This was sent to us by dancer and viewer Will Jaynes.
This week's flourish happens on a down-the-hall and can be easily modified into a switch flourish but can be done and keep the follow on the right -- it also is helpful if the call is for a turn single but you accidentally turn as a couple instead.
This was sent to us by dancer and viewer Will Jaynes.
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!
Found this flow chart by Ron T. Blechner on Facebook. He is a "pro-twirl" contra dancer from New Jersey. I think this sums up the whole "don't be a jerk" mantra rather nicely:
I think this is brilliant (although I quibble somewhat with the idea that it's only a gents' dilemma, as I face it too when I dance the role that ends up on the left after a swing, and I'm most definitely not a "gent" even when I am dancing that role).
And I especially love that he mentions the facts that 1) having an offer of a flourish refused is not the end of the world, and 2) if you do flourish, be careful and be on time. Some people love flourishes; some don't; and some normally love them but don't right that second (for whatever reason -- tired, dizzy, cranky because of other stuff, just plain don't want to) and ALL of those stances should be respected.
This week's flourish is a flourish for four, on a star -- the easiest way to lead it is to offer the start of the top layer right after you join for the bottom star layer, and hope the other three join in. (As with any flourish, know your fellow partners in the minor set.) There are variants of this where the top layer is a hands-across star, but this one has two wagon-wheel (wrist-grip) stars. The tricky part is making sure that even if you speed up the star, you all end up in the spots you intend at the end since it's easy to end up a bit off on the timing if you aren't careful.
Dancers this week are Alex Dennis, Valerie Young, Steven Roth, and Ryan Holman. (Special thanks to Valerie & Alex for helping us out!)
You, too, can have your flourishes featured! Drop us a line!
Hope to see many of you at Contrastock II, happening this Sunday at Glen Echo! Ten and a half hours of dancing to Wild Asparagus, Perpetual e-Motion, and Elixir's music with George Marshall, Will Mentor, and Nils Fredland calling! (All of those except for George Marshall and Wild Asparagus will also be in NYC this weekend for Contrashock II, a separate event.)
Also, for those of you who might make it to the Harrisburg, PA area: this weekend is Frolic in the Fall, which kicks off with a techno contra tonight (Friday)! It will be called by Perry Shafran and spun by Brian Hamshar (B-Ham).
Next week we'll hear from Janet Bertog, who organized and helped call the first ever techno contra in Louisville, KY!
Carry on dancing,
Recently I was talking to someone whose views are very much on the "traditional music, dance-as-written" side of things, and who wondered why flourishers would bother with the contra dance part of it, if they were then going to add dips/aerials/flourishes/what-have-you.
Since this gets to why the heck my partner and I would be teaching flourishes every week, I think it's relevant to this blog, so I'll speak for myself here (and I won't presume to speak for anyone else, not even Steve):
For me, contra dance lets me enjoy music without having to be crazily self-conscious as I would find myself in a club, or a more free-form partner-oriented dance genre (or a more closed-off social scene), and I don't have to worry about it. The choreography is there and taught right before (and during) when I have to do it to stay with the group, and everyone else is doing more or less the same thing at the same time (so at least if I look like a goof, it's likely others do too, and that makes it okay). I can dance contra straight up, as written, with various different people through an evening, and I have a wonderful time.
On the other hand, if I have a bit of extra energy and a willing partner (or neighbor), we can do the dramatic dips or the dizzying twirls -- and as long as we're back where we need to be when we need to be there, we can pop back in and dance with the other folks in our set, regardless of whether they decided to embellish the dance on the previous move or not. And I also have a wonderful, albeit differently-energized, time.
But if for whatever reason I decide that I'm not up for flourishing, there's still a rewarding experience waiting for me in the choreography as written. That baseline does't exist as much (at all?) in other scenes.
I adore that flexibility and the ability to dance with the group, too, even if I take a moment (or phrase) just with my partner. That doesn't exist as much in other dance genres and venues, and while I may love the occasional dramatic dip in the space of a swing (assuming the room's not crowded) and share that connection with my partner, I also really like that I can pop back up from it and flow into a star with my neighbors and share that connection with them, right on time.*
That's why I do it, anyway. I know there are lots of other reasons. Flourishers, what are yours?
