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Contra Figure Frequencies

September 14th, 2013
contra, calling  [html]

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:

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