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Contra Glossary

One caller's description of current usage in Cincinati.
1's, 2's, across, active couple, allemande, becket, balance, bottom, box the gnat, bend the line, buzz step, California twirl, cast around, contra corners, cross trail, corner, courtesy turn, dip and dive, do-si-do, down, down the hall 4 in line, duple, face in, face out, four in line, forward and back, gypsy, half figure eight, hand cast, hands across star, hands four, hey, improper, inactive couple, ladies chain, long lines, long lines go forward and back, major set, minor set, neighbor, partner, pass thru, Petronella spin, progression, promenade, proper, right left thru, roll away with a half sashay, Rory O'More spin, see-saw, shadow, sidestar, star thru, swat the flea, swing, top, trail buddy, triple, twirl to swap, up, wavy line, wrist hold star

In each set of four, the couple nearer to the band at the start of the dance.

In each set of four, the couple farther from the band at the start of the dance.

Toward the other side of the set. Ninety degrees from facing up or down. Neither toward the band nor away form it. see also  top, bottom, side

active couple
1.  Another name for the #1 couples.
2.  The couple(s) who are to do the figure being called.

allemande  (allemande left photo)
Two dancers walking around each other with either right hands  or left hands touching palm to palm in the arm position they would use if they were arm wrestling. Regardless of whether fingers are wrapped around the other's hand or the hand remains open, the connections is made by gentle pressure and not squeazing, which hurts. By bending at the elbow, apply enough pressure that you can roatate as a single unit.

A contra dance formation that starts with you next to partner on the side of the set, lady on the right. You will be facing your neighbor across the set.

Used as a bouncy contrast to the smooth flow of the other figures, a balance is done holding hands while stepping together and apart in four beats at a certain place in the music. Used before a swing, it is most easily done by stepping forward and back with a little arm tension. Stepping to the right, then kicking right (with your free foot), then stepping left and kicking left is another option used frequently when balancing in  wavy lines and sometimes before a swing.

The fartherest from the band.  see also top, up, down

box the gnat
Raising joined RIGHT hands, both walk forward passing RIGHT shoulders. Trade places with the lady twirling away from the man as she goes under the arch.   see also twirl to swap, swat the flea, star thru

bend the line
From a line of four moving up or down, the center two slow down so that the line folds together and everyone ends facing across.

buzz step
A swing step that slides the right foot forward in a small circle by pushing (like riding a scooter) with the left foot.  Done because it has the important advantage of being smoother. One person can be doing a walking step while the other is doing a buzz step.

California twirl
A couple raises joined hands (men's right, woman's left) and the lady walks under the arch as they trade places and face the opposite direction from the start of the figure.

cast around
When "A" casts around "B", they always face the same direction connected by arms around the waist or joining inside hands. "A" walks forward around "B" while "B" rotates as the pivot point.

contra corners
In long lines the dancers alternate between the half who are the actives doing the figure, and half are inactive, stationary pivots maintaining the shape of the contra line. Usually it is done with all the men on one side in a line and all the woman on the other side. Active can expext to see their partners straight across the set. Standing on either side of their partners will be their corners. Find your first corner by looking a little to your right and your second corner a little to your left. Actives will be doing the figure with these three dancers and not with anyone in the line where they started the figure. Actives meet in the center and allemande right a very small amount, just far enough to give left hands to the first corner. Allemande left one tinme around with the first corner to meet your partner again in the center. Allemande right your partner far enough to give left hands to your second corner who you allemande left one time.
Actives go to 1. partner, 2. first corner, 3. partner. 4. second corner, 5. return to partner.
Inactives stay in place holding up the left hand and facing a little to the right, then left hand up facing a little left.

cross trail
After passing right shoulders with the person across the set, face up and down and pass left shoulders with the one you face.

