Reader Craig Green sent me this video last week and it made me smile -- speaking of things getting "thrown in" to contra, here's a fun video of some Perpetual e-Motion fans juggling to the band's rendition of "Sandy Boys"...the jugglers are Craig Green, Cleo Keller, Zach Schillinger, and Adrian Green.
Interesting trend: other stuff getting tossed into contra dance...quite literally.
At the Firecloud debut at Glen Echo about a year ago, it was a couple of balloons that dancers batted about through the dance and collectively kept aloft; at Electric Blizzard in New Jersey last weekend, it was apparently a stuffed whale (?!) that got tossed around.
Assuming that these things don't make for a safety hazard (which in the instances I've seen it doesn't -- balloons will break before they trip someone, for instance, and the dancers I've seen are good about batting them up or off to the side of the dance floor where they're out of the way), what do y'all think of these? Seems like adding white balloons might be a silly-fun, occasional add-on to a black-lit techno contra, but only if most/all of the dancers were game and the called dance was fairly simple (and it was, in fact, occasional...much like improv lines or strong spices, a little goes a long way, in my opinion)....
Agree? Disagree? I welcome your thoughts!
This week's flourish is a neat one we spotted in a recent Scout House video. It's a neat way to get into a swing. A couple of quick caveats: 1) the "stir the pot" part is a slightly tricky lead because it's a push on the follow's hands to get her around, but it is NOT a crank; and 2) if you come out of this one and your hands are mixed up, it is totally and utterly fixable -- just adjust the last turn-under so that the hands are follow's-left-in-lead's-right by the end.
You, too, can have your flourishes featured! Drop us a line!
Carry on Dancing,
So as some folks have noticed, Steve and I get a fair lot of our flourishes from various contra videos (especially since Steve is fond of poking around at contra videos online for inspiration and to pick out some of his friends). We can't be the only ones out there who go vicariously live amazing contra events through online videos (right?).
What do you look for in contra dance videos when you go looking around online? What are some of your favorites (links encouraged)! What do your favorites have in common?
This is another flourish from the Contradancers' Delight Holiday videos from 2012. It's a neat flourish that involves both dancers moving and looks really elegant, and has the added benefit of having a couple of spots where the connection is strengthened through eye contact.
I was poking around online and ran across some of CDSS's archives. Specifically, I came across Mary McNab Dart's 1995 Contra Dance Choreography, which made for an interesting look at the contra dance tradition. It was written by a traditionalist (I imagine her reaction to the existence of a techno contra might include the clutching of pearls in horror) but she makes several interesting points over the course of her book.
The one I'd like to talk about today, though, is the following:
"Another way in which the new choreography relates to the attitudes of the experienced dancers is that the emphasis on the dance as sport, and the interest in challenging and complex dancing—the focus, in short, on the dance movements themselves rather than on the event as a social occasion—means that partners are chosen as often for their skill level as for their social attributes."
While I see the point that I think she's attempting to make -- the one where elitism means that new dancers are left out in the cold -- the point she ends up making comes off as a bit snobby. "...Partners are chosen as often for their skill level as for their social attributes." And what of those folks who might be a bit geeky, a bit nerdy, a bit shy -- but happen to be really amazing dancers? Interestingly, in my five and a half years of dancing I've actually found that choosing some (not all, but certainly some) dance partners based on their skill has actually let me get to know more people than I might have gotten to know had I met them any other way, as dance gave me an opening to talk to them. And I don't see this as a bad thing at all. On the dance floor, you don't have to be the most charming, or the most charismatic, or the best looking, or the most extroverted to get a partner...you just need to be willing to dance, and while with any activity, it's usually more fun when it comes easily to you or you're willing to try, skill is still not entirely necessary.
Dart makes a similar point about how dance has become a sport rather than a social event, and how this is a negative influence on the community:
"When I started dancing, participants tended to dress for a dance party, wearing nice looking dresses and shirts and shoes. There is a growing trend today to wear sports clothing—shorts, tank tops, sweat bands, tennis shoes—and even to bring a small towel with which to dry off once in a while, and a change of T-shirt."
Sorry, but I'm not sure I see this one as such a bad thing, either (especially the bringing changes of T-shirts to change into when the first is sweated through part). If I'm not so concerned about dressing up, I can eschew the high heels and the fancy and impractical clothes in exchange for a more mundane sort of pleasure -- the one where I can be myself and come and be social while being comfortable, dangit. Somehow I've managed to make several friends on the dance floor -- and off of it, when I've gone to sit with folks during a break from dancing and chatted with them. Somehow, I've managed to find a way. I also managed to find some aerobic activity that got me out of the house and has, either directly or indirectly, managed to be the cause of my meeting lots of interesting and fun people that I hang out with away from the contra floor as well as on it. To me this feels like it's become a sport of sorts and a social activity, rather than instead of a social activity, granted with a different aesthetic than it had in previous decades.
