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Role Term Survey Responses

February 10th, 2017
gender, contra  [html]

As part of thinking about how whether non-gendered terms would work for mainstream contra dances, I thought it would be good to ask callers what they thought. Is it something where most callers were only willing to call Gents/Ladies, or are they more flexible? Do they generally support this sort of change, or do they think it's a bad idea?

I wrote to the callers who have called my local dance (BIDA) in the last year, plus the ones who are currently booked, to ask them whether:

  • A dance like BIDA switching to gender free terms is better, worse, or about the same.
  • They have a preference between Larks/Ravens and Jets/Rubies.
  • They would be willing to call Larks/Ravens or Jets/Rubies if a dance required that.

Of the 18 callers I wrote to, 17 responded. Of them, all but one was willing to call Larks/Ravens or Jets/Rubies, though several said (without my having suggested it) that they wouldn't be willing to call Lead/Follow.

Many of the respondents didn't say whether they were in favor of the switch. Of the 11 who did respond, it was 5x yes, 3x ambivalent, and 3x no.

Nine callers preferred Jets/Rubies because they find it easier to say, but no one so much that they were willing to call Jets/Rubies but not Larks/Ravens.

Some freeform responses, lightly edited:

  • "I prefer Jets/Rubies, but only slightly. I can see the benefit of 'L'/'R' matching the default swing ending position with the initial letters but I think I'd make fewer mistakes with Jets/Rubies. Not enough to sway a decision though.

  • "My personal preference is for Jets/Rubies, but that's just because it's easier for me to say right now. I'm sure that if I practiced Larks/Ravens would be fine too. If the point of using gender free terms is to distance the roles even further from gender, than I'd go with Larks/Ravens. Jets/Rubies sounds very similar to Gents/Ladies, and some callers slip up and say 'Gents' for 'Jets'."

  • "The birds are arbitrary terms and seem to have fewer unwanted(?) associations than the rock terms. So I'm for the birds."

  • "I'm not wildly positive about either Larks/Ravens or Jets/Rubies, but if I had to choose one set, it would be Larks/Ravens. To me, Jets/Rubies carries a lot of baggage: It sounds enough like Gents/Ladies that it invites the reaction 'Who are they trying to kid?' The lack of logical association between jewels (inanimate objects) and dancing (an intimate human activity) makes the use of Jets/Rubies feel as if the series is being run by an in-group with a secret language. (I realize the two foregoing reactions are contradictory, but these are gut reactions, not necessarily rational ones.) Also, 'Jets' makes me think of the gang in West Side Story, and also of airplanes (more inanimate objects). To sum up, the word in a dance context has no positive associations for me, and some negative ones. Larks/Ravens has no baggage for me, doesn't reinforce gender stereotypes, and has a built-in mnemonic with the L/R initials."

  • "Enough people are offended by 'Jets' sounding too close to 'Gents' that I think Larks/Ravens is a much easier sell."

  • "My preference would be Jets/Rubies, because the sound similarity to traditional terms make the transition easier. (I understand that that very feature makes it the less desirable choice in some people's view.)"

  • "As a caller who learned with Gents/Ladies, I find Jets/Rubies the easiest to use."

  • "I've never used Larks/Ravens. I've used Jets/Rubies, and felt fairly comfortable with it. Larks/Ravens makes more sense to me. Definitely happy to use either one."

  • "I have a preference for Jets/Rubies but the only terms I will not use are Leads/Follows."

  • "I don't have a preference between those two sets of terms. I am also comfortable with Lead/Follow, but know that this is also a challenging choice for some people and I understand why it's maybe not the best pick. I like it because those terms have dance connotations"

  • "I like Jets/Rubies because regular contra dancers from other places can come in and dance without needing anything to be explained to them since the terms are pretty similar to Gents/Ladies. Also, Larks/Ravens sounds a little silly."

  • "As far as Jets/Rubies vs Larks/Ravens, I like using Jets/Rubies because they sound almost the same as Gents/Ladies. For my rhymes and patter, it's a pretty easy substitution. But my first impression of the terms is that they are still kind of gendered, or at least can be interpreted that. 'Jets' sounds aggressive and masculine, and 'Rubies' are definitely feminine. "

  • "I can't imagine trying to turn a singing square gender free."

  • "From the point of view of a caller trying to get a new set of words out of my mouth when significant chunks of my teaching and prompting are automatic, I think that I would prefer Jets/Rubies for a few reasons. First, I think that I would manage to confuse myself and stumble around switching 'Gents' to 'Larks', which starts with the same letter as 'Ladies', and might be more likely to flip-flop the two. Also, I know that it has been successfully used, but the initial consonants of Larks/Ravens aren't nearly as contrasted as are those of Jets/Rubies (or of Gents/Ladies)."

  • "Not really a preference, although as a caller perhaps Jets/Rubies is a slightly easier transition."

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