back to Main Page Contra Thoughts  when, where & how



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When ending a swing, It's nice for the man to support the women as she stops and changes momentum for the next figure.  The man's right arm should be the glue that holds the couple together in the fast buzz step.  The right arm is also the brake, or backstop, the stops the women as she rolls out of the mans left hand hold. Once stopped, it's nice as you step apart for the man to leave his right hand extended firmly, the women to accept the hand in her left, and use it to pull into a chain, or dosido, or just to reconnect for a circle, pass thru, etc.  Stay connected as long as possible, touch is a must.

"The woman should also be doing her part to support the man in order to get that centrifugal force that makes the swing smooth.  Her left hand should be behind his shoulder blade (if she can reach), helping to support his weight -- not hanging on his biceps." D.S.

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 Few other dance forms are as egalitarian as contra dance. Think of the dance, "Rollin' and a Tumblin' ". The men roll away the ladies, then the ladies roll away the men. Each time the "roller" has to be the leader and the one getting rolled has to be the follower.  First the men lead, then the women lead.  A lead is a invitation that may be accepted or may be rejected. When a lady approaches for a courtesy turn, the man might start to raise her arm to lead her into a twirl. If she doesn't want to spin around she can decline the invitation by pulling his hand back down. Whenever anyone suggests a lead, he or she should also listen for the response.

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Connecting  the dancers so they can move as  a harmonious unit is the goal when we lean back to create some tension.  If you  don't give enough weight,, everyone struggles because we aren't helping each other move. If we give too much weight, your partner will struggle to keep from being pulled off center. Get a feel for the middle path where you can move rapidly in gentle harmony.
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The space around each dancer is his or her personal space. You only have to be close enough to get into the ballroom position. Sometimes you will see me dancing very close to a lady. What happened to our personal spaces? They merged. Your personal dance space is like your home. No one is going to tell you who you can or cannot invite into your home space, but no one should stay there if he or she isn't welcome. Dance in a way that you are BOTH comfortable.

"An intimate swing is something that has evolved between two particular friends.  Some people warm up to this style quickly with many different people, and others don't.  Don't "sleaze without a license."  If you don't know someone very well, a standard spaced swing is more appropriate.  If you've been sharing really sizzling gypsies with someone, it might be appropriate to try a closer swing and see how they react, but if they resist, don't push it." D.S.

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Today's dancing has everyone doing a variety of interesting figures, but learning the structure of the dance is just the beginning. If you go to where you need to be on time, there is room for creativity with what is done within a figure. I don't swing everyone the same way. 1. If the lady isn't circling around my smoothly, I change from a buzz step to a walking swing to avoid a twisting pressure on my knees. 2. Another fun swing is symmetrical. Both parties join left hands above their heads, and both have his or her right hand around the other's waist. 3. The most common symmetrical swing is formed by joining left hands as in a wrong handed handshake. The right hands are slid under the partner's left arm, next to his/her body and behind the partner's back. 4. The same swing can be done (with caution) by joining left hands and placing your right hand on your partner's elbow. This swing can generate enough centrifugal force to throw your partner across the dance floor or out the window. Rein in the power of this swing if you ever want to dance with this partner again. 5. One of my favorite swings is simply extending our arms and putting both hands on the partner's back somewhat near their shoulders. 6. Or try the last swing, but bend your arms at the elbow and draw your partner near to your right side. (photo) With the original, standard swing, that's seven different ways of doing the figure. If there are ten opposite sex dancers in the line, you can go thru the line swinging seven to the power ten different ways. That means you will have over 282 million ways you can go down the line swinging.
SMOOTH CHAINS (men need to move)
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Contra dance should have a beautiful, smooth flowing motion. Make it happen.   The woman's path in the lady's chain passes thru the spot where the man is standing on the other side of the set.  He needs to make room for her. When the lady starts the chain, the man should move into the space just vacated on his right. Or at least he could turn to his right to meet her, and as he steps backward in the courtesy turn he will be out of her way.

MEN'S ALLEMANDES (ladies need to move)
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When the men allemande left once and a half to swing the lady on the other side, the lady has to make an adjustment in order to start the swing smoothly either by stepping to the left into the spot just vacated by the man or rotating clockwise to meet the man right hip to right hip.
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I frequently stress how the contra experience in enhanced by personal interaction, especially eye contact with both our partners and our neighbors.  For example, going down the hall four in line is for the #1's (actives) are sometimes in the center and the #2's (inactives) to individually join on the end. From this position everyone is usually instructed to turn alone to face up the hall. If the actives (#1's) are in the center, turn toward their neighbors instead of their partners, so that everyone can be included in the fun of making eye contact on the turn.

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As I get older I have come to the shocking realization that I no longer have the body of a twenty year old. I find that injuries come easier and take longer to heal. Saying that my body is slowing down is too simple and explanation because a more structured exercise program has been the prescription for rehabilitation and for preventing further injury. My problems have included a torn meniscus which required surgery on my left knee, tedonitis in my right foot, carpal tunnel in both wrists and degenerative bone changes in my cervical vertebrae. I can no longer avoid exercise for fitness and only do it when it is fun, and I can no long do what my body tells me is painful and expect to not feel the consequences tomorrow a long time after tomorrow.

None of my injuries have affected how fast or how long I can dance, but my injuries have caused me to change how carefully I dance. Some of the fastest dancers are the smoothest, and the slowest are sometimes the roughest. In the pre dance workshop or when I am calling, I teach moving in gentle harmony because that is the only way I can continue dancing. When the movement of the dance is flowing in harmony, I can set a fast pace dancing every dance in a four hour evening without hurting myself. However, when I meet a neighbor who is not moving smoothly with me, I modify what I am doing even if we only turn around once in a sixteen count swing.

Contra dancing is an important and healthy part of my life, but here are a few things to avoid.

  1. Knees seem to be harmed most by other dancers that don't move around you when swinging. In a caller's workshop, Beth Molaro warned us to avoid using the word "pivot" in describing a buzz step swing because the move is only smooth if everyone makes a small circle with your right foot. My friend, Karen, who sometimes dances the man's part,  told me how her knees ached one night after dancing with some particularly slow swinging, but rough, novices.
  2. I have also had the kind of shoulder problems that kept another dancer, John, from dancing for a couple of months. Giving excessive weight while swinging is very hard on the man's right shoulder.
  3. When describing an allemande I try to use the expression "hand position" instead of "hand grip" because squeezing hurts.
  4. My right foot was swollen for three months after a dancer from another contra line stomped on it with a big boot. It would have healed much quicker, but I kept dancing because I love contra so much that I didn't give it a rest until I was forced to do so.


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A friend told me that he is single and wanted to know how to tell who is "available" when he sees someone who appeals to him at a contra dance. I did not have an easy answer for him, but I told him there is an important difference between assumptions and interactive communication. Outside of dance, we may be able to function on a superficial level by judging others by their appearance. At a contra dance, making assumptions based on appearance will result in much confusion. Choosing dance partners and engaging in flirtatious behavior reveals very little about who is married to whom, who is interested in whom, or even who has what sexual orientation. If we really want to know, we need to establish a dialogue and politely ask. Communication is good; assumptions are dangerously  misleading.