One of the resolutions I made for 2012 was to stretch, and I put up five such stretches last week from my friend Renee Griffin, who works as a Physical Therapist Assistant up in Pennsylvania. Today I conclude the stretches she suggested for contra dancers to do. Truthfully, I should have been better about doing more of these before I went and danced to Perpetual e-Motion three weekends in a row before dancing to Frog Hammer's contra dance debut last night....
_I've got a few plans for the Contra Syncretist site going forward (like a better search function for back blog entries...), but I'm interested in what you all want to see going forward as I plan out future blog entries and the like. I know there have got to be more of you out there than my mom checking on Fridays to see what I wore in the Flourish videos, so please drop me a line!
I've designed a survey for this purpose, or if you find you'd like to be more verbose, please drop me a (polite) line over at the site's Contact form. I'm not making promises at this point, but I'll make an honest effort to take user input into consideration as we move forward.
Carry on Dancing,
_This blog post was inspired by an impromptu talk my friend Renee gave in the ladies' room at ContraCopia in Philadelphia, PA a few weeks ago for another dancer who asked her about stretches she could do. After a bit more thought on the matter, Renee was kind enough to supply me with some stretches that she felt contra dancers should consider to help stretch the muscles we use when we dance (and when we add flourishes). As with any physical activity: if it hurts, don't do it; we want to prevent injuries!
Tonight's entry has been posted a little bit early since we'll be packing up the car and heading southwest in the morning to make it to Chattaboogie in Chattanooga, TN. I've managed to get north and west to dance in New England and my alma mater in Ohio, but haven't been very far south to dance yet (although I've met people from those communities who have ventured north). I look forward to seeing some new and some familiar faces (and learning new flourishes to bring home!) while we're down there!
Blog posts will resume Wednesday, January 11 with Resolution #4 for 2012.
In the meantime, if you're just now joining us, take a look at my other 2012 resolutions.
_One of the things that I've heard a fair amount of controversy over in the crossover contra world (and was actually asked in the early days of the Contra Syncretist Forum) is whether such events are better as newbie-outreach events to meet new dancers halfway between the folk world and the mainstream (i.e., clubbing) world, or whether it's better to have the introduction gateway be the Tradition and then tweak it a bit by having crossover events as a challenge for experienced dancers. I've been to some where lots of brand new dancers have shown up, and others where the event has been exclusively marketed to the contra community and so those are the only people who attend.
In previous interviews, I've talked to organizers who have advertised crossover events through their local coffee shop and had to hold three impromptu lessons to accommodate all the beginners, DJs who have repeatedly told me in person that they are playing to the least experienced dancer in the room and others who think that crossover events could be wonderful outreach to get people dancing, and callers who have felt a need to discard some of the more challenging choreography to adjust to the crossover music and the more challenging phrasing (or lack thereof). The views do rather seem to vary.
Truthfully, I've had fun at crossover events with lots of new dancers and ones with mostly experienced dancers and can see a place for each. However, my own opinion is that I think it comes down to intent (and, yes, the organizers do need to make a choice at the outset): if one is going to advertise the event to people outside the contra/folk dance community, then make a point of catering the event somewhat to the new dancers (e.g., have a scheduled, structured contra dance lesson ahead of time; make sure the dances aren't overly complicated). If it's not going to be an outreach event and is, say, a private party to which only experienced dancers are invited, you can institute chaos lines, medleys, and more complex dances (although you are probably going to have to find funding through sources other than your friendly local folklife society).
That said, I personally find it can be a bit more challenging to "direct traffic" to new or lost dancers in the line in the dark; I've found myself revising some of the strategies I use to help lost dancers in a regular dance, like relying more on (gentle!) tugs in the proper direction and more exaggerated pointing to the proper shoulder to pass and the like. It's a different challenge to try and help someone verbally when there are lyrics and calls both to compete with and it's usually a less well-lit ambiance, so they may not even be totally sure of where you are. This is not to say that these factors are insurmountable.
I'm not sure if there's "one true answer" to the question. But regardless, I will make a point of going up to someone I don't know -- at crossover and regular contras -- and asking them to dance, and even if they turn out not to be the most experienced dancer on the floor, I will make a point of having fun and enjoying the dancing experience they have to offer. As one of my very first dance partners said to me my very first night of contra dancing, "Everybody starts somewhere."
I welcome your thoughts! (And if anyone who's going to Chattaboogie this weekend decides to ask those people from the Friday Flourish videos to dance, I have it on good authority that it would be much appreciated. It'll be our first time dancing down there and it'll be a great opportunity to meet new friends!)
My first resolution for 2012 encompasses both my role in the contra blogosphere and my life outside of contra and this blog (yes, as hard as it may be to believe, that does in fact exist): I like finding new music and sharing it with people. So it seemed particularly opportune when Julie Vallimont (accordion and piano player extraordinaire and half of Double Apex) and fiddler Andy Reiner made their world debut as Firecloud at Glen Echo last night. Their focus is a certain brand of "fiddle techno" that combines live, looped, and synthetic sounds, so I was eager to check them out.
My initial impression is that while at times I've heard "fiddle techno" before that has been really heavy on techno and somewhat light on fiddle, Firecloud, at least last night, seemed to more distinctly feature Julie's piano and Andy's fiddle. Despite this being the very first time they played together, the duo blended together really well and the background synth beats did a good job of framing their instrumental collaboration, rather than drowning it out. Part of this may be due to their common reference point being the tradition and their not having as much time to plan a heavier techno influence, but I thought it worked rather well as-is.
They will be touring the Eastern Seaboard in the place of Double Apex the first part of this week. Those of you in Virginia and North Carolina should make a point of going to see them.
Firecloud will be next playing in Greenwood, VA tonight (Monday, January 2). They will be in Winston-Salem, NC on Tuesday, January 3, and in Asheville, NC on Wednesday, January 4. On this latter date, Ed Howe of Perpetual e-Motion will join Julie and Andy to make the evening a really special event -- to those around Asheville who are able to go, please find some way to share on YouTube or similar; I am jealous! Also, apparently Ed Howe will be playing both with John Coté and with Julie Vallimont next weekend for Chattaboogie, at which Steve and I will also be dancing, January 6-8, in Chattanooga, TN.
Happy New Year! Over the first few Contra Syncretist entries of 2012, I want to share with you some of my New Year's resolutions having to do with dance and EDM and community on the dance floor. My first resolution will be revealed in the immediate next post. There will probably only be about a handful from me, but I'd love to hear some of yours -- will this be the year you organize your own techno contra for the first (or second) time, or try your hand at mixing contra-able tunes? Will this be the year you endeavor to dance in a brand new community now that you finally have the time, money, or really awesome friend who owes you a gigantic favor? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for my resolutions, too!
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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