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Keeping the fun in contra dancing

Rosebrook 17 Nov 03 - 12:55 AM
Desert Dancer 17 Nov 03 - 12:23 PM
Desert Dancer 17 Nov 03 - 01:27 PM
open mike 17 Nov 03 - 01:37 PM
GUEST,Claymore 17 Nov 03 - 04:32 PM
GUEST,Peter from Essex 17 Nov 03 - 06:18 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 17 Nov 03 - 06:22 PM
Rosebrook 18 Nov 03 - 01:53 AM
fiddler 18 Nov 03 - 04:29 AM
Chanteyranger 18 Nov 03 - 11:22 PM
Cluin 19 Nov 03 - 12:16 AM
M.Ted 19 Nov 03 - 04:52 PM
GUEST 19 Nov 03 - 05:24 PM
Desert Dancer 19 Nov 03 - 05:44 PM
M.Ted 20 Nov 03 - 11:07 AM
GUEST 20 Nov 03 - 05:16 PM
M.Ted 20 Nov 03 - 06:19 PM
artbrooks 20 Nov 03 - 06:27 PM
open mike 07 Apr 10 - 12:53 PM
dick greenhaus 07 Apr 10 - 02:29 PM
Stringsinger 07 Apr 10 - 03:57 PM
dick greenhaus 07 Apr 10 - 08:26 PM
sciencegeek 08 Apr 10 - 01:25 PM
ClaireBear 08 Apr 10 - 01:57 PM
open mike 08 Apr 10 - 02:15 PM
ClaireBear 08 Apr 10 - 02:24 PM
Bert 08 Apr 10 - 10:28 PM
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Subject: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Rosebrook
Date: 17 Nov 03 - 12:55 AM

Sadly, the flavor of our small, rural contra dance is changing. It
used to be that callers would come from other areas and say things
like, "You've got the real McCoy here! This is what contra dancing was
intended to be like." Now as we begin our 4th year, the other dance
organizer and I are confused about finding ourselves in this situation
and aren't sure how to salvage what we used to have - a sense of
community and just plain old FUN!

We are having smaller and smaller turnouts, and are not sure why
people aren't coming back. We now have a core of dancers who are pushy
(sometimes physically) with newcomers / less experienced dancers - so
much so that at our last dance, a woman stopped dancing and said to
one of these "helpful" experienced dancers, "Don't touch me like
that!" What do you do about "experienced" dancers who are intolerant
of those less experienced? Just a couple of years ago, we were ALL
inexperienced - laughing at our own mistakes and just having FUN for
the sake of getting together to dance! Is this a natural evolution?
How do organizers in other areas address this problem? Any dance organizers here?

Stacy
South Coast Folk Society
http://mypeoplepc.com/members/stacyr/southwestoregoncontradance/
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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 17 Nov 03 - 12:23 PM

This essay by Greg McKenzie might be made available at your admissions table. In Ted Sanella's first book, Balance and Swing, he's got a nice little set of "Dancer Classifications", one of which is "According to attitude". You could put that out, too.:

Indifferent dancers are likely to be inattentive to teaching, unconcerned about performing figures correctly, and uninterested in contributing to the pleasure of other dancers. They appear to be satisfied with mediocrity.

Overconfident dancers are quite sure that their dance skills and knowledge are adequate and, consequently, often are inattentive to teaching. Therefore they are likely to be confused when the dance begins, to the annoyance of other dancers.

Cooperative dancers listen attentively during teaching and try their best while dancing. They help beginners whenever possible and at any level of skill bring pleasure to a caller.

Mature dancers try to contribute to the pleasure of all those on the dance floor, go out of their way to help beginners and newcomers, and otherwise work for the future good of the activity. They are a valuable addition to any dance series.

---

It's problem that pops up everywhere. Address it in your newsletter. Have callers address it from the mic. If your callers aren't local, the organizers need to let them know it's an issue. Some dancers will never get the message, but if they're in the distinct minority hopefully you'll not scare too many newcomers off.

Mudcat doesn't usually have too many contra dance discussions. It used to be that the place for that was the USENet group rec.folk-dancing, but it's not as lively a place as it used to be. The archives might be useful, though. Wait -- now that I actually check, your question is at the top of the discussion at this very moment!

