Continuing the conversation about crowded
contra dances, this week's flourish
can be useful for dancing in small spaces -- several months ago when we did our video on dancing in small spaces
, Glenside, PA community dancer Vince Budnick commented that he sometimes swung "backwards" to counteract some crowded conditions. Our friend Kevin Mabon, of the Glen Echo, MD, community, pointed out that somebody did this (and appeared to temporarily switch the lead to boot) in a video from the Concord Scout House (MA), and we reverse-engineered how it was done.
You, too, can have your flourishes featured! Drop us a line!Also, Attention West Coast Readers:
This weekend and next week, you've got some alt contras and a concert by Firecloud (Andy Reiner and Julie Vallimont) in their first ever West Coast tour!
On Saturday, June 30, there's a techno contra in Portland, OR
There is also going to be a dance with Firecloud and Chopped Liver
in the Carillo Ballroom in Santa Barbara, CA on July 1. This will be a split event, with Chopped Liver playing from 6:30-9 PM and Firecloud (with glow sticks and special lights) from 9:15-11 PM. The entire event will be called by Jean Gorrindo.
There is also going to be a house concert on July 2 with Firecloud in San Luis Obispo, CA (reservations required; email jgorrindo at charter dot net).
On July 3, in San Rafael, CA, there will be a techno contra with Firecloud and Lynn Ackerson calling at 7:30 PM. (More info can be found at the North Bay Contra Dance Society web site
.)Attention Boston-area folks:
I intend to dance at the Concord Scout House
Monday night at the weekly dance (~75% sure I will be there) this upcoming Monday (Update, 7/1/12: Due to the horrific storm that swept through DC and stopped Amtrak around DC in its tracks -- literally -- I am likely to not be at the Scout House; I am in town to see a friend and I am electing to stay in with my host since I was supposed to leave at 6 AM Saturday and I didn't actually leave DC until 3AM Sunday due to canceled trains...)
and I will almost definitely be heading to Copley Square on Tuesday night
for the (free!) contra dance with Perpetual e-Motion and George Marshall calling (there will also be international dancing led by Marcie Van Cleave) -- hope to see some of you there! (And if anyone has interesting ideas for T-accessible touristy things I can do during the day while my host is at work early next week, I'm taking suggestions
Carry on Dancing,
I was at a contra dance recently that was much more crowded than usual. This is awesome for the supporting organization and I think it’s good when more dancers are exposed to different experiences on general principle; however, since it was significantly more crowded, the crowding did alter the experience a bit.
I was talking to another dancer about this and zie suggested that perhaps there were some calls that worked better in less-crowded halls (we know this to be true for flourishes
). I was thinking about this and decided to open it up to the crowd. Are there calls (we’re talking “standard” calls here, that would come from the caller, not stuff that the dancers make up on their own or dips/lifts/etc. -- flourishes
fall under the “don’t be a jerk
” mantra) that generally work better when the room isn’t as crowded?
I know that in both techno and traditional contra events, there have been times where I thought calling a dance with a promenade across the set, for instance, might not have been the best idea (generally as I ran into other dancers, either through their fault or mine). Do unbalanced dances, where only half the couples -- i.e., the actives -- swing their partner, work better or worse in crowded halls, or does it entirely depend on whether the the inactives will “cheat?”
Is it possible for a caller to tailor the selection of dances based on how crowded the venue is? How?
I’m honestly not sure what I think about this yet -- I welcome discussion in the comments!
This week's flourish
is one that we actually got requests for from dancers from two different dance communities, and we're very glad that a friend of ours recently cleared up how to do it for us.
This is actually a build-up from the Gypsy Meltdown Twirl
flourish we showed you a few weeks ago; however, its nature means that you need to be careful of any shoulder/neck injuries your follow might have and possibly even give your partner a heads-up (or, more aptly, a "heads-down") the first couple of times you do it, until you've built the muscle memory of how the lead is "supposed" to feel. The trick is to get the right spot on the follow's shoulder to get the lead's forearm to clear the follow's head.
You, too, can have your flourishes featured! Send us your flourishes
and/or requests for flourishes and they might get featured on this blog and the YouTube channel
This weekend in DC (Saturday night) is the "Prom Sonic" Contra Sonic techno contra installation in the Spanish Ballroom Annex, spun by dJ improper and called by Anna Rain. (As a note to those CS readers from DC and the surrounding communities, the Contra Sonic series has moved from third Tuesdays to third Saturdays after this weekend, at least through the end of 2012.) Hope to see some of you there!
