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?
Technoberfest was the first ever public Philadelphia area techno contra (in Willow Grove, PA) on October 22. Double Apex provided the music and Melissa Taggart was one of the callers that night. I was able to catch up with her to ask her about it. “Vince Budnick (our fearless leader) brought the idea to me for the first ever Philly area techno early this year. He's a dear friend and really supportive of my calling. I loved his vision for our dance community, and I wanted to support him as much as he has me! He asked me pretty early on, which was a HUGE honor!”
, we talked about gender-swapping and dancing switch in contra lines. This week we take the concept to the entire line, where people can intentionally swap roles and partners up and down the line as the dance goes on. These so-called “chaos/shenanigans/wild/etc. lines” have at times been formally announced, and at other times have happened on smaller scales on a somewhat ad hoc basis through two or three couples following each other up or down the set (with all of them being 1’s or all being 2’s, and then swapping partners and roles amongst themselves as they traveled up or down the line).