Thanks for all the great info already, guys. I really appreciate it.
John, I have gone to 2 of the Paris dances and have been talking with Laurette quite a lot
about my goals and process and asking her lots of questions. I was there once for Susan
calling, she did a mix of the 2 languages. The last time I was there, caller was Rachel
Shapiro, who didn't use french at all and it seemed to work just fine. I know I had a
great time and it seemed like the entire crowd did too. I was really impressed at how
well it worked. I am a little concerned if the crowd I draw is less University and more
oldies - language might be more of an issue. Will be keeping all of these tips for future
reference. Thanks so much
From: John Sweeney <john(a)modernjive.com>
Sent: Friday, March 3, 2017 8:12:48 PM
To: 'Karlsruhe Contra Dance'; organizers(a)lists.sharedweight.net
Subject: RE: [Organizers] Leading Contra Dances in non-english-speaking countries
I called for the first few of the recent contra series in Paris.
I called & taught in English as my French is not so good. I used
standard English contra terminology.
One of the biggest enemies of comprehension is elision – shortening two
words into one. The different between “can” and “can’t” is actually the vowel sound, but
non-English speakers don’t always get this; they focus on whether they can hear the “t” or
not, but it is often not sounded. So always say “can” and “can not” – making sure to
leave a gap between the two words.
If you speak clearly, slowly, with every word pronounced separately, and
don’t ever elide, then you will get a significant increase in understanding. If you are
fast talker then this is a skill you need to practice.
We ran a two-hour workshop in the afternoon, then had an hour’s break for a
shared meal, then ran a three hour dance in the evening. I had a great band so that there
were no challenges with the music.
Don’t assume you have to do all contras, or that all contras have to have
With a high percentage of beginners you will have lots of challenges with
people ending the swing on the wrong side, especially if they change gender each dance.
Be prepared to teach the swing multiple times, focussing on the ending. Teach that the
joined hands are a pointer and call “finish pointing at the other couple” or “finish
pointing down the hall”.
Do a lesson first focussing on eights, connection and swings. Do a first
dance like “Family Contra” with no swings so that they learn about progressions. Use
Circle Mixers to teach moves; use Sicilian Circles to avoid end effects. Or anything else
that provides fun and variety.
Do lots of demos – a head mike is really useful. Don’t worry about doing
multiple walk-throughs if they need them. Be patient if someone is translating for the
people nearby, but try to keep some control :)
Use simple dances initially, but don’t make the mistake of slowing the music
down – slower music is harder to dance to and not as much fun. Make sure everyone
succeeds in the first few dances – stop the dance, teach more and restart if you need to.
The initial objectives are to make sure everyone has fun and to build their confidence.
Let me know if you would like a copy of the dance programme that I used for
the first session.
I hope that helps.
This is an article I wrote for various publications:
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Contra Dancing Comes To Paris by John Sweeney
Laurette Tuckerman, an American living in Paris, had a dream; she wanted to dance her
beloved contra dances in Paris. Laurette met me at a contra dance in London run by the
London Barn Dance Company at Cecil Sharp House, and once she knew I called contra dances,
and lived a few minutes from the Eurotunnel, she took the first steps in making her dream
come true by booking me to call in Paris.
We needed a small band that could play superb contra dance music, make an amazing,
uplifting room-filling sound, and fit in one car with Karen (my wife) and me, plus all our
PA and instruments. Gareth and Linda, the English Contra Dance Band, fitted the bill
perfectly; even better, Gareth offered to drive!
Laurette managed to book a superb hall in the American Church in Paris, right on the banks
of the Seine, with beautiful stained glass windows – you can see the pictures if you
search Facebook for “Paris contra dance” – for May 31st 2014.
So, band, caller, venue, date all arranged! What else do you need? Oh yes, dancers!
Laurette embarked on a massive campaign contacting all the American communities and dance
communities of every type in Paris, together with general advertising through any media
she could access, including, of course, the Internet.
The final piece of the jigsaw was funding; Laurette went dancing in America and persuaded
the Country Dance & Song Society to provide some money to help cover some of the
costs. Everything was now in place and we waited for the big day…
The plan was to run a two hour workshop in the afternoon, followed by a buffet meal, then
a contra dance in the evening. The biggest challenge now was to work out how much food
her children and their friends should prepare since Laurette had no idea whether we would
get 20 people or 200 people!
Gareth and Linda stayed with us on the Friday night and we set off for the Eurotunnel just
before 7am. The journey went smoothly; we even found a parking space outside the church
and had time to have lunch outside in the sunshine!
Before we had the equipment set up people started arriving! By 4pm we had about 50 people
to start the workshop. Most people stayed for the evening dance and more turned up just
for the evening; in total about 80 people attended one or both of the sessions.
The dancers were a complete mix of ages and dance skills; some were Americans who had done
some contra dancing, others were from the Parisian Irish, English and Scottish country
dancing groups with some dance skills but no knowledge of contra, and of course lots of
people who had never danced before. Though the majority were French they all had some
knowledge of English so I taught and called all the dances in English, with the aid of
demonstrations and occasional translations.
I had spent a lot of time planning the structure of the workshop; we started with easy
dances to introduce the first-timers to contra dance concepts and basic moves, then built
slowly on that foundation, adding more interesting moves with each dance to spice things
up. We had more ladies than men, so we used coloured sashes to make it easy for me to
make sure everyone was in the right place during the walk-throughs.
By the end of the workshop all the dancers were coping well with Heys, Ladies’ Chains,
Petronellas, Right & Left Throughs and Waves in simple dances. After an excellent
buffet we started the evening session. Building on the skills they gained from the
workshop and with the help of the few experienced contra dancers we were able to dance a
wide range of great dances such as Tica Tica Timing (diagonal 3/4 Circles, Ladies’ Chains
and Petronellas), Trip to Lambertville (Tidal and Ocean Waves) and Butter (Ladies’ Chains
The dancing was amazing! Karen danced every dance, helping the dancers get the feel of
good contra-dancing; she remarked that the dancers were growing in enthusiasm and
confidence throughout the day, and that by the middle of the evening it was as good as a
regular contra dance.
For variety I added some squares and circle mixers, then finished the evening by repeating
a couple of the dances from the workshop so that the dancers could relax and enjoy the
fabulous music. Throughout the sessions Linda & Gareth were smoking hot, filling the
room with their wonderful music and inspiring the dancers to put everything into their
dancing. The atmosphere was electric!
Laurette’s dream had come true; she was contra dancing in Paris! Everyone agreed that it
had been a great success and Laurette is already planning the next one…
John & Karen Sweeney info(a)contrafusion.co.uk – please contact us if you want any
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John Sweeney, Dancer, England john(a)modernjive.com 01233 625 362
for Dancing in Kent