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Simple Satisfying Dances

January 19th, 2013
calling, contra  [html]
Some events will draw both people who have danced before and want "real" contras, and people who are new and just want to have fun. These are very difficult to call for, because of the mixed expectations. What do you do?

One approach is to set expectations ahead of time. I've talked to organizers and experienced dancers [1] about how it would be much better if the new people come away thinking "that was great; I want to do it again some time" and not "contra dance is for people other than me". This can help a lot, but I've not found it practical to do it from the mic during dances.

The standard advice is "call easier dances". You think that dance was easy, but it took two walkthroughs and it fell apart in places? Not easy enough. Get easier. Less teaching, more dancing to the music and having fun. So let's say you take this advice and call Haste to the Wedding:

A1 (8) Circle Left
(8) Circle Right
A2 (8) Star Right
(8) Star Left
B1 (8) Partner dosido
(2) Clap twice
(6) Partner swing
B2 (8) Neighbor dosido
(2) Clap twice
(6) Pass through
This dance looks like it has a lot of pieces, but it's simple with lots of spare time and even totally new dancers tend to do well with it. It's about the easiest "duple minor" [2] dance I've seen. But if you call this, and especially if you call lots of dances like it, the experienced dancers won't have so much fun. [3] They want longer swings with more people, more balances, no clapping, and that whole "washing machine" A1 and A2 feels like it's just using up time.

Let's say instead you call Larry Jennings' Thursday Night Special #1:

A1 (16) Neighbor balance and swing, end facing down in a line of four
A2 (16) Down the hall, turn as couples, come back, bend the line
B1 (6) Circle left 3/4
(10) Swing partner
B2 (8) Ladies chain
(8) Long Lines
This lower limit of "real contra", the dances that are as easy as possible while still being satisfying to experienced dancers, is a place I want to be able to draw heavily from when calling for mixed crowds. So what else is there like this? I have The Baby Rose, La Bastringue, Broken Sixpence, The Nice Combination [4], and Heartbeat Contra. What are other dances like this?


[1] And, several years ago, been talked to as an experienced dancer.

[2] In hands fours, instead of whole-set (the Virginia Reel), triple minor (Monymusk), or another formation.

[3] Generalizing, yes. But there are a lot of contra dancers who think about it like this.

[4] Which is nearly identical to Thursday Night Special #1.

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