When Technoberfest (Willow Grove, PA) was in its planning stages, I noticed that Donna Hunt was calling. I also knew that she had been one of the callers for the techno contra dance party (known as High CONTRAst) featuring Double Apex in March that had inspired Vince Budnick to pursue a reprise of bringing Double Apex to the Philadelphia area. I was able to catch up to Donna and asked her about her experiences.
Technoberfest was the first ever public Philadelphia area techno contra (in Willow Grove, PA) on October 22. Double Apex provided the music and Melissa Taggart was one of the callers that night. I was able to catch up with her to ask her about it. “Vince Budnick (our fearless leader) brought the idea to me for the first ever Philly area techno early this year. He's a dear friend and really supportive of my calling. I loved his vision for our dance community, and I wanted to support him as much as he has me! He asked me pretty early on, which was a HUGE honor!”
A couple of weeks ago, the October installment of the Contra Sonic series in Arlington, VA featured Toronto, Canada-based caller Bev Bernbaum calling with dJ improper. Contra Syncretist caught up with her afterward. “It was my first time calling a techno contra and I’d never danced one before either,” she says. “I’d heard about techno contra and was interested in finding out more about it. I attended a dance weekend earlier this year that claimed to be having a techno contra late one night, but it wasn’t anything like what I’d seen on YouTube or was expecting. As it happened, I was arranging a short mid-Atlantic calling tour in the early spring and had contacted the organizer of the Glen Echo dance. I’ve called there before. She asked if I’d consider staying in DC long enough to call the Contra Sonic dance and I jumped at the chance.”
When I found out that George Marshall had called for the Spark in the Dark series up in Massachusetts last spring, I was intrigued. George has been on the folk dance scene for many years and has called with and played in some iconic acoustic bands within it. As George puts it, “I started dancing at 15, I started calling in 1978, and I’m 53 now.” What would his view be of electronic music and a club-like atmosphere recently fusing with this dance scene, with which he has been involved for many years?
After calling the Sunday FSGW dance with Nor’easter playing last week in Glen Echo Park, Dave Eisenstadter turned around and called the August edition of the Contra Sonic techno contra series two nights later in Arlington, VA. While it was his first time calling Contra Sonic, this was not his first exposure to a crossover contra event:
“My first techno contra was on New Years Day 2010 in Asheville, NC, and it was organized and DJ'd by Jordy Williams. Since then, I've been to a handful of techno and alternative music dances at Youth Dance Weekend in Vermont and throughout Massachusetts. Dancer friends told me about Jordy's dance and we wound up driving 12 hours to see what it was like.”
Hi all, Just wanted to take a moment to say hi to the new readers on this blog, and make a few announcements/requests:
(Don't worry, the Friday Flourish has updated as usual, scroll down.)
1. I've been combing the Internet looking for people who have called/organized/spun/etc. various techno and crossover contra events. If you know anyone who falls into this category, especially those I haven't talked to yet (see the list on the right of the blog page as a guide to people I've discussed on this blog in some capacity), please send them my way.
2. I am also actively looking for bands who are doing something nontraditional with contra music. Send them my way too, or post about them in the Forum -- albums or bands, either one works for me; I'll happily review the albums or go talk to the band members if I can get my hands on contact info.
3. I've been hearing inklings about several private parties back in the late '90's that some people are saying actually might have been the very first spontaneous crossover contras, predating the Whipperstompers and YDW events in 2008. I would love to hear from folks that were at or organized some of these for a possible future blog post.
4. As we've been saying every week on the Contra Syncretist YouTube Channel, we're constantly on the lookout for new flourishes. Upload them or send them our way, and they may end up featured as a Friday Flourish!
5. I've got more features and pages in the pipeline for this site that I'm hoping to roll out later this summer, and I do take suggestions for same from the peanut gallery. If you have ideas, please drop me a line!
Right before your friendly neighborhood crossover contra blogger left for vacation, she caught up with Ann Fallon, who called the Contra Sonic dance in Arlington, VA on June 22, to talk about what it was like for Ann to call her first techno contra. Unlike some people, Ann had attended a couple of Contra Sonic events before she called, one before and one after the move to Artisphere in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, VA. She had watched a few format changes over the course of the series as well: “The first Contra Sonic I attended had several very long medleys, and I understand that some of the ones after that one had long medleys as well, one being an hour long. The format at DC Contra Sonic has evolved to regular length dances, with the emphasis being on keeping to simpler dances with low piece counts so the dancers can just dance to the music.”
The experience of calling traditional contra and techno contra did not differ as much as she thought it would. “I was concerned about possibly losing my place in the music. I’m not very familiar with the tunes used for crossover contras,” she says. “Although I knew that Jeremiah [Seligman, a.k.a. dJ improper] made the tunes be dance length, 64 beats, etc., and of course I know how to count beats, some of the music I had heard at the dances I attended seemed to have unclear phrasing. I knew there would be an 8 count intro rather than the usual 4 … and I was prepared to count throughout each dance. But it was easier than I thought to keep track of the parts of the dance, and …. and this was awesome … the dancers were so attuned to the music and for the most part were very experienced, they had absolutely no trouble hearing the phrasing and keeping the dance where it belonged. So I began each dance counting rather than ‘feeling’ the phrasing as I would normally do … but I didn’t count for very long … maybe twice through the dance.”
I saw this on Birds and Music originally (Andrew VanNorstrand's blog) and I laughed so hard I just had to share it with you all. Enjoy!
I sat down a few weeks ago with caller Anna Rain as she supped with the band Morning Star (incidentally, also the source of Brendan Taaffe's sound bite from the earlier blog post) and talked to her about the experience of calling Contra Sonic in February, held in the historic Glen Echo Park Spanish Ballroom. She has been active in the DC-area folk community for many years and while I knew she called, I also know that she's more active in the morris/rapper and English Country Dance traditions than contra dancing, traditional or otherwise. What, then, brought her to try her hand at calling for the local techno contra series?
For the past two years, Gaye Fifer has called the late night techno contra at Terpsichore's Dance Holiday, a family event between Christmas and New Year's in Roanoke, WV.
Gaye got started calling techno at Terpsichore's at the behest of her daughter, Rachel Fifer. As Gaye explains, "we often have a 'late night' activity, and there is a solid group of young people who were interested in techno.... The first year, Rachel provided the music. Last year, Jeremiah Seligman [a.k.a. dJ improper] (from the DC area) provided the music. I spent some time listening to the music and figuring out how many 'potatoes' I would have "
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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