“Traditional music was not amp’ed because they didn’t have it.” -- Ed Howe of Perpetual e-Motion, interview with Contra Syncretist, published August 29, 2011.
I was thinking about what Ed said when I saw this post over on the Washington Post’s Classical Beat blog a little while back. In it, Anne Midgette talks about 24-year-old classical concert pianist Yuja Wang, who has drawn quite a bit of attention to herself in the classical music world lately by wearing rather starkly modern fashions while performing in her very traditional medium, most recently at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
On Memorial Day 2011, Brian Hamshar organized a highly unusual event in Greenwood, VA. Whereas usually traditional contra dances include live music and crossover and techno contra events use recorded music delivered through DJs, Contra-phoria combined the talents of live contra dance band Perpetual e-Motion and Contra Sonic’s Jeremiah “dJ improper” Seligman in a rather unusual setup. DJ improper provided the percussion loops on his laptop and Perpetual e-Motion’s John Coté and Ed Howe played along with it. (You can see some of the results on BHamshar’s YouTube channel.)
Brian says, "Club Contras was kicked off back in January with the idea of injecting the Virginia contra dance scene with some new youthful attitude, variety and innovation. The first project was to introduce crossover contra to Virginia with pop/rock & techno and develop our vision for how amazingly fun that could become. But that's not all. Our main goal is to promote more variety and an even greater community focus. That means things like open mic and guest calling. It also means bringing in excellent young modern bands such as Perpetual e-Motion, and we hope to attract others. We'd love to provide a venue for area musicians who don't necessarily play traditional folk music, because we know that many of our dancers have eclectic musical tastes. For the record, we definitely don't want to use only recorded rock/techno. We love live music! However, the genre is still very very young, and at the moment we're relying mainly on our talented DJs. As part of the spirit of promoting innovation, we decided back in the spring to try putting on an extended day of dancing with a variety of music genres, and Contra-phoria was born. As an extension of that mindset, dJ improper expressed interest in creating a few sets with the band and the DJ performing together. It was a great idea, and I think the dancers really enjoyed this new fusion. We plan to do that and more new stuff in the future, and we certainly welcome new ideas from the community!"
I caught up with Perpetual e-Motion and asked them for their take on the experience.
Before we get to the Friday Flourish this week, have you checked out our Forum recently? We've got some new posts and some rather interesting questions up! Go take a look!
This week for the Friday Flourish we take a look at a variant of another trick we showed several weeks ago that can add a bit of variety to a contra dance in the space of a swing. The timing on this one can get a bit dicey, but it's well worth the practice. (Apologies for the background noise -- our usual shooting location was unavailable, so we had to improvise this week as we re-shot in light of last week's technical issues.)
You could have your flourishes featured on this blog, too! Send them to us via the Contact form or to the Contra Syncretist YouTube channel.
P.S. I am hoping that the threat of Hurricane Irene for this weekend does not delay Monday's planned update. If we lose power here in the DC area, it may be delayed, but as soon as the electricity comes back on we'll be back online with more interviews and entries for you to enjoy!
Stay safe, all of you other folks on the East Coast....
After calling the Sunday FSGW dance with Nor’easter playing last week in Glen Echo Park, Dave Eisenstadter turned around and called the August edition of the Contra Sonic techno contra series two nights later in Arlington, VA. While it was his first time calling Contra Sonic, this was not his first exposure to a crossover contra event:
“My first techno contra was on New Years Day 2010 in Asheville, NC, and it was organized and DJ'd by Jordy Williams. Since then, I've been to a handful of techno and alternative music dances at Youth Dance Weekend in Vermont and throughout Massachusetts. Dancer friends told me about Jordy's dance and we wound up driving 12 hours to see what it was like.”
The Friday Flourish for this week is now uploaded and live -- thanks for your patience, everyone!
This week we continue our series on dancing switch, and detail a variant on a way to trade the lead back and forth. The timing on this one is the key; you're pretty much going to let go of your partner's hand to send him around and then immediately dive to get your hand around his other side. This one might require a relatively spacious dancing spot the first few times you do it. Like with the other switch flourishes, make sure you give clear leads -- dancing switch can get disorienting sometimes.
You, too, could have your flourishes featured on this blog! Send them to me using the Contact form.
Coming up in the next couple of weeks, there will be interviews with caller Dave Eisenstadter and the electronic-influenced contra duo known as Perpetual e-Motion. Stay tuned!
Carry on Dancing,
I'm currently experiencing some technical difficulties with getting this week's Friday Flourish up for you all. I will have it up and running as soon as is humanly possible. Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay.
