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How should BIDA do gender free contra?

March 5th, 2013
bida, contra  [html]
BIDA is going to be having it's first gender free dance, Sunday March 17th. Which I'm very excited about, but the details aren't settled yet. Specifically:
  • What should the roles be called?
  • Should there be physical markers?
A strong option to to go the LCFD route. The 'gents' role becomes 'bands' and wears surveyor's tape armbands to mark their role, while the 'ladies' role becomes 'barearms' and has no marker. As far as I can tell, this is what all the gender free contra dances [1] do, and it seems to work well.

The problem is that a lot of experienced dancers, including me, don't like the markers. I like to dance both roles, switching between them freely, and markers make that awkward. I'm also a strong proponent of "dance with who's comin' atcha", or "positional dancing", the idea that you don't need a person's appearance to tell you what role they're dancing. This is part of what led us into the search for alternate role names, because people might be less likely to assume that male-female couples where the woman is dancing on the left must be accidentally swapped if we used names disconnected from gender.

For new dancers, however, this could be really confusing. If the only side effect of mixing up roles was trading back and forth with your partner it wouldn't be so bad, but if you trade roles with someone who isn't your partner you can lose your partner. Add to this asymmetrical figures like "ladies chain" and I think dancing without some kind of role-marker might be too tricky for first-timers.

For a regular dance series I would want to keep working at this until I had something awesome that I liked more than the current system, but for a one-off event I'm not sure that's necessary. Even if I'm not that thrilled with the armbands I'm happy to put up with them for an evening if it makes the dance go better and helps people have a good experience dancing gender free. So I'm inclined to say we should use markers and call the roles 'bands' and 'barearms', but I'm very curious what other people think.

Update 2013-03-18: We decided to go with armbands, and the dance was great.


[1] JP, San Francisco, Western MA, and elsewhere. Including the session at NEFFA, where many of our regular dancers have done this.

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