While there are some valid points that I feel that Ms. Dart makes, it seems like she's limiting herself to seeing these things only happen in a given aesthetic, rather than looking at what is actually happening. No doubt there are people out there who only view contra dance as a form of exercise, who are only looking for the next big thing, and who won't give anyone the time of day unless they're already a supremely skilled dancer. And yes, I'll agree that those sorts of people are not assets to the dance community as a whole. But there are a lot of other people who embrace the power of and, who love the fact that modern contra dance is in some ways challenging and has a bunch of people who come as they are in comfortable clothes rather than in fancy finery (assuming those two are mutually exclusive, which is a different train of thought altogether) and who can come and dance with lots of people and be welcomed even if they aren't the most socially adept; and there are those who find that aesthetic more appealing than any event where the only focus is on the social graces of the participants.
I found this pamphlet by Chip Hendrickson, "To Twirl (A Lady) or Not to Twirl," posted on Facebook the other day. Despite the fact it seems to assume that only gents will fulfill the "gents'" role (and I've gone through my opinions on that a bunch of times before so I'm not going to do it again here), I'm not willing to completely dismiss what is otherwise a really good reminder for dancers who want to do twirls (and I also will point out that this was originally published in 1983, when contra dance gender roles were more rigid than now).
There is most assuredly an art to flourishes and twirls that makes sure that nobody gets cranked. In our videos, we try hard to point out the more troublesome spots, or spots where someone might get cranked or put in an otherwise uncomfortable position since social dance is supposed to be fun, not painful, for all involved. This is also, incidentally, part of why we don't do dips on our videos. There are enough spots where those can go awry, and potentially with really serious consequences, that we prefer to teach those in person to folks who ask, where we can use spotters and ascertain in real time that our message -- especially the one about "if in doubt, leave it out" -- is understood.
Most important to all of these is the "ask" rather than the "tell" aspect...all contra flourishes are offers, whether made over the course of months of dancing with a particular partner or by explicit verbal asking or by more subtle "asks" -- for example, gently starting to raise an arm to twirl, or doing smaller flourishes to build up to larger ones like in waltz. It might even be working out the snags off to the side of the floor on a break, where they can be practiced at half-speed or whatnot until you build the muscle memory on how to lead the flourish smoothly or work on the timing for the lead-in with your practice partner or another.
The "answer" is the part where the partner accepts the offer and follows the lead to complete the flourish on time and then continues the dance.
The really key part of this, though, is the part where the pamphlet emphasizes that a refusal is just that, a refusal. That does not just apply to twirls, but to contra flourishes in general. And "a mature [dancer] does not take offense at this, as none, indeed, is intended."
A rather cynical part of me laments that most of the folks who need to get such a message won't go looking for it and thus won't find it (the pamphlet has been extant for 30 years now and it appears that the problem persists), but perhaps if we tell enough folks in the community, we can erode the issue a bit.
This flourish came from a video of Contradancers' Delight Holiday 2012. Valerie Helbert (dancer and caller extraordinaire from Virginia) led this flourish and it looked really cool.
The key motion for the lead ends up being similar to that of controlling a giant steering wheel (or a giant wheel of cheese)...just be careful not to wrench anyone while doing this, as being cranked can REALLY hurt the person being twirled.
Is one of your New Year's resolutions to put together an alt contra? Here are some things to consider, gathered from my various interviews with organizers, callers, and techno contra music providers over the last several months...
This week's flourish is borrowed from waltz, and is better suited for smoother
contras rather than fast ones. It's a move where your arms end up being in a
picture frame through which you can look at your partner. Be careful, though --
if your partner has wrist/arm/shoulder issues, this could be painful as your
points of contact are mostly your wrists and arms.
Dancers, as usual, are Ryan Holman & Steven Roth.
You, too, can have your flourishes featured! Drop us a line!
This project has concluded as of mid-2013 (with an epilogue posted mid-2016) but we hope to see you soon on a contra dance floor! Meanwhile, head over to our Facebook page for upcoming techno contra events and other items of interest.
The 100+ Friday Flourish videos can still be found on YouTube.
I dance with abandon. I play with glowsticks. I look for music that is conducive to one or both. I play behind cameras. I write about all of the above. I'm based in Glen Echo's contra dance community outside of Washington, D.C., but I'm happy to go dance afield when I can. Lather, rinse, repeat. Always repeat.
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