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 "
“One of the reasons I decided to get into dance calling, aside from my love of contra and related dance forms, was so that I could make a positive contribution to the advancement and evolution of the community, the ‘folk process,’” says Brian Hamshar. He is the resident caller and organizer of Club Contras, a monthly crossover contra series at Greenwood Community Center in Greenwood, VA (near Charlottesville).
So what gave him the idea to start the series, originally?
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."
One of the main ways that techno contras in particular differ from regular contra dances is that they tend to use DJs spinning recorded music instead of having a live band. I sat down with Washington, D.C.-area based Jeremiah "dJ improper" Seligman, who spins for Contra Sonic every month, to talk about his experience.
(Click "Read more" at right to see what he had to say!)
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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