, four repeats of
up to the middle and back that way
[men] roll your corner with a half sashay
The caller was expecting that dances would swap places during the
rollways, so that we would end up back at home, ready to start the
next round of the main figure of the dance.
What happened in my square--and I think it at least some of the
other squares--was that the men stepped only partway into their
corners' places and made the women do most of the traveling. The
total effect of four rollaways was thus that the men moved to the
left only about 1/4 of the way around the square (instead of
halfway) while the women moved to the right about 3/4 of the way
around. So instead of being back home, we had the original heads
couples near the side places and the sides near the head places.
When the caller called for the heads or the sides (or perhaps it
was some numbered couple) to do the first move of the main figure,
there was some uncertainty about whether we should interpret the
call based on our current positions or our original positions.
Note that if even one man--call him Rocky (as in "rock in the
stream")--steps only partway into his successive corners' places,
he can effectively obstruct the progression of his entire square.
The person most likely to be aware of the situation is the next
man to Rocky's right. But if that man tries to be insistent about
moving a full place to the left each time in hope of crowding
Rocky into moving along, the women will begin to feel the effect
long before Rocky does. So rather than get in the way of the
women, the other men in the square end up deferring to the pace
Rocky sets. Meanwhile Rocky may notice that the caller is calling
to "heads" or "sides" or "couple number such-and-such" at a
when dancers aren't in home positions, but he likely will be
genuinely and completely unaware that his own dancing style has
anything to do with the situation.
The lesson for callers: Be aware of situations like this where
a sequence that gets dancers home in theory may not get them home
in practice. After calling such a sequence and before calling
to heads or sides or a particular numbered couple, call something
like "promenade home" (or to gent's home in a mixer where ladies
progress, ...) or "circle ...; when you get home, swing your own."
* * * * * * * * * *
Example 2 ("Roll Away" but Stohl & Rob)
On August 24, John Sweeney wrote:
Most contra dance choreography uses the Half Sashay,
but not all. For
example, "Roll Away" by Stohl & Rob uses two Rollaways without Half
to make the progression.
the authors give the choreography of "Roll Away" as follows:
Becket, Duple Minor
A1: Gents lead Half-hey by the Left Ladies Ricochet (8)
Neighbor Swing (8)
A2: Ladies Chain with a Courtsey Turn (8)
Ladies Right Allemande 1 time (8)
B1: Partner Balance and Swing (16)
B2: Circle Left half-way and Balance Circle (8)
Gent Roll the Lady, Lady Roll the Gent (to progress) (8)*
*Note: Rolls do not include Sashays (that's an extra charge).
If the gents really, truly hold their ground during beats 9-13 of B2
and roll the ladies all the way into the position just occupied by
the next lady along the line, and if the ladies then really, truly
hold their ground and roll the gents to the position of the next
gent, then the dance will work out to be a double progression. (If
you don't see why, try carefully diagramming the actions in B2 for
dancers in at least two adjacent foursomes.)
I pointed this out in a message to the trad-dance-callers list on
Sept 12, 2012, after the dance had come up for discussion there.
In my message, I also guessed that the dance was more likely than
not intended to be a single progression. And indeed a few weeks
later (Oct 2, 2012), Heather Robinson (the "Rob" in "Stohl &
wrote to say that the dance was indeed intended to be a single
So what's going on? Why does practice (single progression) differ
from theory (double progression)? I can think of two reasons.
First, despite the instruction that there's no half-sashay, I think
the assisting dancers probably do move a little bit sideways.
Second, we may imagine dancers theoretically standing in a series
spots equally spaced along the sides of the set (the "stations" in
the terminology of Larry Jennings [_Give-and-Take_, sec. 3.3]),
but in practice, the roll-aways in "Roll Away" probably start with
dancers standing closer to their partners than to the nearest
dancer in the next foursome.
While the dance works well--and was intended by its authors--as a
single progression, it's possible that if the caller instructs
dancers not to do a half sashay, some dancers might reasonably
attempt to be scrupulous about not doing one. Imagine what will
happen if such dancers get their part of the set to do the dance
as a double progression while others in the same set are dancing
it as a single progression. One result could be that there are
repeated occasions where a couple find themselves alone between
two full foursomes and end up going to the bottom. Another result
could be that some dancers become impatient with each other. By
being aware both of the logic behind the double-progression
interpretation and of the reasons the dance works well in practice
as a single progression, a caller can be prepared to avert mixed
interpretations and to give tactful but authoritative answers to