1.  The person on the other side of you from your partner.
2.  In contra corners, the person to either side of your partner. see contra corners

courtesy turn
The lady is on the man's right side and facing the same direction with left hands are joined. The lady's right hand is on her right hip, and the man reaches behind her to place his right hand on hers. The man walks backward and the lady walks forward to wheel around and face across the set. Often the lady will substitue one or two twirls for the courtesy turn.

dip and dive
Couples join inside hands with each other and face another couple. One couple raises joined hands and the other ducks throught the arch to face a new couple.

Without touching, pass right shoulders with the specified dancer, go back to back, and back up to original place passing left shoulders. No particular arm position is needed or wanted. Going once around each other usually does not take the full count of music, so experienced dancers often use the extra time to twirl individually as they move. Can also be done one and one half times around to trade places.

Away from the band.

down the hall 4 in line
All four dancers of the minor set forming a line across the set facing down the hall away from the band. Holding nearest hands they travel away from the band and usually turn around in eight counts of music. Then, they usually reeturn back up the hall.

Two couple (minor) subsets in a contra line so that everyone is a #1 couple or a # 2 couple.  Many old dances used to be triple minor by taking "hands six" with couple #1, #2 and #3.

face in
Facing across the hall so that you are looking at someone on the other side of the set.

face out
Facing across the hall, looking away from your contra set so that you are turning your back on the other side of your set.

four in line
The four dancers in the subset forming a line across the hall. Usually referrs to facing the same direction to promenade together down the hall.

forward and back
Lines of dancers come together in four beats and back up to where they started in four beats.

Gaze into each other's eyes, and walk around each other clockwise without touching.

half figure eight
A figure in which one couple is active and the other inactive. With the lady going slightly before the man to avoid a collission, the active follows an "x" pattern going between the inactive and crossing to the other side.

hand cast
While always next to each other and facing the same direction, the active person walks around the inactive who rotates as pivot.

hands across star
In a set of four, joining right hands in a handshake grip (or left hand in the same way) with the opposite person, usually of the same sex. The dancers form an "x" in the center with the two lines of the "x" crosing over each other but not touching.

hands four (photo, use "back" on browser to return)
Forming subgroups (minor sets) of four dancers.
A weaving move across the set. In a complete hey everyone crosses the set, turns around, and returns to where he started. If the hey is only "half way", stop when you are on the other side of the set. Like a set of railroad tracks, contra lines are made of three spaces consisting of two long lines separated by space in the middle. Even when everyone is in motion as in doing a hey, you are on one side, the other side, or in the middle. Cross completely across the set weaving left and right. Whatever shoulder you pass in the middle, loop in the other direction on the side.

The most commmon dance formation. As couples face up and down the set in groups of four, you are standing next to your partner with the lasy on the right.

inactive couple
1.  In a set of four dancers, the # 2 couple who starts farther from the band facing up.
2.  The couple who does less because the calls are directed to the other couple in the set.

ladies chain
As currently used, the ladies trad paces by weaving across the set, pulling by each other with right hands in the center, giving left hands to the other gent and doing a courtesy turn to wheel around to face across. Originally, in the complete figure, ladies repeated the same motion to return to where they started.

long lines
Taking hands up and down the set.

long lines go forward and back
Taking hands up and down the set facing into the center. In four counts the lines go forward, meeting in the center. In the next four counts, the lines back up to where they started.

major set
Everyone who will dance together in a particular dance. One contra line meaning a line of groups of four dancers made of two sides as one railroad trak is made of two rails.

minor set
The division everyone who will dance together into subgroups of two couples (four dancers). Formerly many dances divided into three couple subgroups.

The opposite sex person in your set you is nmot your partner.

The person you asked to dance who will be with you in the same position as you progress from one set of four to another.

pass thru
Pass right shoulders with the person in front of you. The ladies will split the other couple.

Petronella spin
Done in a circle of four dancers, usually after balancing the circle. Move into the place of the person standing to your right as you spin clockwise over your right shoulder. Normally you catch hands in the circle again at the end of the move. "Petronella" is the name of the old dance that used this move.

