When Steve and I headed down to Chattaboogie last month, I made the acquaintance of a thirtysomething Nashville dancer by the name of Dan Kappus. The conversation went something along the lines of noting that crossover contra in general seems to be a younger phenomenon, and rather popular where they pop up (as anyone who went to the techno contra at the Flurry in New York last weekend can attest), but interestingly have comparatively few people organizing them in the contra community. He had some things to say about the techno contra movement -- and frankly, some things about organization in contra dance events, period -- that I thought were rather interesting. With his permission, I am reproducing several of his comments here.
"The people who run contra dances may have really long-term commitments to making a dance work. The folks who run the Old Farmer's Ball [in North Carolina] have been at it, most of them, for multiple decades. Mati Mero in Seattle has been at it for a decade, and the woman who runs the Lake City [WA] dance up that way has twenty years' experience under her belt, last I saw. Robert and Seth in Atlanta have been at it for fifteen years apiece. The fellow who is the president of Nashville Country Dancers has been involved in one way or another for three decades. The organizers in the Bay Area could compare which decade, starting from the 1980s, had been the best for contra dancing. I know these things because I went to their meetings, met the organizers, was at the dance every week I lived in Seattle or Tucson or San Francisco or Asheville or Atlanta or Urbana, but never took on any leadership role because I'd be gone by the time there was an opportunity to make an impact."
"When I used to live in one place for only two years or four years or a year at a time because I was going to college, leaving for graduate school, fixing to travel, changing careers, or what-not, it was hard to become involved because of my relative transience. It takes a full year to plan a contra dance weekend. One must be around for two years to improve what was done at the first attempt. It takes a full year to understand how an organization works, perhaps another year to be elected as an officer on its board, and another year or two to serve in that capacity."
Dan continues, "As a person ages, it is expected that he or she become more fixed and predictable in his or her habits. The downside to this is that he or she may seem inflexible or boring. The upside to this is that a person who is older can remember all the details needed year after year to put on a dance weekend or week after week to put on the weekly dance. S/he can think more easily in terms of two years or five years or a decade, where I know for a fact that any but the most abstract plan beyond six months out was far over the horizon for me when I was 21."
"Hence, social power sometimes, though not always, increases with age. Older people are more stable, have more money, and are more able to make firm commitments because their lives are less likely to be overtaken by the need to abruptly move across country to get a job or go to graduate school or live with a new lover. Magic happens all the time at whatever age, but older people move more slowly, orderly, and predictably when responding to magic or heartfelt desire or even ohshit-I-have-no-job crises."
"The job so often of youth is to bring to the fore what is new and interesting. That which is new does not become boring and old because of any change to its very substance, but because of familiarity. The new becomes old and boring also because those who brought it to the fore become aged and powerful. What was so radically different on the radio when I was 15, that underground, super hush-hush sound, is now played in elevators. Each generation sets its flag in the cultural turf. The flag stays put, but looks increasingly like a marker of convention as these youngsters become more powerful oldsters who can impose a their own once-rebel tastes upon the next generation." To illustrate, Dan mentions, "I met a 58-year-old who put on raves in the late '80s. She tells me that dubstep isn't music."
I think Dan has a point about the correlation between life stability and organizational capacity. Further, events like Youth Dance Weekend seem to particularly interest themselves in priming younger people (especially the under-35's) to organize events, and perhaps in its own way might help to encourage the spread of both traditional and crossover events.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments!