"Someone sent me a link to a techno contra video," explains Louis. "I was impressed -– impressed because the kids were actually contra dancing but dancing the way the dance worked when I first started dancing. We had really hot dances, lots of improvising, heavy flirting, really pushing the energy level up. The dances I go to now have lost some of that, I think in part just because the dancers tend to be older. I want to get back to what I think of as 'real' contra dance. I actually started calling it 'roots contra dancing' but ended up going with 'techno' just because that’s the more common parlance."
"In those days, I was part of what was sometimes termed the 'Amherst' dancers. We had a bit of a reputation as being more active, maybe experimental, even raucous, than a lot of other dancers –- largely thanks to Cammy Kaynor who had a great weekly dance back then in Amherst, MA. Cammy’s also still calling and, while you might not have predicted it in the '70s, has a really great family of scholars, dancers and musicians today, continuing a line started a generation or two earlier in his family."
"Until recently, you’d be unlikely to find techno, house, bounce and similar musical styles loaded on my mp3 player. These were alien styles to me. But as I listened to them a few times, I got the sense that the music was created to be danced to. In that respect, it’s like our traditional contra music –- it’s hard to sit still when you hear the music. I haven’t tried to make the tunes more square. Rather than fitting the music to the dances, I’ve written dances
specifically for each tune."
"I started choreographing dances when I started calling. I 'cover' some dances, chestnuts like Shadrack’s Delight or Spring Fever, sometimes Brimmer and May, sometimes Broken Sixpence and others, but I prefer to call my own dances. In that, I suppose I’m essentially a caller/choreographer (kind of like a singer/songwriter)."
"Techno, house, bounce and so on aren’t really the music I’ve been listening to. But, I have a 15 year old daughter who selected about 50 cuts for me to review. As I listened to them, I realized it was really nothing more than dance music. So I loaded them into Audacity, did what mixing, looping, modifying, and so on, that was needed to make them work at a contra dance. Then, I analyzed the music to parse out the structure and wrote dances to fit. Each cut has its own dance. This is also reflective of the dance’s roots – we used to always associate a dance with a particular tune.... I went to a dance once at Chelsea House,... I think Applejack was playing, and we did the whole evening without any calling or walking through – the band would play the tune and by the second or third bar, enough of the dancers would know the appropriate dance and we’d be off. I was surprised at how much our bones had associated the music with the movements, even if we didn’t realize it. I don’t think you could do that today. I’m trying to associate my dances with the music in the same way. I bring my computer to the dance and serve as a kind of DJ/caller."
"What I do in Audacity is make the length and tempo of the cut appropriate. Sometimes I’ll put two tunes together for interest, sometimes I’ve cut a section that doesn’t seem to work. I’ve been surprised at how essentially traditional the music’s structure is even as the various composers will add a bar or phrase here and there, or maybe the 'B' section will be 12 instead of 8 measures or something like that. A few cuts will be almost completely rhythm so I can use an AABB dance."
"So far, I don’t know of anyone else down here that I think might be able to handle the dance –- at least not the way I’d like to see it done. I would like to try a dance with a live band, but we’d have to find a band that can handle the styles of music we’re offering. Also, there’s the problem of associating the dance with the music, but regardless, that’s a long-term goal of mine."
I found Louis's choice for a venue also particularly interesting: "Tobacco Road is a historic place in Miami. It has a storied history, serving as a saloon, a speakeasy, a brothel, and who knows what else. I first found the place because a poetry club was meeting there. We had our meetings in the same room I’m using for the dance today. As soon as I walked into the room I wanted to do a dance there. I think it’s a great venue. The room is small, but our dance is small for now. Also, I’m not worried about getting a little crowded –- I think our sets are way too spread out anyway. Sometimes it takes 3-4 steps to get across, too much. I don’t think it will hurt to get a little crowded in, force the sets to get tighter. When it gets too big, well, I’ll worry about that when the time comes. It’s a problem I’m hoping for."
"Interestingly, I’ve gotten more blow-back about the venue than about the techno part of the dance. Some dancers have complained about dancing in a smoke-filled room (there’s no smoking at the venue, or any other restaurant in Florida for that matter) or just because it’s a bar. I suspect that the dancers that might offer resistance just think it’s not going to work so they don’t think much about us. That’s fine with me."
Louis continues, "We got a couple of new dancers [at the first dance in the series], not as many as I’d hoped for, though. I’ve had a lot of really neat marketing ideas but most of them have remained just ideas.... Partly this is because it’s taken a lot of time to get the music organized and dances written. I did do a couple of flyers and posters and for February I designed a 2-for-1 coupon which we’ve liberally handed out. We’ve done table tents that are on the tables at the venue and they’ve hung our poster and put the dance up on their web site. I’m really aiming the dance at the 'Tobacco Road clientele' more than toward our regular contra dancers. In fact, there are many 'regular' contra dancers that I’d rather not see at the dance –- I want the pace of this dance to be much faster, the energy level to be much higher, the flirting to be much more in evidence than at our regular dances and I’m afraid that if we have too many regular dancers, I won’t be able to achieve that. I regularly call another dance in the Miami area, at a great outdoor venue in The Barnacle Historic State Park, that attracts a much younger audience than the other dances here and I’m 'pairing' the techno contra dance with it –- together we’re dancing on 2nd and 4th Sundays; and I’m heavily promoting the new dance at the existing one. Eventually, I’d like the new dance, or some combination of the two, to morph into a weekly dance. When that happens, I’ll probably invite some guest callers so I can do some dancing, too."
"I think this is a great thing for contra dance. I’ve been dancing and calling for a long time now and I’ve noticed our dances getting older and slower (in lots of ways, not just the tempo of the music) so I think this can start a real resurgence of contra dance with the energy and verve that’s really at it’s core. I’m excited about it. In some ways, I miss the traditional music –- I plan on including some traditional music at every dance, but always a cut that’s more contemporary and as far away from bluegrass as I can get it, so it fits better into the spirit of the dance."
Louis concludes,"Our first dance was small but the energy was good. We had a big, high-energy dance last 4th Sunday with lots of young dancers and I promoted the techno dance heavily, so, along with the work that our Tobacco Road connection has been doing, I have a really good feeling about our February dance."