A moving up or down the hall that enables you to join a different set of four (or six in a triple minor dance).

Walking as a couple side by side with the lady on the right. Facing the same direction the man reach across with his left hand to take the lady's left hand. The lady reaches across with her right ahnd to take the man's right hand above the joined left hands. When used to cross the set, men pass left shoulders, then the couple wheels around to face into the center. Formerly, in the complete figure, dancers also promenaded back to where they started.
1. A contra dance formation in which all the men on on the side of the set to the caller's right (the men's line) and all the women are on the side of the set to the caller's left (the women's line).
2. Can also be applied to certain couples, as in, "Only the #2 couples are proper."

right, left thru across the set
Pass thru across the set, and with a courtesy turn, wheel around to face in. Formerly, in the complete figure, dancers also did a right left thru back to where they started. Many areas, use the more historically correct form of pulling by right hands across the set, followed by giving left hands to start a courtesy turn. Some callers think giving hands in the pull by teaches dancers to execute the figure in time with the music. However, I have not found it to be a good tool for teaching timing, and a pull by at the wrong time (usually late) feels very unsatisfying.

roll away with a half sashay
A move for trading places with one other dancer. Both start facing the same direction or next to each other in a circle with nearest hands joined.  Dancer "A" gives a gentle tug as dancer "B" turns to step in front of "A" face to face. As "A" moves sideways to the place where "B" began, "B" Without stopping as they face each other, dancer "B" continues to spin to the other side of dancer "A". When they have traded places, they end the figure by catching each other with the free hand.

Rory O'More
A figure for trading places with an adjacent dancer in a wavy line, usually done twice, first in one direction and then the other. Often done after a balance, dancers slide past each other like sliding patio doors and always end by catching hands in a wave facing the same way they did at the start. If they are sliding right, they can spin exactly one time around over the right shoulder, and if sliding left, over the left shoulder. Originally the name of a certain dance that used this move.

A left shoulder "do-si-do". Without touching, pass right shoulders with the specified dancer, go back to back, and back up to original place passing left shoulders.

A.k.a. "trail buddy". Someone, besides your partner, who you will meet in a specific figure each time through the dance.
If a contra line is seen as a railroad track, the side of the set would be one of the rails.

Each dancer in a group of four putting one hand (either right or left) into the center of the group and rotating the group a specified amount.

star thru
A.k.a. twirl to swap. Raising joined hands, man's right hand to lady's left hand, both walk forward passing right shoulders. Trade places with the lady twirling away from the man as she goes under the arch. Using right hand to left hand flows nicely into a circle left. This figure has nothing to do with making a star.

swat the flea
A.k.a. twirl to swap. Raising joined LEFT hands, both walk forward passing LEFT shoulders. Trade places with the lady twirling away from the man as she goes under the arch. A left hand to left hand box the gnat.   also see: swat the flea, star thru

A couple moving clockwise around each other with the man's right hand behind the woman's back, and the woman' s left hand on or behind the man's right shoulder. The man's other hand can loosely hold the woman's free hand, however there are many interesting variations tto the basic swing. Eye contact is a plus.

Closest to the band.

trail buddy
A.k.a. "shadow". Someone, besides your partner, who you will meet in a specific figure each time through the dance.

A dance in which the subgroups (minor sets) are made of three couple instead of two.

twirl to swap
A generic term for "box the gnat", "swat the flea", "California twirl" or "star thru". Raising joined hands, both walk forward to trade places with the lady twirling away from the man as she goes under the arch.

Toward the band.

wavy line
Holding hands in a line so you are facing the opposite direction from the dancers on either side of you.

wrist hold star
Reaching into the center of the group of four and placing your hand on the wrist of the person in front of you. In a right hand star (or a left hand star), your right hands (or left hands) will form a little box in the middle.