When talking about his Contra Sonic experience, Perry had several compliments for the resident dJ improper: "I think that Jeremiah does a great job in making it not too different for callers. As you know, he takes the techno music and makes it square for contra dances. The fact that Jeremiah knows contra and knows what it takes to make music for contra dancing is very important for this dance. Unlike some of the other callers, I did not meet with him until about 1 hour before the dance. He likes to go over what the music is like with the caller -- especially the intro beats that we call 'potatoes.' The 4 intro beats in a regular contra sound completely different than a Contra Sonic. In a regular contra, one instrument, say a fiddle or a piano, plays 4 beats, then the whole band starts their tune. In a Sonic, the 4 (or 8) beats are unrecognizable oftentimes from the main tune -- and he counts down with you so you know when it's time to start calling."
Perry continues, "In many ways the Sonic is easier calling -- you don't have to tell anyone when you want to stop -- you stop when the music is finished. In a regular contra the band will play forever until you tell them it's time to stop."
While he said that "I most certainly would call another techno contra if asked -- they are fun to call and actually kind of easier to call than traditional contras," he also brought up some rather interesting concerns that echoed Diane Silver's about the community aspect in the new contra form:
"One of my major worries about techno contra is a potential to move away from the community atmosphere that we see at many contras to the clubby, cliquish atmosphere of many dance clubs. How many of us actually seek out a new dancer and teach them how to dance along the way? That type of thing is what I wonder about, both with traditional contras and with techno contras. Especially with techno since part of that experience is doing your funky moves with your favorite partner. Some techno contra dancers want to introduce those moves to a brand new dancer -- and it seems kind of forced. I dunno -- I don't want to be too much of a downer, so let me conclude the topic by saying that I would hate to see it go away, people love it -- but I personally have become less enamored with it [as a result of the deteriorating community aspect]."
This concern has been echoed to varying degrees by a few other callers I've spoken to (some previously posted, others to come) and so I figured I'd ask you, the readers, about it.
Personally, I wonder if this goes somewhat hand-in-hand with the simpler dances that most people call for techno contras to help the traditional dances fit the nontraditional music more easily. Simpler choreographies -- both in traditional and nontraditional contras -- seem to allow for more room for dancers to improvise with their partners/neighbors individually, as opposed to engaging everyone in one cohesive effort. Personally I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing, although I know others see it differently.
Perry adds this: "When it comes to challenging dances to non-traditional music, I guess it's possible but you need a hall of really good dancers. My view of challenging dances is that most of them are challenging because they require precise timing and dancers good enough to be aware of that precise timing. The beats in techno music aren't always so clear -- that's why I think that simpler dances are better. Plus techno is high energy -- so as I said before people get in that zone and complicated moves get that much harder. I'm sure that one could write a dance that matches a techno tune -- but I wouldn't have a clue as to how to go about it or what would have to be different."
Anyone have any ideas here? The consensus (that Perry sums up nicely) is seeming to be that simpler choreography is needed for techno contras to work smoothly; my thought is that simpler choreography leads to more individual improvisation on the floor, which makes the dance less cohesive, which some people are seeing as a detriment to the community on the dance floor. Are these things necessarily connected?
Answer in the comments, or feel free to head over to the Forum and respond there.
Special thanks to Perry for volunteering his experiences. Perry is also a regular contributor to the Contra Syncretist forum.