For her, “Calling at Mel's party reinforced the need to have dances that have simpler piece count and are instinctive for the dancers. This is a ‘no complicated contras’ zone and even ‘intermediate’ contra dances need to be chosen carefully.”
There were other differences that Donna noticed between Double Apex’s mix of prerecorded and live sounds and calling to a band that is acoustic and 100% live. “To me there is a huge difference between calling to Double Apex's prerecorded beat and a traditional dance band. The traditional music format of AABB orients the caller and dancers to where they are in the dance choreography (which is also AABB). Double Apex does play some of the traditional music (AABB) along with the techno beat which makes it familiar to caller/dancer. But when there's just a techno beat (no musical phrasing) then I need to have the beat in my head and know where we are in the dance. Not a problem if all is well, but if a line breaks down I need to bring everyone back in sync.”
Additionally, the more club-like atmosphere can present its own challenges: “I think the biggest surprise is that the dancers at the end of the hall are very hard to see. As a caller I watch the dancers, and know in a dance or two which dancers may have trouble at any time, i.e., beginners meeting in the line. My eyes are drawn to the areas of the hall that are not ‘flowing’ (i.e., that's a line breaking down). Not being able to see the hall clearly means I have to scan the crowd more carefully.”
Given the differences between calling to a band that incorporates electronic sounds like Double Apex and a traditional band, I was curious about how much she had coordinated with Double Apex before the gigs. “We didn't coordinate much at all. For Mel's party, Spider Vetter (the other caller) and I planned out the medley and gave it to Double Apex to plan the music. For Technoberfest, we had some email chats but no real planning.”
Both the techno contra party and Technoberfest were quite successful a far as attendance and as far as making people want more. Where, then, do these events fit into the contra dance tradition?
Donna replies, “I'm assuming that ‘the tradition’ that you're talking about is the Modern Urban Contra (MUC) scene (improper dances with partner and neighbor swings) and not the ‘Tradition’ of 100+ years ago (proper dances like Chorus Jig and Petronella). I think techno contra will fit in the MUC tradition as a special event, much like a ‘Chestnuts’ evening or an annual weekend. I don't see techno as a replacement for the weekly/monthly dances…. I now have 3 techno gigs under my belt (the third being a late night dance at Head for the Hills-Princeton Country Dancers get away weekend). I have found calling to techno is much harder than a MUC. Physically: the darker hall and louder music, makes it harder to see the dancers and communicate with the musicians. Mentally: calling to a beat rather than a melody and having unfamiliar music for the entire gig keeps my internal metronome working full time. However, it's a RUSH like no other! The energy in the hall is unbelievable, uplifting and electrifying, the room positively vibrates from it. And that makes techno ‘dangerous’--it could be addicting.”
Donna Hunt is based in Delaware. She is also involved in the planning of ContraCopia-Dance O'Plenty, a nine-hour contra dance happening this Saturday, November 26, sponsored by the Thursday Night Contra Dance of the Glenside, PA dance community. Special thanks to her for sharing her thoughts with Contra Syncretist!