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What is leading in contra?

March 13th, 2013
contra  [html]
In a discussion about "leading"in contra dance, someone asked for clarification:
What are you doing specifically to make you think that you are leading or following when you do contra dance?
When I'm dancing the gent's role [1] I initiate several things that I think of as leading: [2]
  • twirling on courtesy turns
  • when to end the swing
  • variations at other points in the dance
  • substitutions during the swing
The last is the big one, but I have the most fun with finding other parts of the dance where I can swap something for something else.

All of these are proposals; the other person decides whether to accept them. I'm constantly trying to predict what people would enjoy and lead that.

When I'm dancing the lady's role (which I do a bit less than half the time) I like it when my partner takes this approach to the gent's role. I also have fun when dancing as the lady with gents that don't see the role as leading, but other things being equal I enjoy following more.

(That the two roles are becoming more different is part of why I think it's very important that everyone be free to dance either role.)


[1] I will occasionally initiate things like this when dancing the lady's role, but then the onus is on me to make sure I'm not going to step on something the gent is planning.

[2] There's another sense in which people will talk about "leading" in contra. That's when one person remembers what's supposed to happen next and helps remind other people by being sure to start it right on time or even a little early. For example, if I'm dancing with newer people I might put my hand in for a star clearly and deliberately, to make it clear that's what comes next. This kind of leading is unrelated to the kind I'm talking about above and is not gender specific.

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