Dave says, "I was familiar with the concept [of techno contra], having called a techno slot during a gender free dance I called in New York City in 2010. In October of 2010, during a Halloween dance I called at Locust Lane, I incorporated an extended mix of 'Flashlight' by Parliament. The group really enjoyed it. Two months later when I called the Friday Night Dance at Glen Echo on January 14, 2011, with the Open Band, I was asked by Penelope [Weinberger, Contra Sonic organizer] to add a techno dance to the program, sorta at the last minute, as the Contra Sonic event was upcoming in the following week. So, I called a single techno dance mix that night that was made by dJ improper, as the first dance of the second half of the that night's program."
"For my next several dances at my home dance in Harrisburg, the Locust Lane Contra Dance [LLCD], a group that I call for about three times a year, I called a techno slot at each evening. They were well received. I was, until recently, the person who booked that dance series, since 1999 -- for 13 years, and am the founder of the board (HACDA) of that series. Also, I was it's first president (for 8 years) and am current vice president (5 years). I convinced the board in October of 2011 to finally approve a techno dance with dJ improper, and then booked the March 23  event with him. I might add that at other local dances I had called in 2011, such as Lewisburg and Elverson, I called a techno slot during the nights dance as well, to try and spread the word about techno, and the upcoming event at LLCD."
Dave continues, "I did not really coordinate with [dJ improper ahead of time] at all. I was familiar with his style. I attended one of the dances early this year at the Artisphere [in Arlington, VA], and know what he did. Had no idea what he would mix for our gig till I heard it that night. I found it didn't matter to me that I didn't know each tune prior -- I picked dances that I knew would be ok with just about any tune. His mixes were all pretty much 32 bars -- 64 beats -- and had an eight beat intro instead of the usual four potatoes intro."
He also notes some interesting differences between crossover contra and conventional contra: "It's not easy to get a specific feel for a dance, like requesting a type of tune from a band. [You] cannot easily do that with recorded music. I don't know how much of his stuff was prerecorded, or done ahead of time. I think there was some live mixing, but to be honest, I wasn't paying that much attention to how he was doing things. I know he would generally let me know when it was a minute till the end of the set, so I could plan accordingly. I generally did call the whole way through, because of the new dancers, and because it looked as though it was harder for the dancers to keep on the phrasing. I also found that when calling over top vocal music it is harder for the dancers to understand the instructions, than when you are calling over a fiddle or guitar, because of the mix of the voices, so I had to work around the vocals much of the time."
This issue with vocals also made the techno contra event different from his regular contra gigs; some of you may recall the Forum post from way back when this site was launched where I mentioned Dave Colestock's signature dance, a no-repeat-no-walkthrough medley of a whole bunch of dances all strung together, with one iteration of each. He calls this dance "Seventeen" and he traditionally inserts it into the second half of the night. It is a lot of fun and a real highlight for some of the dancers who know his work and ends up having a similar effect to Modern Western square dance [MWSD]'s so-called "hash calling."
He further elaborates, "To be honest, 'Seventeen' was conceived after having danced a similar type of medley at the Nomad Festival in Connecticut almost a decade ago. Steve Holland called a similar style medley for experienced dancers at this festival, and I danced it, and enjoyed it very much. It was a no repeat medley, and I think he had about 25 or so dances in it. I thought about how I could bring that type of medley to all dancers, and crafted 'Seventeen,' in which the dances all use pretty basic moves, and have enough in common to be easy to follow, as well as being diverse enough to be fun. Even new dancers have danced 'Seventeen' successfully, and enjoyed it. In fact, at the very last Nomad festival, I called the last session on Sunday, and was asked to call a 20 dance medley during that session to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the festival that year. No one knew till a few months after the fest that it was the last Nomad Festival to be held. So, the idea was not really based on MWSD hash calling, though I am pretty familiar with the concept. I have often wanted to be brave enough to try calling a hash contra. I don't have enough dances memorized to be able to do a true hash contra, though I suspect other callers have that ability. I am not aware of any that do actual hash calling, but I believe I have heard somewhere of it being done. I think if I ever do try it it will be many years down the road. I think it would probably be hard for me -- at least right now. 'Seventeen' was always a set series of specific dances in a specific order, and each card is numbered. So, I can call those dances during the evening and then when they appear in the medley dancers recognize them. I also sometimes switch around the dances in 'Seventeen,' and will also change the order, though I don't do that very often. But the whole idea really came from Nomad, when Steve Holland called the 'X-rated' session of his eXperienced contra medley. I just took it from the festival level to the regular weekly/monthly/whatever dance level, and made it accessible to everyone. I do call it at most every regular contra dance gig that I do, and people that know this will often ask me ahead of time when I will be calling the medley, since they want to dance it with a specific partner."
"I did not call it during the techno dance. However, I did call a three dance medley. That medley went well -- it was an extended dance, about 22 minutes long. The first and third dance were mirrors of each other. I did not call 'Seventeen' because of the amount of words, and calling over vocals which would have made the words harder to hear by the dancers. Had the music been all instrumental I would certainly have done it, but not opposite tunes with vocals." He also mentioned avoiding calling squares for similar reasons.
Dave continues, "Calling a whole evening of techno vs the spots I had been adding to my programs over the past year were not much different. I did have to adjust to the eight potatoes, which I did not realize would be for every dance, but I think the whole dance evening lived up to my expectations. I was pretty happy with the outcome, and really look forward to doing another similar event."
I asked about Dave's thoughts on the alternative music contras, aside from the aforementioned vocals issue: "I like the availability and diversity of alternative music. It has been happening for years -- that popular tunes have been danced to, and techno dances are just another extension of that. Square dances and ECD are two fine examples of this. Why cannot we have both techno and trad contras? I think there is room in the dance community for both, and more."