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Contra Figure Frequencies

September 14th, 2013
contra, calling

What are the most common figures in contra dance? How common are they? I have a rough sense of this from dancing, but can we get a better idea?

The ideal thing would be to have people go to every contra dance for a year and log what figures people danced. How many dances have a balance? A long lines? While this is impractical, it illustrates what we're actually interested in: the frequency of moves at dances. One way to approximate this would be to look at a caller's repertoire. While you don't call each of your dances the same amount, and one caller isn't completely representative of the whole, it should be about right.

Several years ago Rich Goss sent his dance cards out to a mailing list I was on. At the time this was 446 dances. Being both comprehensive and digital, it seemed a good place to start.

I converted the dance cards from a Word document to text, cleaned them up with a mixture of automated and manual tweaks, and then ran them through a program to count figure frequencies. Counting the fraction of dances that contain each figure, and excluding figures that showed up in less than 2% of dances, I got:

frequencydancesfigure
99.3%443Swing
75.8%338Balance
67.3%300Circle
60.8%271Allemande
38.1%170Long Lines
37.2%166Ladies Chain
30.9%138Hey
29.6%132Star
26.7%119Dosido
22.6%101Gypsy
21.7%97Pass Through
16.1%72Promenade
14.8%66Right and Left Through
12.1%54Down the Hall
9.9%44Rory O'More
8.5%38Roll Away
7.8%35Pull By
7.2%32California Twirl
5.6%25Petronella
5.4%24Box the Gnat
4.3%19Half Figure Eight
3.8%17Contra Corners
3.4%15Star Promenade, Butterfly Whirl
2.7%12Cast Off
2.2%10Mad Robin

It's not surprising that nearly all dances contain a swing. If you call a dance with no partner swing, let alone no swings at all, dancers are going to be very unhappy. I was surprised heys were so common and petronellas were so uncommon.

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