Monday, May 7, 2018

These are the Hands . . .

I was honored to be one of the callers for the wedding of Jennifer Mueller and Richard Mathews on May 5, 2018. These fabulous dancers wanted to celebrate their special day dancing with their friends and family, so they brought in "Notorious," who can easily play both English Country Dance tunes and Contra Dance Tunes. I called the Contra Dances and Randy Thorp and Annette Merritt called the ECD, alternating between the dance forms all day.

I was expecting that there would be some dancers who turned up their noses at the dances that weren't their "preferred" dance form. I have to admit that I was one of those dancers not so long ago, but I was pleased to see everyone happily dancing all the dances. It could be that Gainesville is just a fabulous dance community that loves to dance to any and all (yes, it's true!). But I'm hoping that there are just more people in general who are open to trying new dance styles and haven't decided that "ECD is stuffy," or "Contra is raunchy." After the wedding dance, there were calls from many of the dancers to do this more often. We're looking into how to make that happen.

Jennifer and Rich are examples of dancers who love it all and dance it all. In their honor, I wrote a contra dance with an "Englishy" feel. The name of the dance came from the hand-fasting ceremony in their wedding. Each sentence in that ceremony began with "These are the Hands . . ."

These are the Hands
JoLaine Jones-Pokorney
Improper

A1 - Couples Do-si-Do around Neighbors 1 1/2 to trade places. With NEXT neighbors, Circle R (1/2)
A2 - Continue Circle R to finish where you started. Turn around and swing original Neighbor.
B1 - Down the Hall 4-in line. (2s are in the middle, 1s are on each end.) 2s cast while the 1s lead up, 2s fall in behind the 1s to come up the hall as couples, 1s in front, 2s following.
B2 - 1s Cast just far enough to handy-hand allemande with Neighbor 1 1/2, 1s Swing in the middle

END EFFECTS: At the top and bottom, when your neighbors leave you momentarily to Circle R with their next neighbors, Do not trade places with your partner. Your neighbors will expect you to be right where they left you.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

If You Stumble, Make it Part of the Dance!

You're calling a community dance. You've presented a fabulous introductory workshop for the two beginners who came early. Those two are integrating well and seem to be having fun. Three or four dances into the evening, you notice that there are quite a few people who are having a hard time. More folks have come in who have obviously never danced before, but on top of that, there are mobility limitations. These people are lost, AND they can't move quickly enough to keep up with the other dancers.

I had this experience recently and I realized I didn't know what to do with that situation. If they had simply been inexperienced dancers, I would have pulled out a circle mixer or other super simple dance to help them feel successful and integrate them into the group. But in this situation, my foggy brain balked. "What can I call that will allow them to be successful?" I drew a blank.

So I came home and called my buddy Seth Tepfer to talk it out. It was very helpful to think about which moves can be more accessible to people who move slowly:

  • Moves where you are connected to other people
    • Long Lines Forward and Back
    • Simple Down the Hall
    • Circles
    • Promenade
  • Moves that can be left out or shortened without affecting the dance
    • Allemande 1 1/2 changed to Allemande 1/2
    • Petronellas can be a simple circle to the right one place instead of twirling.
What moves would be more difficult for people with mobility limtations?

  • Heys
  • Do-si-Do (though that could easily be turned into a 2-hand turn or an allemande)
  • Stars  (possibility of tripping)
  • CA Twirl, Box the Gnat, etc., (easy to get off-balance)
I promised Seth I would create a list of dances that I could call on when this happens again. Below are a few of the dances I found:

Circle Dances for Limited Mobility:

Clouds of Incense - Maia McCormick

Circle Mixer
A1 Into the Middle and Back x2
A2 Partner Allemande R 1 1/2 (or 1/2); Neighbor Allemande L
B1 Partner Balance and Swing
B2 Promenade the Ring, Ladies turn back and Swing the Gent Behind

La Bastrangue - Traditional

Circle Mixer
A1 Circle L; Circle R
A2 Into the Middle and Back x2
B1 Partner Allemande R; Right and Left Grand
B2 Promenade #4

Contra Dances for Limited Mobility:

Kinematic Vorticity - Carol Ormond

Improper
A1 Long Lines Forward and Back; 2s Gate the 1s
A2 Down the Hall, Turn Alone to Return
B1 Circle L 3/4; Partner Swing
B2 Circle L 3/4; Neighbor Swing

The Gang of Four - Gene Hubert

Becket
A1 Circle L 3/4; Neighbor Swing
A2 Neighbor Promenade the Full Set; Ladies Turn Back and Swing the Next Gent
B1 Full Set Circle back to Partner; Long Lines Forward and Back
B2 Ladies Allemande Right 1 1/2 (or 1/2); Partner Swing

Pooh Bear's Holiday - Robert Cromartie

Improper
A1 Long Lines Forward and Back; Neighbor Allemande R, Ladies cross
A2 Partner Balance and Swing
B1 Down the Hall, turn as a couple (wheel around instead of twirl); Return
B2 Circle L 3/4; Neighbor Swing

Lady of the Lake - Larry Jennings

Improper
A1 Neighbor Balance and Swing
A2 1s Balance and Swing
B1 Down the Hall, turn alone to return, 2s cast the 1s
B2 Ladies Chain x2

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Dance with Who's Comin Atcha!

Last night at a dance, I called "Accretion Reel" by Chris Page - a mixer that doesn't require dancers to adopt a particular dance role.  I announced they didn't need a partner and to just get up on the floor if they wanted to dance.  Afterwards, two young people came up to me and thanked me for calling that dance.  They said they had non-binary friends that they were reluctant to invite because of the gendered dance roles.  We talked about putting on a gender-free dance and I hope it happens, but I would really like to see ANY contra dance be a place where people can feel comfortable inviting their non-binary friends to dance. 

Even though in many dance communities, women dance together commonly, it is often done in such a way that the message is "we're doing this because there aren't enough men."  The woman dancing the gents role often wears a man's tie, sending the message that she is pretending to be a man, not simply dancing a role that anyone can dance. And since men rarely dance together, it reinforces the notion that the genders "should" be dancing their assigned roles.

I know that there are many, many women dancers out there that love dancing with other women, and invite other women to dance regardless of how many men are at the dance, and that is a step in the right direction.  There is even a "Form the Ocean" contra dance weekend for women happening in May, reinforcing the notion that we dance together because we love it, not because there aren't enough men.

Other things we can do?  Well, obviously shift from the gendered roles "ladies" and "gents," to something non-gendered, my favorite being "larks" and "ravens."  But even if your community isn't willing to make that step just yet, here are some interim steps:

  • callers, state clearly that "gent" and "lady" are just a role name and that anyone can dance either role.  Even if the dancers stick with traditional roles, permission has been given.
  • callers, work on ridding your vocabulary of gendered pronouns.  If you say, "Ladies chain to your neighbor and HE will give you a courtesy turn," you've established that the neighbor "should" be a man.  Just say "Chain to your Neighbor for a courtesy turn."  Substitute partner/neighbor/person in places where you would typically use a gendered pronoun.
  • get rid of the ties that women are asked to wear when they dance the gents role - they're sweaty and disgusting anyway!
  • ask everyone you dance with if they have a role preference, sending the message that it's not assumed based on gender which role you will dance.
  • and men, don't let the women do all the work on this.  Go ask a man to dance.  It won't kill you.
The contra dance world is changing, and I believe for the better.  In today's world, there is no reason that we should be stuck in gendered roles at a dance where everyone is free to dance with everyone else.  We can be at the forefront of the change, or we can resist and complain.  I hope you choose to dance!

Accretion Reel - Chris Page
A1 - Go into the Middle and back, scatter promenade as individuals
A2 - vis-a-vis (or do-si-do, or balance, or hand jive) and swing somebody
B1 - Scatter promenade with this temporary partner
B2 - Find some more couples and make circles.  Circle L, Circle R

Friday, September 22, 2017

Meeting "Face to Face"

There has been much heated discussion in the contra community regarding the use of the word "g***y" as dance terminology.  Until now, I've pretty much watched from the sidelines, but I've come to realize that as a caller, I have a stake in this conversation so I'd like to share my thoughts on the subject.

First, I do think we should eliminate the term.  If it offends even a few people, that is reason enough for me to discontinue the use of the word.  It's just a word.  If changing it makes someone more welcome at our dances, that's reason enough for me.

Second, what word will replace it?  I've heard some of my favorite callers use "walk around."  I walk around the block.  I don't consider that a dance term.  I've heard "dance around," which is slightly better, but still not my first choice.

My term of choice is "Vis-a-Vis, French for "face to face."  There is already the precedent of having several French terms:
Do-si-do is "back to back."
Allemande is "by the hand."
Promenade is "walking."
Pousette is "pushcart" or "baby stroller."

When I teach the introductory workshop, I teach the Vis-a-Vis as simply a variance on Do-si-Do. I do not mention eye contact or flirting.

I've started using Vis-a-Vis during my California tour and so far it has been well received and I've had no problems with confusing experienced dancers once the move is explained.  It rolls off the tongue very beautifully, and it ends with the "ee" sound, as does the word it replaces.

