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Don't teach proper formation unless you need it

May 4th, 2012
contra, calling  [html]

Contra dancing has almost entirely lost the 'proper' formation, with gents in one line and ladies in another. For most of contra dancing's history, however, that was the standard formation and many people, especially callers, still think of it that way.

I was at a dance recently where the caller noticed that there were many new dancers and that it probably wouldn't work to just wait for people to get into position. They told all the couples to stand with the ladies in one line and the gents in another, to take hands for from the top, and that this was proper formation. Then they introduced 1s and 2s and had all the ones cross over. But they didn't call any proper or assymetric dances all night! Which is fine; I think they chose good dances for the crowd. But why introduce the terminology? Especially when there's so many other terms we want them to be absorbing?

("You're all standing with the lady on the right and the gent on the left, facing up and down the hall" tends to work well, and while it does introduce terminology it's all stuff I'll be using throughout the night. I'll explain "facing up and down the hall" if people don't look like they understood it the first time ("in each pair of couples one couple is facing the band and the other couple has their backs to the band")).

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