The experience of calling traditional contra and techno contra did not differ as much as she thought it would. “I was concerned about possibly losing my place in the music. I’m not very familiar with the tunes used for crossover contras,” she says. “Although I knew that Jeremiah [Seligman, a.k.a. dJ improper] made the tunes be dance length, 64 beats, etc., and of course I know how to count beats, some of the music I had heard at the dances I attended seemed to have unclear phrasing. I knew there would be an 8 count intro rather than the usual 4 … and I was prepared to count throughout each dance. But it was easier than I thought to keep track of the parts of the dance, and …. and this was awesome … the dancers were so attuned to the music and for the most part were very experienced, they had absolutely no trouble hearing the phrasing and keeping the dance where it belonged. So I began each dance counting rather than ‘feeling’ the phrasing as I would normally do … but I didn’t count for very long … maybe twice through the dance.”
With all this in mind, Ann says that were she to do it over, she would “try to work with Jeremiah to end all dances with in the right place, which would mean sometimes ending the tune a little early. I know we could make it happen. And I’d try to make sure there was a no-lyrics mix for calling a square.”
“I was surprised at how much fun it was for me, and that I was able to relax after each dance got going. As mentioned above, I was expecting to have to count and be on the alert all the way through each dance. It was a pleasure to watch the different styles of dancing going on. The ‘swing-dance’ type moves that sometimes seem inappropriate with traditional music were exactly right for alternative music. And the overall sense of timing on the floor was awesome.”
So then, where does she see techno and crossover contras fitting into the evolving contra tradition/community?
“That’s a big question,” she replies. “I know that there’s a feeling that crossover contras will help bring in and keep young dancers in the traditional dance community. I’m all for that. I know my Contra Sonic dance was a small sample, but I think that I recognized 99 percent of the ‘young’ dancers as being regulars at contra dances with traditional music. That’s very reassuring to me. I like the way this question is phrased … ‘fitting into the evolving contra tradition,’ because things are always evolving in some way. Just look back at how contra dancing has evolved since the 1970s. I think it behooves us ‘older’ callers and dancers to make a real effort, however, to help newer dancers appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the dance form as it was in the beginning. I don’t quite see doing Petronella to alternative music …. But there are other ways.”
When asked if she’d like to do it again, Ann was rather enthusiastic: “I’d love to call another one, especially with D.J. Improper. He’s very attentive to what’s going on … I don’t know quite how to describe this, but with some mixes he would actually make hands-on alterations as the dance went on (i.e., making sure a non-square tune stayed square). A few times he used sets that allowed him to dance, but for the most past he was right there reassuring me, helping me know when the dance would end, making comments about the various mixes, etc.”
Ann also mentioned another idea that I found really interesting: “I’m curious as to what it would be like to call a techno dance for all new dancers who haven’t yet developed their sense of timing, phrasing, etc.”
Ann Fallon is a caller based out of Annapolis, MD and is an active member of the Annapolis Traditional Dance Society. On Saturday, July 23, 2011, she will be calling at the annual SummerTunes 2011 Dance in Frederick, MD with the SummerTunes Orchestra. Special thanks to her for being willing to share her experiences calling Contra Sonic!