I hope other callers will give this term a try and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Suwannee Roots Revival

JoLaine calling Roots Revival Contra Dance

Calling buddy Susie Rudder and I got to call at the Suwannee Roots Revival recently with a Florida favorite "The Dunehoppers."  I've come to love these kinds of dances.  The dancers will happily dance any dance I call.  No one is whining that there aren't enough neighbor swings, or the dances are too easy, or too hard, or whatever.  I wrote a simple square for the event that I call "The Suwannee Star."  Has it been written already?  Probably! 

Suwannee Star -
Gents to the Middle and Back to the Bar
Ladies to the Middle with a Left Hand Star
Turn that Star go all the way
Back to your Partner Allemande Right 
Go once and halfway more
Gents to the Middle with a Left Hand Star
Turn that Star go all the way
Scoop up your Partner, Star Promenade
Ladies Roll Back and Swing the Next
And Promenade to the Gents Home Place.

I called a simple break in the beginning, middle, and end.  This dance doesn't require you to know who your corner is, neither does it matter if you're a head or a side.  It could be made even simpler by not changing partners, just star promenade home and swing when you get there.

Other dances I called:  Monkey in the Middle, Haste to the Divorce, Galopede, Barrowdale Exchange, Lucky 7, etc.  I get to call another dance this weekend in McIntosh Florida for a group of teenagers.  FUN!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Are We Too Sexy for this Dance?

Last night I called a dance in Jacksonville FL that was truly inter-generational.  There were folks ranging in age from 6 to 60s (70s?) with everyone dancing happily together.  Isn't that the ideal we've always wanted in the contra dance community?

I've read facebook posts from many communities saying they're losing young people, especially young women, because contra doesn't feel like a safe space for them. I see responses from the older generation (MY generation) saying "flirting is the contra way" and that young people are being too sensitive, or the young people are just using it as an excuse to avoid dancing with older folks. 

Is flirting really the contra way?  Since when?  Well definitely since I started dancing in 1996.  But I was freshly divorced so flirting was a lot of fun for me!  And I considered it "safe" flirting.  I could do it without sending the message I was going home with anyone but myself. 

I think it's time to make adjustments, and as a caller, I want to withdraw my participation in making contra about sex, even "innocent" sex.  A phrase like "gypsy until you can't stand it anymore and then melt into a swing" implies that the sexual tension is so high you just can't keep your hands off each other.  Really?

When you think about it, a phrase like "snuggle-up next to your partner" is creepy if you're talking to a 16 year old girl partnered with a 60 year old man.  "Another beautiful lady coming your way" is not something I want to tell a 7 year old boy about to dance with his grandmother.  Who cares if she's beautiful or not?!  It may not even be a "she" coming your way!

I am using those scenarios as a yardstick to determine how I want to talk to the dancers.  Would I feel comfortable saying that to a small child dancing with an adult?  If not, I say it differently.

If it is true that "flirting is the contra way," do we want to change that? What if it was "community is the contra way."  Callers have a huge responsibility for culture-creation in our community.  We're the ones with the microphones.  If you're a caller, I invite you to examine the language you use when talking to the dancers.  What phrases can you change to make the dance a safer place for all ages? 


Friday, January 1, 2016

Are you "Ambi-DANCE-terous?

Note in this dance that there are two lines of all women dancers, and one line of all men dancers.  And scattered throughout are people who are swapping roles throughout the dance.  And there's a surprise later on as well.  Watch to the end!

I wanted to pass along dance organizer Will Loving's suggestion for a New Year Resolution:

"In the next year, become “ambi-danceterous”, meaning being equally comfortable in both starting positions/roles.”

As the new year approaches, I would now like to suggest to the broader contra community to consider offering this suggestion to dancers and to encourage organizers to personally take it on themselves and to offer/suggest it on New Year’s Eve dances and at your dances in the coming year.

Why? Well, there is a trend in contra dance culture towards this in general, but I would also suggest that it has many positive benefits, including:

• double the number of people you can ask to dance
• become a better dancer (really, it will change the way you dance)
• build connection and friendships with dancers you don’t know as well
• increase your ability to welcome and integrate new dancers by being able to dance with any new person
• increase awareness that there is really little difference between the roles
• learn better communication with your partners and neighbors
• have twice as much fun ;-)

For male organizers in particular though, it means having regular close contact with other male dancers. Based on my own experience, I think that this can have a positive effect on breaking down the sexist role expectations among the small number of male “problem dancers” who interact almost exclusively with female dancers. This is my own take on it but I think that the more men there are out there dancing the traditional “ladies” position, the better."


Happy New Year everyone!  May you have many blissful hours on the dance floor in 2016.