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Right Shoulder Round

April 11th, 2019
contra  [html]
One of the figures in contra dance has traditionally been called "gypsy", a figure where two people walk around each other, typically while maintaining eye contact. It was borrowed from English Country Dance in the 1970s, which got it from Morris dancing, and history before Cecil Sharp wrote it down in ~1909 is not known.

Being the name of a historically oppressed group of people, over the past few years there's been a push to switch away from the term. People suggested alternatives and debated their merits, callers tested them out at dances and figured out what worked, and at this point it looks to me like we're landing on "right shoulder round". Examples:

  • pass through and right shoulder round the next
  • right shoulder round your partner, left shoulder round your neighbor
  • walk around your neighbor by the right shoulder
  • right shoulder your partner... and swing

Once the caller starts shortening the calls, as the dance progresses, they might say "right shoulder" or even just "right" or "shoulder" to remind people what comes next.

Since this is a descriptive term I think it's a solid improvement. One of contra dancing's strengths is that it has an excellent learning curve, where anyone can just show up and dance without having to take classes or come for a lesson. The term "gypsy" doesn't mean anything useful to a newcomer, while "right shoulder round" is almost as clear as "long lines forward and back".

(For the less-common figure "gypsy star", I've mostly heard "facing star".)

One way this is different from the situation with Larks / Ravens is that individual callers can simply substitute "right shoulder round" for "gypsy" in their calling. The term is descriptive enough that it's not much work to start dancing to new terms. While with Larks / Ravens I think it's much better to have some trial dances (whole evenings) and then see if the community wants to switch, here a more gradual approach is possible. At BIDA some of our callers started using new terms several years ago, a few years later we started recommending callers use descriptive terms if they were up for it, and recently we switched to requesting callers use "right shoulder round" and not "gypsy".

If you've been waiting for a consensus alternative before making the switch, I think "right shoulder round" is ready.

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