Carry on Dancing,
Update, 8:56 P.M. EST: I think I have a work-around figured out (finally!) and if in fact it turns out that I have, this week's Friday Flourish video should go live overnight tonight (unfortunately, video uploading takes a while). I have learned more in the last 24 hours about codecs, video file types, and why most people who deal in video have Macs than I ever thought I would need or want to know. Thank you to you all for your patience -- I'm sorry this has been such a saga!
Update, 12:51 A.M. EST: Okay, so my work-around didn't work, but plan H (after having gone through the preceding letters) appears to have worked. Hooray! Happy weekend to all!
It seems that these days North Carolina is a hotbed of crossover contra series, as there appear to be not one but three groups (that I’m aware of -- there may be more!) having events on a fairly regular basis. One of these is Electric Camel Contra, where DJ Eileen Thorsos and her internationally-flavored “electrotrad” music are based.
Eileen herself describes her music as follows: “I focus my DJing on (awesome!) fusion music: traditional tunes played on bagpipes, fiddle, accordion, whistles, etc. and arranged with a lot of beat, electric instrumentation, and other excellent non-traditional arrangements. I've drawn most heavily on the Peatbog Faeries, Shooglenifty, and the Afro Celt Sound System, with important contributions by Martyn Bennett & Martin Low, Enter the Haggis, Urban Trad, Richard Wood, and others....I look for Celtic fusion music that I like (hopefully LOVE), that I want to dance to, and that is upbeat with a rich and interesting sound. I want the dance to be joyous. Many of the sets aren't precisely square the whole way through: They just have to have the potential to be square. I can cut, copy, and paste to make it work out.”
So far we've analyzed many aspects of the techno contra genre, particularly with the music and the dancing and the way the two relate. However, there's an aspect of this that's so far gone relatively unexplored. One of the other pieces that both contributes to the atmosphere and is generally very different in a crossover contra as opposed to a regular one is the lighting.
Jeff Kaufman has wondered about incorporating the lighting to make the phrasing and calls more clear in crossover contras, and even posits that it may be a way to help hearing-impaired dancers stay in sync. Some callers have talked about how the generally lower lighting made it more difficult to see the dancers on the floor and thus keep them together. At the same time, sacrificing the "club style" lighting would take something away from the event (and the lighting can enhance or detract from the experience, even though it's taken for granted). There are plenty of ways to do it wrong, but I'd imagine there are also plenty of ways to do it right and set the mood without detracting from the dancers' experience. Does it make a difference between new-dancer-friendly techno contras and experienced-dancer-only techno contras (who theoretically might not need as much of a visual cue as to where they need to be when)?
When Steve said he wanted to do this video, I will admit that I was a bit skeptical -- after all, we don't want to force new dancers into anything they aren't comfortable with, flourishes included. We want them to come back! But then Steve showed me and these offers of leads really are just that, and they end up coming off rather intuitively when done properly. And since these are suggestions, not demands, if the new dancer doesn't take the hint it's okay, just keep on dancing and smiling.
You, too, could have flourishes featured on this blog! Upload them and Contact me, and I might post them as a Friday Flourish on our YouTube channel!
One of the neat things about a nascent genre is the ability to make and test the boundaries of that genre and thus establish its norms. I’m hoping that you all will chime in on these particular norms and tell me what you think.
In a traditional contra, the typical format is to have discrete sets and discrete dances -- i.e., the band starts playing, the caller starts calling, the dancers start dancing, and then after 10 minutes (give or take) the band stops, the dancers, stop, the calling stops, and there is some milling around as people locate new partners to line up again or get water and repeat the process. Some events like the annual Glenside Medley Marathon in the spring (or medley events in general, like at NEFFA) push this norm aside for special occasions and provide continuous music and calling, with events where you either keep the same partner throughout (so-called “chaos lines” excepted) or you agree with your partner to drop off, regroup with new partners, and rejoin at the end of the line.
I’ve heard of techno contra events being done as continuous loops and as discrete pieces (for instance, my local techno contra series does the latter, although the first few individual events did feature half-hour medleys; others like Technophoria have done the former).
In a club with a DJ spinning, the music usually ebbs and flows a bit, but is pretty close to continuous.
Does one format work better than another for a techno contra, in your opinion? I am particularly interested in hearing from people who’ve attended/called/organized/spun both kinds. Does it make a difference if it’s an event with live music (e.g., Double Apex) as opposed to having strictly recorded music? (I would imagine that some of the original discrete-dance formatting was established as a courtesy to the musicians, to give them short breaks if needed.)
Please chime in with comments or start a thread over in the Contra Syncretist Forum!
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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