The one I'd like to talk about today, though, is the following:
"Another way in which the new choreography relates to the attitudes of the experienced dancers is that the emphasis on the dance as sport, and the interest in challenging and complex dancing—the focus, in short, on the dance movements themselves rather than on the event as a social occasion—means that partners are chosen as often for their skill level as for their social attributes."
While I see the point that I think she's attempting to make -- the one where elitism means that new dancers are left out in the cold -- the point she ends up making comes off as a bit snobby. "...Partners are chosen as often for their skill level as for their social attributes." And what of those folks who might be a bit geeky, a bit nerdy, a bit shy -- but happen to be really amazing dancers? Interestingly, in my five and a half years of dancing I've actually found that choosing some (not all, but certainly some) dance partners based on their skill has actually let me get to know more people than I might have gotten to know had I met them any other way, as dance gave me an opening to talk to them. And I don't see this as a bad thing at all. On the dance floor, you don't have to be the most charming, or the most charismatic, or the best looking, or the most extroverted to get a partner...you just need to be willing to dance, and while with any activity, it's usually more fun when it comes easily to you or you're willing to try, skill is still not entirely necessary.
Dart makes a similar point about how dance has become a sport rather than a social event, and how this is a negative influence on the community:
"When I started dancing, participants tended to dress for a dance party, wearing nice looking dresses and shirts and shoes. There is a growing trend today to wear sports clothing—shorts, tank tops, sweat bands, tennis shoes—and even to bring a small towel with which to dry off once in a while, and a change of T-shirt."
Sorry, but I'm not sure I see this one as such a bad thing, either (especially the bringing changes of T-shirts to change into when the first is sweated through part). If I'm not so concerned about dressing up, I can eschew the high heels and the fancy and impractical clothes in exchange for a more mundane sort of pleasure -- the one where I can be myself and come and be social while being comfortable, dangit. Somehow I've managed to make several friends on the dance floor -- and off of it, when I've gone to sit with folks during a break from dancing and chatted with them. Somehow, I've managed to find a way. I also managed to find some aerobic activity that got me out of the house and has, either directly or indirectly, managed to be the cause of my meeting lots of interesting and fun people that I hang out with away from the contra floor as well as on it. To me this feels like it's become a sport of sorts and a social activity, rather than instead of a social activity, granted with a different aesthetic than it had in previous decades.
While there are some valid points that I feel that Ms. Dart makes, it seems like she's limiting herself to seeing these things only happen in a given aesthetic, rather than looking at what is actually happening. No doubt there are people out there who only view contra dance as a form of exercise, who are only looking for the next big thing, and who won't give anyone the time of day unless they're already a supremely skilled dancer. And yes, I'll agree that those sorts of people are not assets to the dance community as a whole. But there are a lot of other people who embrace the power of and, who love the fact that modern contra dance is in some ways challenging and has a bunch of people who come as they are in comfortable clothes rather than in fancy finery (assuming those two are mutually exclusive, which is a different train of thought altogether) and who can come and dance with lots of people and be welcomed even if they aren't the most socially adept; and there are those who find that aesthetic more appealing than any event where the only focus is on the social graces of the participants.