There are other good essays on the web, too. I'd suggest Googling about. Somewhere I read a good one about trying to help other dancers without speaking or touching, something I've been working on myself. I use eye contact (sometimes jumping up and down waving my arms), or definite non-eye contact with clear body language (face turned away, pointing finger) to try to indicate which way a lost dancer should be going and whether they're with me or not.

Good luck!!

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 17 Nov 03 - 01:27 PM

The essay(s) that inspired me was Bruce Hamilton's on Bill Tomczak's web site.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: open mike
Date: 17 Nov 03 - 01:37 PM

Greg Mackenzie helped to start the contra dances in Chico.
and also helped organize a wonderful tour of russia back
when it was still the soviet union. Dance For Peace, which
was a group of dancers and musicians who danced all over
Russia.

I find the thing that is least conducive to friendly,
easy flowing dancing is if the dancers have been drinking.
They have a hard time keeping up with the flow .

If the caller and musicians are having a good time
it helpe the dancers enjoy the event too i think.

By introducing new dances and tunes this keeps the
band and caller on their toes.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: GUEST,Claymore
Date: 17 Nov 03 - 04:32 PM

I can only say from the Sheperdstown, WV experience, bring on the college kids. We have had a dance going for some twenty five years now, as part of a regional cycle with Bluemont, VA taking one week, Frederick, MD the next, a Friday night at Glen Echo in DC, etc. With the kids from the local college showing up, we have had to run sound for the main group of dancers upstairs, and a satellite sound system downstairs, just to keep the Fire Marshall happy. The kids are having a ball, and seem anxious to fit in. They now represent about 40% of our regulars, and are bringing in other youngsters all the way from DC. The downstairs system lets them practice with their peers and a couple of our better dancers, and then try the main hall upstairs. We also have a bracelet system in which there are 250 bracelets, which allow you into the main hall, when you leave to go downstairs you leave your bracelet so that someone else can enter. It seems to work well, and across all age lines.

Funny story before I go... At the Glen Echo Friday Night Open Band we noticed a distinct lack of fiddlers at a dance where there have been as many as 22. The word was passed through the Band " There are now more banjos than fiddlers." A hiss of shock passed through the band... Shortly thereafter utter disaster struck... The word was passed, "Now there are more accordians than banjos...aaiieeeee!"


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: GUEST,Peter from Essex
Date: 17 Nov 03 - 06:18 PM

A problem in all dance genres. It seems to be a natural progression if you don't keep the balance right and the membership "churning".

No real solution, get enough new blood to swamp the old guard or let the club quietly fade away and start another.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 17 Nov 03 - 06:22 PM

All of the above advice is good. I live in Nelson, NH where there's been a weekly contradance almost continuously since the 1930s, and regular dances going back decades before that! It almost died about 10 years ago but is as lively as ever now. Having good callers who remind the crowd and having good, polite regulars who are willing to speak up when they see annoying behaviors help. Good luck!


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Rosebrook
Date: 18 Nov 03 - 01:53 AM

Thank you for thought-provoking feedback. The articles were especially so!


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: fiddler
Date: 18 Nov 03 - 04:29 AM

An age old problem accross all dance genres not just folk.

those who take it too seriously and those who are practicing the aret of enjoyment which is where most dance came from.

If everyone is up for sheer pleasure then it all works is you mix the 'posh' dancers with the others then you get problems - I have called to these audiences. I can't say never again as its work but I hate it, although it is fun to call the more complex dances but it is sad that they never smile when they do them as per the celidh dancers.

But as I say this exists in Ballrom, salsa and all forms of danc ei have ever looked at. teh resultant problem becomes as ooutlined above membership.

If anyone finds a solution I should like to know.

