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  • Two Contras: Arisia and FART

    January 15th, 2011
    calling, contra, dance, music  [html]
    Last night I helped with two contra dances, one at a science fiction and fantasy con and another at an environmentalist summit. For arisia (the con) I was playing guitar and piano, for FART (the summit) I was calling. I enjoyed them both a lot. It was quite a shock going from the strange world of a con to the equally strange but totally different world of the environmentalist group, though.

    Calling at FART was very different from the kind of calling I've usually done. Even my davis square contra dance tends to be mostly people who've contra danced before. In this crowd there were only two such people, so I needed to pick dances that would suit the group. We ended up doing:

    1. La Bastringue

      I like to start with a simplified version of this dance because I don't need to teach it. It has four parts: into the middle and back twice, circle left and circle right, swing someone new, promenade. I either need a couple of determined ringers like I had last night, or I need to be in the circle to demonstrate how the moves go, but they're all quite simple. The progression only works properly if people always end the swing on the proper side, but that's no fun to teach so I just let people do what they want and it mostly works. Forget getting into the swing with an underarm twirl or a balance, though. Not needed for fun and too hard to teach.

      This dance started somewhat chaotically, and I could see the band enjoying watching the mess. I just kept calling and kept smiling and the mess diminished somewhat as the dancers figured things out.

    2. Some Ceilidh Dance

      This dance has a name, but I don't remember it. It went pretty well. With this group size I could keep it as a phrased dance.

    3. Strip The Willow

      This dance did not go so well. It only has one figure, which is turning right with your partner, then left with the next neighbor, repeated all the way down. While it sounds easy, it falls apart because people haven't yet learned how to remember where they are in a set so they don't know who to turn next. Some couples did well, but others couldn't really remember the pattern.

    4. Haste To The Wedding

      I love this dance. It's complex enough to feel like a real dance, but it walks people through the progression gingerly enough and with a enough extra time that people don't get lost. The double claps can be helpful in teaching the relationship between the tune and the dance, though in this group I wasn't able to get people to do that. Usually enough people are already doing it that people hear how it goes or I just clap really loud to teach it, but in this group I was holding a mic and so couldn't clap myself. It still worked, though. I also did it as a longways instead of a sicillian circle because of the room shape, but if you're doing it as a sicillian circle you don't have to explain switching direction at the ends.

    5. A dance I made up on the spot

      The dance I had been planning to do (broken sixpence) turned out not to be a good fit for the group, both because it had a ladies chain (which is hard to teach) but also because it has explicit gendering which one of the organizers asked me to avoid (when I got there, not in advance). I took the progression from broken sixpence and just used simple things we'd already done for the rest. People seemed to enjoy it.

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