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."

East Coast Tour with Deux Francois

East Coast Tour with Deux Francois

Deux Francois (Sarah Mitchell, Bill Dudley, Jasmine Hart and Frances Pisacane) are one of my favorite Florida bands.  As with so many musicians, they have day jobs that prohibit them from doing much travelling.  I had long wanted to take them on tour and show them off, so worked with my connections along the East Coast to play a short tour in November. 
Our stops:

November 11: the Grey Eagle in Asheville North Carolina (Tim Cape of Atlanta is sitting in for Frances and Jasmine who joined us on the next stop)  The dance is "Joel's in the Kitchen" by Sue Rosen.

November 13: Wednesday night dance at Lovely Lane in Baltimore.  The dance is a no-walk-thru, "Glint" by Rick Goss
November 15:  Friday night dance in Harrisburg Pennsylvania.  The dance is "Trust" by Chris Page.
November 16: Saturday night in Lancaster Pennsylvania.  Donna Hunt was already scheduled to call but graciously offered me a slot on her program.  The dance is "Autumn Air" by Cary Ravitz.

November 17: Sunday night in Glen Echo Maryland.  The dance is "Ants Marching" by Ron Blechner.
So many fine people opened their homes to us on this trip!  I loved visiting these other communities that love contra dancing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We're Not in Uncle Fred's Barn Anymore!

In the early days of this country, contra dancing was a community event throughout New England.  Everyone gathered at "Uncle Fred's barn" or the community grange hall; musicians, callers, and dancers. No one paid to get into the dance. No one got paid to play music or call the dances.  It was a lovely gathering of folks who came together to socialize, court, and make something beautiful together. 
There is still a lot of that culture in modern day contra dancing, which on one hand is wonderful, but can often translate to an unwillingness to pay.  We sort of recognize that we're not in Uncle Fred's barn anymore - that there is hall rental and liability insurance to pay, that there needs to be a sound system these days, and musicians and callers often drive a long way to play for us. We're willing to pay something (usually less than $10) to dance, but communities often report strong push-back from the dancers if they want to raise the price to something even remotely resembling what one would pay for just about any other social activity or entertainment.
When I first started calling, I would hear other callers and musicians talk about "driving hundreds of miles for tens of dollars."  Now that I am a caller myself, I understand what they mean.  When I encounter musicians playing in restaurants or at festivals, I sometimes ask if they've ever played for contra dancing.  They're usually curious and start asking questions, but when we get around to the money part, they laugh in my face.  One man said, "I wouldn't pack up my equipment for that price!"  And this is from a profession usually considered "starving."
It is wonderful that contra dancing is affordable for most people. My community in Gainesville sends out regular notices telling folks that if they can't pay the entrance price, to contribute what they can and enjoy the dance.  But we also say, if you can contribute more, please do. Very rarely do we get a dancer who does either. 
If we paid more to dance, and paid our talent more, we would probably get a lot more high-quality musicians and callers interested in participating, but we would also lose some of that "Uncle Fred's barn" feel.  I'm sure there will always be tension between the two ideals. 
Most of us contra dancers can afford to contribute more to the cause.  If you're one of those who can, next time you go to a contra dance, hand over a $20 and say "keep the change."  Make sure you verbally appreciate your musicians, callers and organizers.  Trust me, they are NOT doing this for the money.