A


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Chanteyranger
Date: 18 Nov 03 - 11:22 PM

Hopefully the cooperative and mature dancers will prevail and help spread the fun and cooperative atmosphere. Desert Dancer's fine post rings true with what I've found at the dances I've been to. This past week I was at the National Interpreters Conference in Sparks, Nevada, where a contra was held for us on one evening. This was the first contra dance for many of the attendees. Wild Sage was the band, and I wish I could remember the name of the caller. He was a very patient teacher, and the few experienced dancers there were very helpful. Nobody that I could see got impatient with the time it took for everyone to get all the steps, and everyone hung in there and gave it their best. The end result was that everyone had fun, accomplished some tricky steps, and I don't think anyone felt left out. It might take some time to create a different culture at your dances, but as long as some experienced dancers are committed to a helpful atmosphere, and that it becomes a stated mission of the dances, there's, I think, hope. Why not have something written out on a flyer - rules of the road for these dances - urging everyone to be helpful to beginners. Maybe have a potluck meal before the dance - a light dinner, where people can schmooze and get to know each other a little?

Chanteyranger


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Cluin
Date: 19 Nov 03 - 12:16 AM

Make it "Clothing Optional". You'll get lots of fun folk out for it.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: M.Ted
Date: 19 Nov 03 - 04:52 PM

I was never involved in Contra, but played in a band for international dancing(which, I notice, you just started this week!) and ended up running our own dances.

Four years is a long time, and it's only be natural for many of your original dancers to be slipping away--Single people get married,( sometimes, to non-dancers!) academics move on(Int'l dance usually has a big contingent of folks working on degrees in related fields), couples un-couple, great jobs turn up in other cities, high school students go to college, college students graduate, and the one year old babies that always fell asleep during the first set are now five, have brothers/sisters but no regular baby sitter--

And, invariably, the people you loose include a number of the ones who put in lots of time recruiting new dancers and being patient with newcomers,while the rest of the old timers are starting to lose their some of their energy--

What do you do? Well, we stopped giving dances--not that we didn't hold on for a while, but, after weathering declining attendence, we lost our space, which started a discussion about where to go, at which time we realized how much needed to be done to make things viable again--But while we were still going, we did do a couple things that were pretty helpful--partly at bringing people back, partly at bringing new people in--

One was that we partnered with dance groups from nearby areas for joint holiday parties and special concerts. Another thing we did was to take part in special events at local malls(I know some folks shudder at this, we did too, but it was a really good idea)--our band our and the dancers were basically booked to play, and do a "demonstration/participation" that was basically our dance party, only on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon--these were amazing at drawing out many of our "lapsed" dancers, and we often found dancers that didn't know about us amongst the shoppers--

Another thing that we tried a few times, was to partner with non-dance related groups for events (tended to be environmental groups and certain kinds of grassroots political/educational organizations and social action groups that our a lot of our dancers had connections)--

Also, we did a few things like playing music and bringing dancers to St. Lucia's Day event at a Swedish Museum--

One thing was ultimately fatal to us-- our base location was bad, and we didn't know it--we were on a campus near the downtown of a big city--there had been a big group there for years, but it had fallen apart--we figured we were just picking up where they left off, but our group never connected with the current students, and our dancers were gradually moving out to the burbs--we didn't realize that driving into the city, parking(and parking tickets), and concerns about safety on the streets at night kept people away, until it was too late--


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Nov 03 - 05:24 PM

I can back up what M-Ted says, though only as an observer of our local group. Book the "Experts" as a performance corps, it will give them a way to shine other than smarting off to newbies. It works wonderfully here, there's a core of rabid performing dancers who have an elite thing people can aspire to, but still there are tons of good-timers coming to lessons and ceilis.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 19 Nov 03 - 05:44 PM

'Cept contra dancing has no "performance" component to employ such a corps, Guest.

~ B in T


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: M.Ted
Date: 20 Nov 03 - 11:07 AM

You can turn any dance into a performance, all you need is an audience--I have known many "expert" folk dancers whose only performances were weekly dances, even still, they danced for an audience--


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Nov 03 - 05:16 PM

Displays of social dance must be the most boring thing in the folk scene (and that's including folk club "poets")


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: M.Ted
Date: 20 Nov 03 - 06:19 PM

I am just saying that if the band plays and the dancers dance, passersby will watch--for some people, that is enough. I will not say more than that.......


