Late last month, Louisville, KY hosted its first ever techno contra. It was spun by Brian Hamshar, and organized and partly called by Janet Bertog.
Janet says that the event was brought about in part by Facebook: "This is an interesting story. On the Facebook Group 'Stuff Contra Dancers Say,' a girl from the Louisville area...asked if there was a techno contra anywhere in the area. She was interested in trying it out and wanted to know the closest place to do it. People were responding with answers like Washington, DC and Asheville [NC]. I have only actually been to one techno contra event, as an after-party at the Chattanooga dance last year. However, I am friends with Brian [Hamshar] and I knew that he DJ’d them. I also happened to know that he was going to be in the area for the Bloomington Sugar Hill dance weekend and would be staying in the area for dances Monday through Wednesday in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Bloomington. So, I asked him if he would want to stay another couple days and do a techno contra dance. He agreed and we started planning it. In the planning discussion, we talked about me doing some of the calling for the night."
Janet continues, "I not only called the dance but also organized the dance, so there was a lot of communication back and forth in that regard. In terms of calling, I asked him to send me some sample music to get an idea of what to expect. But we didn’t do a lot of communicating in terms of the calling before the day of the dance. Before the dance that day we did meet to go over the dances that I was going to call, and he planned music accordingly."
"I had high hopes for the first ever techno contra dance in the area, since I had organized it. I was looking forward to a big crowd, but the crowd that showed up was beyond anything I could have expected. We had over 160 people, the hall was packed. The energy level was amazing, everyone was so excited. I was so nervous with such a high-energy crowd and the expectations that I felt went with that. But, I also was revved up by the energy. It was definitely the most fun I have had calling a dance (granted, I have only called about four full nights and four half nights total). I was so excited to see a whole range of age groups turn out to check out this new thing. I was a little surprised at the number of beginners that showed up for the event, I mostly expected people who already had contra experience."
Would she do it again? "Absolutely. I am already trying to work with area organizers to plan the next one. We are in discussions about how frequently these should be done in the area. We have had abundance feedback ranging everywhere from monthly to annually. I look forward to working with people on this more."
Asked if she had any advice for other callers who might be looking into calling an alt contra for the first time, Janet replied, "I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep the dances simple yet fun and varied. In particular, I think it is important to keep in mind that moves that leave no room for 'beat flexibility' can be more challenging. For example, I called Banana Bread, with a circle left one time around and right and left through. Circle left all the way around can be difficult to accomplish in 8 counts, and people were not always getting all the way around and that threw them off. There are a lot of dances out there that are not overly difficult to dance that are more than just 'Simplicity Swing,' so have fun with variation but don’t try to do anything overly complicated."
"One of the things that I really like about contra dancing is that it is 'living.' New dances are being choreographed and new tunes are being written. The new dances portray what current dancers like to dance and new tunes portray what people like to hear. I feel that techno contras are an expansion to the contra tradition. I think that they add to the variation of contra dancing, and that they are going to become more and more popular as people who have listened to this kind of music become more involved. I really appreciated the fact that several new dancers came out for the techno contra event. They came out because they heard from their contra dance friends that it was fun, AND they also liked what the music would be. I hope that some of those new people will come back to the regular weekly dances as well. So I think it can be a great tool to involve people that maybe would not consider it if their first introduction to it was with old time music that they don’t relate to. I have certain contra music that I appreciate and I know other people like different types of music. A wide variety in music styles means that a lot of people can enjoy it. One thing I hope that musicians or potential musicians will recognize is that the younger crowd in particular is going to enjoy dancing to music they can relate to. This may not be strictly techno contra music, but more alternative contra music is going to become more and more popular. Even if you look at the really popular bands that are out there for dance weekends, they are frequently bands that incorporate rock or pop tunes into their repertoire. I feel that new bands should be encouraged to explore this style of music more. I also think that if younger musicians realize that music styles are more flexible, they will be more likely to pursue playing for contra dances. And this is something that I feel is going to be critical –- we need more young musicians to start playing, not to 'kick out' the established bands, but because they are eventually going to want to retire, and it would be a great tragedy if we no longer had live music for contras."
Janet continues, "I hear a lot of concern about techno contra coming in and 'replacing' live music at contra dances. I hope this doesn’t happen and I don’t think it will. I feel that recorded-music techno contras is a sometimes thing and a great supplement to our regular contras. I think it is a great way to get people dancing, but I don’t want to see live music replaced by recorded music. I would much rather see live music evolve to include techno music."
Janet Bertog is a dancer and caller in the Cincinnati area. Special thanks to her for sharing her thoughts!