First of all, it is important to distinguish between contra dances and Contra Dancing.  In other words, between the dance formation and the marketing term which has a set of expectations associated with it.

By itself, I would say that the term "contra" refers to a dance formation.  I would not associate any particular type of music with the formation - there have been waltz contras and polka contras, in small numbers, for a couple of centuries.  If pressed, I would admit that the Playford dances in "Longways for as many as will" formation are technically contra dances, and that the 1950s dance "The Stroll" is a degenerate contra dance, but I would explain that these days the term is usually used to refer to dances with minor sets within the big set.  Since we are talking about a formation, a Sicilian Circle dance is not a contra dance, but if you straighten out the circle into a line of couples and do the same figures, then it is a contra dance.  In spite of the fact that Becket-formation dances do not have the partners across from each other, I think of them as contra dances, although now that I think about it, they are not really in the same formation.  And yes, "The Young Widow" is definitely a contra dance.

"Contra Dancing", on the other hand, is a marketing term used by dance producers to try to convey to their potential attendees what kind of event they are producing.  The expectations associated with the term include having live music, dancing to the phrase of the music, the majority of the dances being in contradance formation, buzz-step swings, music which is mainly reels and jigs (unless the term "Contra" is modified with some other term such as "Techno"), and a policy of welcoming newcomers without requiring any previous lessons.  As far as I know, the term "Contra Dance" to refer to a dance event is relatively new, starting with Dudley Laufman's dances (to distinguish them from the "square dances" which were occurring in the same area in the same period), and later to distinguish the dances organized in the Boston area by Larry Jennings, which only had dances in longways formations (including triplets) from the dances occurring in the same area which also had dances in square formation.

Jacob Bloom

On Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 4:47 PM, Colin Hume [trad-dance-callers] <> wrote:

I'm in Germany, and I'm speaking for the next few days at a Conference run by the European Callers and Teachers Association.
Several of my sessions are about Contras, and speaking to the Contra Coordinator as we drove to the hotel I realised we had very
different ideas about what a contra is. I say it is an American (or American-style) dance, longways duple or triple. He classes
three-couple dances (such as Ted's Triplets), four-couple dances and circles as contras. He even classes my dance "Sting in the
Tail" as a contra. This is for two three-couple sets side-by-side and involves siding into line, set and turn single. I would
regard this quite definitely as "Playford"-style, and I think Americans would categorise it as English. But what is a contra? I
know the hot-shots would say that it's longways duple improper or Becket with a partner swing and preferably a neighbor swing, but
is that your definition? What about an early American dance such as "The Young Widow" - is that a contra? Can a dance in waltz
time be a contra? I think of a contra as mainly danced to reels or jigs, though I know there are a few to slip-jigs. Within
reels I would include marches and American hornpipes, which are smooth, but not English hornpipes which I would dance to a
step-hop. And not Strathspeys. I would say contras are done to a walking step, apart from the swing which is often a buzz step.
But do you agree with me?

Answers fairly quickly please!

Colin Hume

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