P.S. For anyone interested, I wanted to share a bit of a sneak peek behind the scenes of the Friday Flourishes: this week when Steve and I went to shoot with our usual camera-and-tripod setup, we discovered that we apparently forgot to recharge the batteries on the camera....both the battery inside it, and the backup. Whoops. Fortunately, Steve has a camera that can take video:
(Yes, that is in fact Steve's smartphone strapped to the nonworking camera, which is attached to the tripod. MacGyver would be proud.)
Steve said at one point that what contra dance needs is a GAP commercial
, like the one that helped bring swing dancing to a more mainstream audience. I wonder if maybe I should be writing to Felicia Day -- yes, the one from The Guild
and Dr. Horrible
-- and suggesting she do contra on her Flog vlog
. (Just, please, can we get her some better teachers than she got for swing? The Click Heard Round the World
blogger -- who swing dances and occasionally has some interesting insights into social dance -- made a few comments that I rather agree with that disagreed loudly with some of how this was taught....I kind of want to send the studio our Hamish Ascot
entry from the other week, since it seems to apply here too. There is more to being a good follow than just lying back, closing your eyes, and thinking of England...being present
in the dance, for one.)
I'm rather fond of saying that "half of contra is improv." I've said that in a couple of different contexts, and I very much believe it in both: improvisation can be helpful to fix things when they go awry, and it can generate new experiences to enhance your dancing.
For me, the mark of a great dancer isn't actually the number of flourishes they pull out or whether they're on time for every single figure (although I do think it's important that people at least make a valiant attempt on the latter); for me it's how they react when things go awry, and how well they are able to fix mistakes with as little disruption to the dance as possible.
Sometimes this means finding a way to tell new dancers "go swing over there" if they're completely flummoxed by a hey. Sometimes it's using nonverbal communication to tell your partner where they need to be or remind them of a move that's no longer being called but does come next (e.g., motioning them over if they're supposed to chain to you). Sometimes it's doing a switch flourish to put you and your partner back into the spots for the roles you're intending on dancing. And sometimes it means drawing on another form of dance to get yourselves where you need to be in an interesting way.
Incidentally, this is why I find intentional, good chaos/shenanigans/whatever sets to be fun and valuable things when they crop up. By intentionally subverting the expectation that you'll keep your neighbor/shadow/partner, you can see how to fix it if you've accidentally lost them, while still keeping the flow of the dance, instead of generating a train wreck.
Being able to think on your feet and improvise also can help recover you when you've completely and utterly botched a flourish. (It happens; you put your wrong hand on top, you turn your partner under the wrong side, you realize halfway through a swing that you accidentally traveled and continuing the swing will slam your partner smack into someone else who traveled...). And if you improvise your way out of a flub really well, you can come up with a variant on the flourish you were trying to do...and, uh, you meant to do that.
What are some of your favorite improvised moments on the dance floor?
This week's flourish
is a California twirl flourish submitted to us by reader Jess Purvis of the Glenside, PA dance community. It's a switch flourish on a California twirl, particularly if it's used as the progression figure.
It's a neat switch flourish for a California twirl, but if you have enough room you can roll-away and unswitch yourselves before moving on. (In order to do that, you have to book it
around though, so be spatially aware and ready to proceed switched if you get around and realize there's not enough time/space to roll your partner.)
This weekend, I'll be at the Celebration of DC Dance
(scroll down on that page), starting tonight and extending through Sunday, with an alt contra tonight by dJ improper
and Ann Fallon
, among other great DC-area callers and bands.
Carry on Dancing,
I was asked this question last weekend at the diner after the regular Glen Echo dance and will admit that I was probably something less than eloquent about it at 1 A.M. and between bites of a grilled cheese sandwich. Now that I've slept on it a couple nights, I'll take another shot at this question. (N.B.: I'm hoping to eventually get this formalized as some kind of tool kit set, but given how busily the rest of my non-contra-dancing life has been going of late and appears to be going for the foreseeable future, that may get put on the back burner for a while.)
This is of course just my opinion, and others may disagree/add more. (Feel free to add in the comments.)
- The stuff that makes for a good contra dance also informs a good alt contra experience -- by which I mean a venue with a nice floor, actually having some room to move (although not too much...to me it's better for an alt contra when the dancers fill the space but don't pack it), and the welcoming community feel (e.g., everyone isn't booked for the entire night before you've got hands four for the first dance).
