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Contra Cliquishness: Healthy?

October 30th, 2012
contra

Dance organizers and people who care about contra dance tend to be pretty pro-inclusivity. The idea is that we're dependent on a continuous influx of new people, and so if we make them feel unwelcome we cut off the future. The thing is, the dances people discribe as exclusive as also the ones that seem most healthy. Greenfield and the Scout House [1] being the two in this category I know best: lots of people complain about how they're not welcoming but they're two of the strongest dance communities in the country. What's going on?

I think the key is it's not just how well the dance brings in new dancers but how well it retains them. What keeps dancers coming? I suspect a lot of that is being able to dance with their friends and with people they know are good dancers. Which is cliquishness from the inside.

People often tell me how much they like BIDA's open and welcoming atmosphere, but then they don't come very often. Perhaps we're doing a good job of making the kind of dance people *say* they like while discouraging behavior that leads to a dance people *actually* like.

(One confounding factor is that if you're a small dance you probably have to be highly welcoming to continue. Perhaps only big dances can get away with cliquishness but it isn't the reason they're big.)

(I remember my first dance at Greenfield. I spent most of the time sitting out, and was pretty unhappy. Instead of of deciding the dance was unwelcoming and blaming them, however, I blamed myself: I wanted to be accepted. The exclusivity increased my desire to come back.)

(Exclusivity in squares is often funny because dancers are really bad at judging who will be fun to dance squares with. We don't do them much now and they're very different from contras, so picking square-mates by contra-ability [2] tends to lead to squares that fall apart.)

(Similarly, this earlier post could have been titled Age Segregation at Contras: Healthy?)


[1] Thursdays, especially.

[2] The aesthetics are different. While I might enjoy contra most with someone who can energetically lead all sorts of interesting variations while giving good weight and moving smoothly, that's much less important in a square where you have constant caller-led variety and need to be always on your toes, responding to unexpected calls.

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