(Click "Read more" at right to see what he had to say!)
Another major difference between a contra gig and a regular one is the music itself. I asked him what it meant that the music had to be “square” for figure dancing for him to be able to use it:
“When you dance in a club, you freestyle,” he says. “But when you do a figure dance [like contra], you need to do certain moves at specific times. This must be reflected in the music. It's important for dancers to be able to tell where they are in the dance. I try to pick music with ‘a sense of purpose:’ the music can't really get too loose for very long, or else people will lose their place.”
So then, what kind of music does dJ improper play that hits all those points? “I would say [my music is] awesome. But if you need a serious description of what kind of music I play, I have a tendency to lean toward electro-remixes of indie pop songs. Check out Keljet’s remix of Two Door Cinema Club's ‘What You Know.’ If you take that song, slow it down to 124 beats per minute and add an 8 beat intro, that's what works well for contra dancing and contra dancers!”
Sounds kind of complicated to me. So how has this influenced his DJing?
“It's a hard to get gigs. The world of DJing is really competitive because anyone with a laptop can produce an okay DJ set with a little practice. If you were to approach a club DJ and tell them you wanted them to play music, but they have to play good music and follow all these crazy rules that govern figure dances, they'd probably tell you they couldn't do it. It's a really good DJ exercise though. After you try DJing with all these limitations is place, you find that your other stuff starts sounding really tight. I mean, there's a reason traditional music has lived for so long. Traditional musicians must be doing something right, so if you learn to play by their rules, you can really expose your creativity in other areas.”
Sounds like a win-win for all involved. So how did he land this gig?
“I've been Contra Dancing for nearly my entire life and I just started DJing last year,” he says. “I feel like there are youth who would really be into Contra Dancing and other traditional dances if they could relate to the music better. There are lots of teenagers and college students out there who would probably try some kind of figure dancing if they had a better appreciation for traditional music. This allows people to try the dancing without forcing fiddles upon them. And if they decide that they like traditional music after trying a Contra Sonic, the folk community grows!”
In March, Contra Sonic changed venues from Glen Echo Park to the Artisphere in Arlington, Virginia (two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro stop). In addition to being more public-transportation-friendly, dJ improper says the vibe is different too.
“Just describing the two places gives them a different feel. The Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park is a historic building in a national park. Glen Echo Park used to be an actual amusement park but it was shut down a long time ago, and now it's been renovated and includes three dance floors and a bunch of stages and studios for different artistic practices. The Artisphere is a brand new venue with a brand new dance floor and a state-of-the-art sound and light system. You can already taste the difference. I wouldn't say one or the other is better though. They just have different vibes.”