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.

Contra Dancers Delight Holiday 2015

Calling with Great Bear is like driving a Lamborghini!  The dance is "Catch Me if You Can" by Jim Hemphill.

Duple Improper (Starts with men in the middle of a short wavy line)
A1 Balance the Wave, Men slide past each other as in Rory O'More into partner's arms for a swing
A2 Women Chain, Women Allemande R 1 1/2 to a short wave
B1 Balance the Wave, Women slide past each other as in Rory O'More into Neighbor's arms for a swing
B2 Circle L 3/4, Balance the Ring and Petronella.  Turn to face new neighbors and reform the wave.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New England Folk Festival

I have heard about the New England Folk Festival for years, and was thrilled to participate as a caller this year.

I met many great callers, all of whom were so helpful to me as someone who has never experienced the NEFFA and didn't know quite what to expect.

I started the weekend by getting to be one of the callers with Nor'Easter at the historic Scout House dance on Thursday night!  I opened the evening with "Heartbeat Contra" by Dan Flaherty.

 On Saturday night, Eric Black pulled me in to help him with this "surprise double-caller" dance. He's calling Moon Dance, and I'm calling Sun Dance, both by Robert Cromartie.

I'm calling with Contrail.  The dance is Gene Hubert's "The Gang of Four."
It's a Gene Hubert night - His classic "Sarah's Journey."