“About a week before, I sent Donna [Hunt, the other caller for the evening] a program. Normally, it takes me three or four tries to come up with a program I like for an evening of calling, so I wasn't surprised that I needed to make some major changes! I pretty much redid the whole thing and Donna was gracious enough to fit her dances around what I had planned. I left most of the coordinating to Donna, who called a techno before with Double Apex. I couldn't have done it without her! What's great about Double Apex is that they're ‘like any other band’ (Julie [Vallimont]'s words the night of!), so they were really flexible about the programming. I connected briefly with Brendan [Carey Block] on Thursday night after they played an acoustic gig at Glenside. They were mostly concerned about the dances in the medley. We had a pow-wow right before the techno started and went over some things, like what sort of signals they need and how long dances usually run.”
Particularly given that this was Melissa’s first experience with a techno contra dance, I was curious as to how the ambient darkness and lighting effects made a difference.
“It's amazing how a dark room and some cool lighting can really change a contra dance! I'm glad I shared the evening because I could get on the dance floor and experience what the dancers were experiencing. I've been dancing for almost a decade myself, and the atmosphere of the room really changed my spacial awareness -- I felt more ‘lost’ than usual. I also had a chat with my dear dancing friend, Sarah Gowan, about how it would help the dancers if I called more times through each dance. So when I went back up to call I followed her advice. I hope it helped! I also needed to adjust how I think about communicating with a band -- signaling half way through, having to move in closer to them to talk (fingers don't work very well in a dark room!), adjusting if the band needed more time to get through a mix -- an acoustic band can adjust pretty quickly depending on when I want to end a dance, but Double Apex (shout out to them, they were fabulous!) plans mixes in advance, so if they needed a set number of times through the dance I had to be able to let it go and let the dance run however long to fit their plan. The evening took A LOT of brain power. I made sure I had a constant supply of coffee, but I was still wiped out afterwards!”
All told, Melissa’s first techno was a positive experience for her: “I went into the event knowing it was all going to be pretty foreign. There were some cool surprises: the lighting cues which were synchronized with the tune changes, the highlighter tattoos people came up with, how some of the lights looked like sniper rifle sights (sorry for the creepiness!), meeting dance gypsies from all over.... There WAS this funny thing that happened during a mix of Adele's ‘Rolling in the Deep.’ My musician and calling ears went nuts when I was trying to figure out which part of the dance goes with which part of the lyrics. I was sweatin' a bit, just telling myself to focus and keep going! It all worked out and was SO COOL! Wish I could have danced that one. Overall, the music was really thoughtfully planned and made sense. I was very thankful for that! Julie [Vallimont] and Brendan [Carey Block] are really talented! If I were to call another techno I'd probably avoid moves like gypsies and ones that involve individual spacial awareness and stick to dances with lots of physical contact. I'd also call more during the medley. I think I cut out too much. Also, now that I know what to expect I know what questions to ask other callers and bands/DJs I work with. That'll really help me plan in the future.”
During the second half of the night, a formalized “chaos line” broke out during the medley block. Different dances were called in succession for an hour, and the “chaos line” also had dancers switching roles and partners as the dance continued. As mentioned during Contra Syncretist’s previous post on these shenanigans, Melissa announced its existence several times to ensure that everyone there was where they wanted to be. I asked her about this -- did it affect her calling? She replies, “Thanks to Mel Novner for putting me on to the chaos line theory! Donna gave me some great advice about calling with a chaos line: ignore it! So I did! It didn't throw me off one bit! Looking back, I probably could have checked in to make sure they were actually getting the dance, and calling all the way through the medley would have helped. Then again, maybe my not calling helped created some BONUS chaos.... hmm....”
Having experienced a techno contra after hearing about them, I wondered where she sees them fitting into the tradition. “I remember sitting in one of my college music classes and hearing my professor say that one of two things happens in the history of music: either the next generation totally rejects the tradition of the previous generation, or it embraces the tradition and makes it their own. I feel like the latter is happening with the techno contra phenomenon. A younger culture has embraced contra dancing and now they are making it their own. I think that's wonderful. (Oh, and I don't mean to say that ‘old’ people can't do it! I think one of the joys of contra dancing is how multigenerational it is, and that was seen even at Technoberfest!). What I DON'T want to see is a gap between the two traditions of dance. I think traditional dances and this new tradition of techno contras both bring good things to the table. Let's continue to work together!”
Melissa Taggart is a Coordinating Caller for the Glenside, PA Thursday Night Contra series and she usually calls at least once in an evening each week. All of her upcoming gigs are posted on her website at www.sites.google.com/site/contradancecaller.