- Talent who has some familiarity with contra dancing, either from being a dancer first or having a detailed conversation with the organizer ahead of time.
- A caller who has communicated in advance with the talent, whether it's a DJ spinning tracks (especially if they're going to be mixing on the fly) or whether it's a band that's incorporating nontraditional contra music. It's particularly helpful in my opinion if the caller has done something like an alt contra before, but if they haven't they should have at least gotten some idea of the music ahead of time, and prepared themselves to be ready to call for a bit longer than they would in a tightly-phrased acoustic-music contra. If the phrasing is loose, it might be better to cut the super-complicated choreography, to my mind, unless you're explicitly trying to challenge the dancers (see the next point). The caller also needs to be alert to the dancers getting out of sync with each other and the music, since that's easier to have happen when the music is more loosely phrased.
- A clear idea by the organizers of what they want. Do they want the alternative contra to be an outreach event to new dancers, or a treat for the experienced ones? (Either way, see the caller point, above; good callers can tailor their set list to their audience.) This will also work into how it is marketed (to the public or only to the existing contra dance community).
- Decent lighting can really set the mood and if I was setting one of these up I'd make sure it was on my to-do list. The best lighting I have seen at a techno contra was what Vince Budnick did near Philly in a church's community center's gym last October. He managed to have Christmas lights around the edge in addition to moving (though not strobe) lights and I recall a few black lights and he made the room brighter between dances. If it's too dark, the caller can't see the dancers and can't save train wrecks if they happen. Black lights are neat and make the dancers who wear white glow, but this needs to be balanced out with the dancers' need to see and be seen to complete the steps safely. Dancing in the mood lighting is fun; limping off to stage left is not.
- Additionally, I like it when there are glowsticks or similar available to make dancers more visible (and anyone who knows me knows that I appreciate glowy, shiny, and/or sparkly things). For those with a store location nearby, Michael's craft store has them really, really cheap (a tube of 15 for $1 plus tax). I'm sure there are other places out there. LED wire can also be fun, although I'll admit to being less than thrilled when it's set to super-fast-blink and is up near my eye level.
- Interesting or unusual music choices -- as caller Seth Tepfer mentioned in the interview I did with him, alternative music contras open up a floodgate of new sources for music, and you're not limited by what instruments you have on hand. Eileen Thorsos spins "electrotrad" music you wouldn't necessarily hear on the radio or a traditional contra stage. When I went to go hear Phase X play, they had the orchestral Pirates of the Carribbean theme as part of their set, and Eiffel 65's "Blue" a few dances later. I was thrilled.
What am I missing? Sound off in the comments!
This week's flourish
comes to us via dancer Jeff Smith of St. Petersburg, FL. The lead curls into their partner's arm and then twirls the follow around for good measure.
Make sure you have room when you pull out this flourish, and of course standard disclaimers apply about not pulling this out on folks with shoulder issues or who are clearly disoriented and dizzy and such.
Have or seen some neat flourishes of your own? Send them to us
and they might be featured!
by Steven "Trouble" Roth
Courtesy of the Alice in Wonderland Wikia site
Hamish Ascot is a jerk.
This is not intended to be a contentious statement in the slightest. In fact, I rather think it is safe to say that being a jerk is really his raison d'être
. In Tim Burton's 2010 Alice in Wonderland
, we meet Hamish at the start of the film dancing a quadrille with the movie's 19-year-old titular character and he wastes no time showing everyone what a jerk he really is, which makes it all the more horrifying when we find out that he is Alice’s fiancé-to-be. While dancing, he does a great job of demonstrating the exact opposite of what GOOD leads should do.
Looking around for intersections between Tradition and (relative) modernity has taken me on a virtual tour across the country and abroad, and it's been really neat to find out about groups doing things far afield. However--like many people, I suspect--I don't always remember to look at what's under my nose. When I found the Calico Cloggers
performing on YouTube, I went to check them out and was surprised to find out they were based in northern Virginia. I think it's cool when you find a group that performs to "The Clumsy Lover" as well as Shakira's "Whenever, Wherever:"
For those of you in the NoVA/DC Metro area, per their Web site these folks' next performance
is August 4, 2012 at 12:30 PM at the 4-H Fair in Herndon, VA and their site can be found at www.calicocloggers.org