Some folks will say that the series failed, because it’s needed to evolve into a more sporadic, event-based format to be profitable for those involved.
However, for me, that’s actually some of what made it special.
Glen Echo is in some ways a really atypical dance community -- our usual traditional weekly dances are gigantic. As organizer Penelope Weinberger said when I interviewed her about Contra Sonic, “Our dances are bigger than a lot of people’s big dances, and we get 50, 60, 70 people on a Tuesday night at a Contra Sonic and I’m wondering, ‘where is everybody?’ and that’s actually a pretty big dance....”
But the really neat thing about having that little dance, was that I got to dance with a lot of folks I wouldn’t otherwise get to, because they’re in one of the three other (long) lines in the Spanish Ballroom, or they were in my line but going the same direction I was and I never caught up. It meant that I got to dance with a lot more of the folks who aren’t necessarily in my age cohort, but still were willing to play...and this meant that I ended up dancing with them more in the regular dances over the last two years than I otherwise might have without seeking them out.
There is value to smaller dances, and I think it’s a value that a lot of people don’t get as much of when you’re used to really big ones. In the bigger dances, there’s more chance for fragmentation, even if the people involved are as welcoming as can be. The contra community is certainly more welcoming than most, but face it -- in a room of 200 people, while we might dance with everyone in the room once if you’re really making a point of changing lines and partners after every dance, it might only be for like 10 seconds per person over the course of the night.
The smallest contra I’ve ever been to was a techno in the middle of the Blue Ridge, and there were about 25 dancers there, tops. By the end of the night, I could tell you about how every last one of them swung their neighbors, which people were able or willing to dance switch, and which of them were from out of town from having talked to or overheard all of them chatting at some point during the evening. For some this might be considered boring, and perhaps if it was the norm it might be stifling; for me, it was refreshing in its own way.
Contra Sonic was like that for me, in the context of the bigger contra dances that bookend every weekend at Glen Echo. It was a change of pace, and a change of atmosphere, that regularly allowed me to experiment with the traditional dance and get some experiences that I brought back to the traditional contras. I do think it made me a better dancer, by making me dance with more people. I also think that it made me a more conscious dancer, because I was able to see contra pulled out of its traditional context and thrown into another one, regularly. (It also ended up being my first time calling -- which I built on when Steve and I co-taught our workshop at FootFall -- and an exercise in community, when the hired caller was extremely late one night and a handful of us rotated finding and calling dances, with help from memories and smartphones and tablets!)
It seems like Contra Sonic moving to a more episodic, event-based format will leave people wanting more and thus showing up in higher numbers to fewer dances, as they have in other locales with more sporadic techno contra events. That’s probably overall a positive thing from an organizer’s and stakeholder’s point of view, as people will clear their calendars and expand their experience of this traditional dance form in bigger crowds thanks to supply and demand for this type of event. But there was something really special about the monthly-series techno contra format that ran for two years, and I feel like I would be remiss as a DC-area contra blogger (and dancer) if I didn’t document that for posterity.