When I read about the “Hip-Hop Contra” that had taken place at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine a couple of years back, I was intrigued. Many of the crossover contras I had read about to this point had been using pop or techno music rather exclusively. How would the vibe change if you changed up the music genre and used hip-hop as well? Fortunately, caller Chrissy Fowler had some of the answers for me when I contacted her.
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?
Jordy Williams’s name is one that has become synonymous with techno contras down in the Asheville contra community in North Carolina, as well as up and down the East Coast. His particular brand of techno contras are noted for including some of the sex appeal of the nightclub culture, rather than merely evoking that scene with the music and lighting as in a few other communities where these have taken root.
“I started organizing the first one in the spring of 2009,” he says. The first techno contra event he organized was on June 10, 2009 at the Asheville Contemporary Dance Studio. “It's a little hole in the wall in Downtown Asheville. We had about 70-80 people and it was completely stuffed. It was cool though cuz [sic] it was in a basement so it had low ceilings (which gave it a cool underground feeling) and mirrors lining one wall.”
“The first one was inspired by a small handful of poorly executed techno contras that left me wanting it done right.”
The other day, I talked to Perry Shafran, who called the April Contra Sonic monthly techno contra dance in Washington, DC, about his experience. He has been to all but one of the Contra Sonic dances so far (although he has only called the one) and was very forthcoming, provoking a few questions that I'd be interested to hear responses to in the comments.
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."
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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