“I first heard about techno contra while I was in North Carolina at Summer Soiree, a dance weekend held at Warren Wilson College,” Dana explains.
“It was great! I mixed the music ahead of time and put it all on one track on my ipod. At the beginning we had almost a full hall and by the end we still had a line going. Everyone had an amazing time....I'd say the room was buzzing with excitement before the first song. I explained a few rules about the techno (no stopping, how to change partners, etc.). Then I hit the music. The first song was ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson. The whole room whooped with joy.” Dana continues that some of her music picks were affected by the age of her dancers: “I used some great 90s hits, but definitely included more modern music as well. I used Deadmau5, 3OH!3, Coldplay (remix), and Wolfgang Gartner, etc. So: 90s, techno, pop. That covers most of it. Actually, all of it worked out pretty well. The Coldplay remix was just a little fast, but the dancers seemed pumped and danced to the beat. I spent a lot of time testing out the tempo of the music. I also had a fellow dancer listen to all the music to check for its ‘danceability.’”
“Everyone had an awesome time! The techno set was on Friday night after the normal evening contra. Towards the end there was only one line left. Many people left because they were tired. I heard only positive feedback. I even asked around for some secondhand negative feedback, but everyone seemed delighted to have the experience and supportive of future techno contra events. I think the dancers who were not interested just didn't attend. That being said, the room was full when I started the first song. A lot of people tried it out for the first time.”
She continues, "We weren't sure how many people were going to stay for our techno. We decided to just have about an hour of techno and keep it all in one block."
Vernal’s was an all-night dance and dance weekend in High Springs, FL in celebration of the vernal equinox. Unfortunately, the people who ran Vernal’s moved to Canada and discontinued the event, but Dana has continued to expand the experience into the local dance scene.
“I'm talking to the University of Florida [UF] Contra Dance Club (which I sometimes call for) about putting on a special Techno Event for an evening. I call techno contras just during the break (about 20 min) for them so dancers can get a taste of it. This isn't a regular occurrence, but it's getting close to being one. The interest is there, and growing.”
The interest is apparently also there enough to balance both the live band of the traditional dance and the recorded music of the techno. “At the UF dances where we often do a short techno during the break, we use recorded music. Usually almost all the dancers do the techno at the break. There is a lot of hype and excitement surrounding it. They use live bands for the regular contra. I know that many people are skeptical of the techno contra scene and its development--but the last time I called a techno at the break the band danced the full 20 minutes!”
That is not to say that calling a techno contra doesn’t have its own challenges, however. Dana says, “Calling a techno requires me to mix the music ahead of time. This takes much more time than it does to program a normal dance. In a normal dance I have a band to have a conversation with about the dance matching up with the music--when it's recorded, I have to make sure that I have dances that can progress into each other that still match up with the mood of the music. It took a lot of extra planning. I listened to the entire hour and 15 minutes of techno music I had prepared and danced the dances I chose in my head to make sure they fit. When calling a techno, you have no normal musical phrasing, so you have to pay extra attention to the amount of beats it takes to complete each dance move. Also, there are no breaks so you have to keep a water bottle right next to you and be in it for the long haul! You have to be willing to have fun, call to the music (calmer when the music calls for it, and more hyped up and playful when the music is kickin’!) and watch the dancers carefully to make sure you're providing calls that get them to their next neighbor every time. I had to call the entire time for the techno, so the dancers could just listen to the music and not think about what they had to do next. Also, you have to pick dances that aren't too complicated. There's no teaching in a techno so shadows, contra corners and diagonal movement are pretty much off limits.”
Given her deep involvement in bringing techno contra to her community, I asked where she thought techno contra fit into the contra community: “I think that techno contra is a way for the new generation of dancers to translate contra dancing into a more popular, club-like atmosphere. It is a sexy, different animal than normal techno contra. I believe that techno contra is distinct from normal contra dancing, and that each fulfills a different desire of the dance community at large. Based on my personal experiences both calling and dancing at techno contras, I believe that there is enough room for both of them in the dance community.”
Dana Parkinson is co-calling an entire evening of techno contra on Sunday, September 11 with another local caller and friend at the University of Florida contra. She is also calling at the Gainesville Oldtime Dance Society (GODS) Dance Weekend next February and other gigs in Pinellas Park, Cocoa Beach, and Gainesville about once a month this fall. Thanks to her for talking to Contra Syncretist!