So excited about this topic. I help run a genderfree dance in Boston, and
love what happens to a community with genderfree terminology*.
Firstly, I agree with everything Maia has already said, particularly their
point about finding it confusing if there isn't a clearly delegated
"leader" at a given moment. Even though contra doesn't need to be a
lead/followed dance in the conventional sense, it remains true that several
of the most common moves are asymmetric (like swings or chains), so some
leading and following is simply par for the course. Further, it's
unavoidable that many dancers will spice up their dancing with strictly
lead and followed flourishes.
My favorite way of indicating role is via palm direction; if you're in the
traditionally "gent" role, your palms face up; "ladies" palms face
This is preferable to me over visual signifiers like arm bands or neck
ties, because you can more easily switch roles with your partner mid-dance.
As a woman-type person who enjoys being in charge (it's like I'm a caller
or something), the opportunity to lead (or follow!) in contra dance is
important to me. I totally agree with Maia's thoughts on teaching consent,
and the mechanisms by which a "lead" or "followed" move occur. I
further encourage you to teach *all *dancers to better hold their own
weight; I've found that most women who have traditionally danced in the
Lady's role take for granted the upper body strength of a traditional male
gent, such that if I'm leading, I find myself hurting from supporting their
weight during swings. It's worthwhile to call back to what John has already
said about physics, but with the important caveat that body
size/weight/height are the more important factor, not gender.
In short, I would encourage you to teach not only symmetric swing holds
like you mentioned, but also teach techniques by which lead/followed
dancing may be more comfortable and safe for everyone involved, regardless
of whether their gender identity correlates to their chosen dance role.
These methods include the accept/decline system Maia discussed, the issue
of shared weight, the use of palm direction to indicate role intention, and
the use of genderfree or inclusive language**.
*Our community was already relatively young, queer, and prone to role
switching. After officially switching to genderfree terminology, however
(we use Larks and Ravens), the number of long-time and novice dancers alike
trying new things or dancing in unfamiliar roles had increased drastically!
Not only do I firmly believe that this means our dancers are more skilled
(they're more equipped to understand and deal with confusion in the line,
on the whole), but I also believe that our community is stronger, since
partnering isn't limited.
**By "inclusive language," I mean saying things outright like, "We use the
terms Gents and Ladies to differentiate between dance roles, but those
traditional trends ate totally non-binding! Please feel free to dance in
either role at any time, and see which one you like better. Some days I
like dancing in both roles; other times I want to dance just in one role or
the other!" (Side bar: when I'm teaching a beginners' lesson, I make a
point to model this behavior; sometimes I'll deliberately ask a novice of
the same gender presentation as me to demo a swing; sometimes I'll
deliberately call upon a gender-queer community member to model the "which
role do you prefer?" conversation, and follow through by using their
pronouns as I describe what we're doing to the beginners, i.e., "They are
in the Raven's role, I am dancing as a Lark" etc).
On Sun, Mar 11, 2018, 12:40 PM Maia McCormick via Callers <
Exciting workshop! I'm glad to see this discussed!
So if I'm understanding you correctly, you seem to be contrasting the idea
of a "leader" with the fact that moves must be "executed with mutual
consent", which I find interesting. For me, those ideas are not at all at
odds. I see the "leader" as the person who initiates, or *offers*, the
embellishment, and the "follower" as then deciding to execute it or not. To
put it another way: in my opinion, *all embellishments are composed of an
offer (the "lead") and either an acceptance or declination*. In this
framework, designating one person the "leader" is *not* at odds with
consensual twirling--the "follower" has agency every step of the way!--and
it can be helpful to establish "right of way" in twirling.*
I teach a workshop on dance floor communication, and I am happy to talk
more if you like! But my initial suggestion for a workshop activity/focus
is: *break down non-verbal communication of flourishes*. What does an
offer look/feel like? An acceptance? A declination? Have people practice
physically declining flourishes: when the lead lifts an arm to offer a
twirl, the follow gently tugs down, rather than following that upward
twirly momentum. (Note that the twirlee can also do the offering -- e.g. I
am a lady doing a chain, and I get to the gent and lift my arm up over my
head to indicate that I want to twirl. But the gent still gets to accept or
decline! Maybe they have a bad shoulder and can't lift their arm up that
far, etc. So that's an idea to put in people's heads as well.)
Many follows aren't aware that they're *allowed* to decline flourishes,
and many leads have no idea what a declination feels like! So this is a
GREAT thing to practice. Emphasize to folks that they can decline a twirl
for any reason; and that if someone declines your twirl, not to take it
personally. (Cuz boyyy I have seen some men get huffy when I don't want to
twirl for them.) And then PRACTICE so people get really aware of what
signals to physically "listen" for. (In my workshop I had the crowd do a
dance** with lots of flourish opportunities for both roles, and encouraged
participants to play with whether they offered flourishes or not, whether
they accepted or declined, and to really listen for their partner's
Hope some of that was helpful! Like I said, I have lots of ideas on this
topic and am happy to talk further. Thanks for teaching this, and best of
luck -- let us know how it goes!
* As John mentioned, twirls etc. can be initiated by either role, and I've
certainly danced those dances where both roles are twirling all over the
place! They're delightful, but I also find them super confusing because I
never know if I should be in "initiate" or "respond" mode -- I
designating one person the "leader", i.e. the person who initiates
flourishes (and then switching around the "leader" if need be).
** Apogee <http://chrispagecontra.awardspace.us/dances/#apogee> by Chris
Page, though in retrospect I might have picked something easier... maybe
PB&J <http://chrispagecontra.awardspace.us/dances/#apogee> by Bill Olson?
If you don't have a crowd that's up for a gent's chain, though, most any
dance with a lot of flourish opportunities (chains, balance and swing's,
lines down the hall, etc.) will do.
On Tue, Mar 6, 2018 at 12:21 AM, Jeanette Mill via Callers <
I am devising a workshop for a festival here in Australia, and have long
been of the opinion that there are no "leaders" in contra dance couples.
Moves should be executed with mutual consent, especially embellishments
such as turning under out of a ladies' chain. Conventions such as waltz
hold swings are really useful here. In Australia, other related dance forms
use a variety of swing holds, which lead to confusion and interruption of
flow. I plan to place some emphasis on conventions of holds, such as
allemande and star holds.
I would value people's opinions on this, as it may ruffle some long-held
conventions. Any words of wisdom from the gender free dance community would
be especially welcome.
Also, I believe that if dancers are to enjoy embellishments, they must be
by mutual consent. This is so difficult to establish in a microsecond. I
would value any thoughts on how to advise reaching this consent in the
context of a contra dance.
Looking forward to your thoughts
Contra dance caller, musician, workshop facilitator
Phone: +61 (0)449 686 077 <+61%20449%20686%20077>
"The piano - 88 little mistakes waiting to happen" Kate Barnes
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