(This page is a part of the contradance pages maintained by Kiran Wagle)
Good Contra and Square Dancing Defined
by Paul Tyler
(This article was originally posted to the Usenet newsgroup <rec.folk-dancing>.)
Okay, I've been asked to put-up or shut-up, and though I really
should be packing, I'll give it a try.
A good dancer has complete awareness of how it all fits together:
the music, the calls, the figures, his/her partner, neighbor, corner, opposites, etc., the whole set,
the whole floor, and, maybe most importantly, his/her own body and
all its parts. There are lots of things that the good dancer does
that are seemingly unknown or totally unimaginable to many twirl
and barf dancers.
Gotta quit now and start packing. See some of you on the dance floor at Clifftop (squares, yes!)
- Good dancers fit their movement to the phrase of the music. Most contra
dancers dance at one speed and are thus often guilty of finishing a figure
too early. For example, a good dancer should be able to pace an
unembellished ladies chain or right & left through to fit stylishly
in an eight beat phrase. Another example is thinking all swings
are the same--if in a square the caller says "only once around,"
then by god, swing only once around. (As you can quess, this
happened to me the other night. The beginners did fine, the
experienced contra dancers didn't listen. They must have felt they
had a right to swing as long as they wanted.)
- Good dancers embellish appropriately. I'll bet many people
who think of themselves as good dancers couldn't get through a
dance without all the extra twirls. They don't know what the basic
movement is or what it feels like. If you don't understand that,
the embellishments lose some of their character, and even their
potency. Embellishments and flourishes work when they come at the
right time in the right situation with the right people.
They should not be automatic. One simple example is the do-si-do
and the now ubiquitous twirls. A good dancer paces it out and gets
a feel for the timing before venturing any twirls. Same with the
hey, the ladies chain, the grand right & left & others.
- Good dancers know where a figure is going so they can direct
their momentum to the flow of the dance. This is a much bigger
challenge in squares. Who/where do you face when you end a swing?
Or a do-si-do? How do you break a circle to lead on to the next?
Or to form a line? The challenge of flow in contras is more
controlled , but there are subtle shifts of flow
where the dancers have to direct their own energy. Not every gypsy
or do-si-do or star or circle is the same.
- Good dancers make better dancers of the people they dance with.
And not just their partners. A good dancer helps the people he's in
contact with move on to the next figure with ease and grace (see
point #3). Gentle pressure clearly tells the person where they're
going next. If they didn't know, it will help them figure out the
dance. If they did know, they will recognize it as good dancing
(see point #3). The good dancer also appropriately teaches dancers
he encounters who are lost. This is best done by gentle, but firm
shoves and encouraging words.
In the heat of the dance, and during
the caller's walk through, good dancers don't fill the air with
more words. But they still help teach the dance. Sometimes it's
just by example. Other times it's by being an active inactive
(doing the small complementary moves that help the active
dancers) or standing ready to go, pointed in the right direction,
with the proper hand ready to extend, and a smiling face looking at
the active dancer soon to be engaged.
- Good manners. Good manners. Good manners. A good dancer
listens and walks through the figures with the caller during the
walk through, even though he/she has done all this a million times.
The good dancer helps beginners see what the caller is trying to
do. Also, the good dancer doesn't twirl a lady/gent who clearly
isn't ready or willing to twirl. Etc. etc. etc.
- And here's one definition by negativity. A good dancer is not
self-centered. He/she doesn't lose him/herself in flirtation or
twirl-a-mania. Contra and square dancing are not just couple's dances; they are done in a set.
A good dancer dances with awareness of everyone he/she is interacting with in that figure
(see my discussion of the hey a few arguments back).
Paul "now where is that flashlight" Tyler
Paul Tyler <email@example.com>
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Last updated on July 27, 1996 by
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