* After the fact, it occurs to me that this is related to why I like changing up the music from time to time, too. Being able to enjoy the music with familiar choreography as a touchstone and a relatively safe (and intergenerational, at least in my community!) environment has a lot of appeal.
This week's flourish is one that Jeremiah Seligman (a.k.a. dJ improper) showed us last weekend at FootFall. It's also filmed at FootFall (just after our workshop, in fact -- apologies for the echoes)!
A little while ago I happened across this link to a blogger's layman-oriented version of a scientific explanation of how music affects the brain and found it really interesting:
I seem to recall reading that exercise (e.g., dancing) has a similar effect, so it would make sense that -- between the music and the dance -- when we talk about a "natural high" from contra, it's not entirely a metaphor. The more interesting part, though, would be to take it one step further and start looking at why it is that, "Even though music enjoyment is entirely subjective and intertwined with cultural and personal experience, the chemical effects remain the same."
For the record, I really, really like that line from the video. The cool thing about it is that in some ways, the "high" some of us get from techno contra is chemically the same as the one we get from "traditional" contra. I find that really interesting given that many people would characterize them as different sorts of activities (even though they are more closely related than, say, ballet and this guy's style).
What do you think?
Special thanks to everyone who came to our "Flourishes Are Fun!" workshop at FootFall on Saturday! We had a great turnout and I hope everyone had a good time and learned a few things along the way! (Feedback at the scene was generally positive. As with anything, there's stuff we'd like to do differently should we run the workshop again. but overall we're pretty proud of our effort.) Thanks to April Blum for inviting us to do it! We had a blast and hopefully folks will use the stuff we taught as starting points to think about new ways to inject some variety into a contra dance without accidentally lessening someone else's fun in the process (and if they find something cool, to send it our way!).
One of the interesting things that I discovered along the way is that the similarities between contra and English country dancing and ceilidh dancing and Scottish country dancing (which I also sampled -- lots of fun, but I can understand where some folks have said that over time their knees/ankles have not been thrilled about it) do lend themselves to a bit of syncretism there, too -- we've already shown you a gate in place of an allemande, and there are setting motions which easily can be done during a balance in contra that don't require your partner to mirror you exactly in order for you to continue and be where they expect you.
In our workshop, Steve and I showed a couple of littler flourishes (like using arming instead of an allemande -- not to be used on folks with arm/shoulder issues) and one dancer told me that for her regular allemandes could be painful (something about the angle of her arms) and that the elbow one worked (and she pulled it on me mid-dance to prove her point).
Thank you again to everyone who showed up and to those who answered my all-call last week for dances.
This week's flourish is a twirly sequence of swings that builds up to a little series that's really neat: it starts with a cuddle-up swing, then into a ripcord twirl, and then a cuddle up/backward swing into a Whipperstomper balance into a double twirl-out. Each time the lead adds a little bit more complexity so the follow will "get" the lead when it gets pulled out. (This strategy is also helpful for other more complex moves -- start small and build your way there, repeating steps as necessary if you have an unfamiliar partner or an unfamiliar flourish.)
You, too, can have flourishes featured! Drop us a line!
West Virginia or Bust: Also, attention folks who are dancing at FootFall this weekend -- we are leading a flourish & style workshop from 4:40-5:40 PM tomorrow (Saturday) in the Gym! To FootFall attendees, come on down! (But right now, we need to go finish packing....)
I know I've got a couple of callers and choreography geeks here, so I'll ask:
As part of our workshop at FootFall this weekend, Steve and I figured we'd finish with a "practice" dance or two with the various flourishes we talk about in the workshop, preferably incorporating all of the moves with flourishes that we've talked about. I've got all but two big ones in the dance I picked for the first one, but I can't seem to find a dance online with both at least one Petronella turn and a hey (preferably a full hey, but I'll take a half).
Does anyone know of a dance that has both of those moves that isn't ridiculously difficult to call (and preferably has already been tried on a group of dancers at some point)? I'll be checking the Internet until I head for the land of no cell phone reception (really excited!), but I'm hoping some of you can help us out.
To those going to FootFall -- I am super excited (I've been to this weekend every year since it started in 2007) and can't wait to dance with and see you all! (Two more days! Squee!)
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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