Role Names in Contra

January 4th, 2013
contra, gender
At a recent BIDA dance one of the experienced dancers helping out during the beginner's workshop objected to calling the roles "ladies" and "gents" and wanted "lead" and "follow" instead. And now there are several giant discussions. [1]

If we were to stop using gender in the names, what would we use? The best new suggestion I've seen is "starboard"/"port". They sound different, they're the same number of syllables as "lady"/"gent", and they kind of make sense (the port person is to the left (to port) of the starboard person).

There's also a coordination problem where if one dance starts using different terms then callers can't move between dances as easily. (I don't think the problem is as strong for dancers; when I've danced at gender-free dances I don't find the new terms confusing.) Perhaps "barearms"/"bands", which the Boston Gender-Free Dance uses would make sense. Though it might be confusing when combined with not wearing physical markers?

The root question to me, however, is how important is it that our names for the roles don't reference gender? If we switched to ungendered terms, would dancers have more fun? Would groups of people who currently don't contra dance start coming?


[1] This in turn opens up the perpetual discussion on the lead/follow aspect of contra: is there one?, what is it?, why do you hate community?, why do you hate creativity?, etc. For now it's enough that too many people dislike the terms "lead" and "follow".

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