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!


  1. Of all the terms I have heard, this is the best. However, please be aware that this is a US manufactured issue. In the UK, home of country dancing (ECD and contra) the Gypsy Council has said categorically that they have no issue whatsoever with the use of the word gypsy in the dance context.

    1. How did you hear this? Do you have a link to where I could see this? I'm somewhat surprised they'd say that in the UK, where the derogatory feeling of the word is stronger than in the US. But if so, it's something to consider.

  2. Good luck. I am advocating "Sparkle".
    2 syllable as is the unspeakable...

    Who wouldn't want to Sparkle your Partner?
    BTW at Feet Retreat one caller did substitute, one did not. Not an issue.

  3. When I was investigating this a few months ago, I contacted caller Martha White, who was part of a discussion on the NPR show "A Way With Words" about the term "gypsy." Here is part of her reply to me, with a great new word suggestion:
    "...we've been trying to phase out gypsy and have been using "spiral" a lot, though it's not a fave. One caller just says "walk around" but I hate that because it could mean anything....Interestingly, I just saw a transcription of a dance where the person was using the term "gyre" as in the Jabberwocky, instead of "gypsy". That kind of has a nice ring if indeed he's using the soft "g" for it - might be an easy switch."
    Hope this is helpful. :-)

  4. Speaking as a dancer, not a caller, I've been advocating for vis-a-vis for at least a year now, for exactly these reasons. None of the callers I know have picked it up, but I haven't stopped trying. It's certainly better than any of the other terms I've heard used, most of which lack any implication of "facing" (which is what makes this move different from a do-si-do). I've been hearing a lot of descriptive workarounds, too, e.g. "walk around your neighbor" -- which not only takes way too long to say, it sounds like an instruction specific to a certain dance, not a move that will recur elsewhere. Then, up and down the line, I hear people realizing belatedly what they're supposed to be doing -- "Oh, it's a gypsy!" We need a dedicated term, and "vis-a-vis" is the perfect counterpart to the existing "do-si-do."

  5. Whilst I prefer vis-a-vis to any other alternative for gypsy, I still don't like it. It also occurs to me that there is already an ECD movement called face-en-face.

    1. Hi Michael - Thanks for that comment. I am not familiar with the face en face in ECD. I play for our local ECD dances and have never heard the term in well over a year of playing. So I think it must be pretty rare, at least in these parts. I don't think it would be a problem though. In ECD, Do-si-Do is usually called "back to back," so it makes sense that a Vis-a-Vis would be called face to face.

    2. Face en face is a signature Fried de Metz Herman move.

      The following is taken from her CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award in 2006 "Not only has Fried written numerous dances, she has created unusual and distinctive figures that have moved the modern English country dance style in a new direction. Among these figures are the
      face en face, chevron, open star, crossed hands poussette, double dance, closed star, meander, zig-zag hey, island setting, Russian gypsy and many more."

  6. At the last Dancing Fool, last Fall, a few of us came up with "the move that must not be named" which graduated to Voldemort and then Voldie.........Just to interject a little humor. :-)

    I am open to any term and don't want this favorite move of mine to go away......I have noticed callers calling it less because of not knowing what to call it. <3

    Happy dancing to us all!

    Thanks JoLaine for your fabulous blogging.

  7. I love, love, love this suggestion!

  8. Thanks, JoLaine, for the suggestion of Vis-a-Vis! I may try that one out soon. As a caller I don't mind switching the word, but I struggle with finding a good replacement. I have two questions and a comment/question:
    1) I agree with you in not being fond of "walk around" or "dance around." It does irk me, however, when a caller avoiding the G-word doesn't adequately explain the figure as they would describe any other move. So I see people confused until, as Robin said, someone realizes and points out that "Oh, it's just a gypsy." So when you teach it as a variation of a do-si-do, what, exactly, IS the variation? Meaning, if you're not mentioning the eye contact, what are you telling them to do physically with orientation and rotation, etc.?
    2) No matter what we call it, isn't the eye contact the quintessential aspect of that move?
    3) Do you happen to know the history of how we got Allemandes into contra? Because as a French speaker I have to point out that "allemande" doesn't mean by the hand; it's actually French for "German," as in the demonym for a German person. (Though it does sound similar to "à la main," which does mean "by hand" or "to the hand." Seems to be a coincidence.)

    1. Hello George - In the introductory workshop, I teach a do-si-do and tell them it is French for "back to back." Then I say, "and Vis-a-Vis" is French for "Face to Face." Walk around your neighbor face to face. I do not believe eye contact needs to be the main aspect of the move. I think it certainly has become that, but needn't be.