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: artbrooks
Date: 20 Nov 03 - 06:27 PM

One thing that our local (Albuquerque) group does, and that I've seen done elsewhere, is have a once-a-month 'experts'/ one-walk-through-and-no-teaching session. That gives the prima donnas a chance to enjoy themselves without the need to guide a new dancer through...and there are very few people who only show up then. Contra here is twice a month (not counting that session) and twice a month (alternating weekends) in Santa Fe, 40 miles north.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: open mike
Date: 07 Apr 10 - 12:53 PM

I was just remembering about how a bunch of contra dancers from the U.S. went to Russia/U.S.S.R. on a tour for "Contra Dance for Peace"
a couple of decades ago.

Are there Contra Dances where you live?
here are a few links...

http://www.contradancelinks.com/pacific.html

http://www.contradancelinks.com/schedule_CA.html


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 07 Apr 10 - 02:29 PM

It's exactly what happened to square dancing a few decades back---the open-to-all social atmosphere gradually morphed into an experts-only couples club environment. One possible solution is to provide special events for experts only...Another is to actively solicit beginners, and try to get the "pros" to help teach them.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Stringsinger
Date: 07 Apr 10 - 03:57 PM

Contra (Contre) dancing has a history as being a folk expression. It was never intended to be a performance art. The idea of social dancing was a form of people getting together to have fun and get to know one another. There is a corollary for this "exclusionist" tendency also in the folkie-music community.

This is true of the "set-runnings","hoedowns", "big circle dances", "sukey-jumps" or any other form of folk dancing. This is also true of folk dancing from other countries than the U.S. and this "precious" exclusivity on the part of participants is a recent historical phenomenon. There are performance oriented Folk Ensembles throughout the world and they are often performed by highly trained musicians and dancers but this approach has no place in any communal setting that has folk dancing. It belies the whole intent of what contra, square, and international folk is. It is a social expression that encourages inclusivity for the purpose of making the participants comfortable and to have fun.

Let the prima donnas go on the stage and compete with the many professional Folkloric
companies throughout the world. Many of them couldn't.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 07 Apr 10 - 08:26 PM

Contra (Contre) dancing has a history as being a folk expression. It was never intended to be a performance art.

Same goes for folk singing.
Problem is, while newbies don't seem to tire of Kumbaya and Michael Row the Boat Ashore, more experienced folk afficianados seek more sophistication.

Same goes for contra dancing.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: sciencegeek
Date: 08 Apr 10 - 01:25 PM

back when I hauled the sound system to concerts & dances alike in the late '80's we had the same problems. we tried having a short teaching session before the dance... no one came, beginners & expert alike.

I ended up dancing with most of the beginners to give them a chance to dance... not that I was ever more than an OK dancer .. but I did learn to "switch hit" since the gals way out numbered the guys. I almost never got to dance with a guy... lol! I'd badger other board members to make an effort to help the newbies along and not make them feel "unwanted". Our event were intended for all to come and enjoy themselves.

One exception was with a troubled guy who would grope any woman or young girl he got close to ( and I know because I was one of his "victims", I didn't smack him silly because I didn't want to disrupt the dance, only confirm that the complaint was valid). We dealt with that pronto and had to eventually send him packing because it wasn't something he could control for long and not anything we would tolerate. We had families attending with young school age girls and it was the only time we ever had to eject someone from an event.

There is a long standing contra event in the area where I now live... but the concrete floor and more importantly the lack of opportunity to dance because I didn't come with a partner caused me to not return for 20 years.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: ClaireBear
Date: 08 Apr 10 - 01:57 PM

Laurel, my husband went on that Russia trip, and planned to go on the Cuba that, as I recall, never quite happened. He still dances, though at 74 he's beginning to slow down a bit.

C


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: open mike
Date: 08 Apr 10 - 02:15 PM

oh...those were the goodle days!! Good for him..do you dance too?

I did not go overseas, but did come to the bay area to attend a few
dances that were promoting the tour...and raising funds....for it..

the fellow who started the Chico dances was Greg Mackenzie. I think he still calls and or dances in the bay area!!

I played in the "contra band" for nearly 20 years! (guitar and bodhran)

and have played with the band at the contra dances at Strawberry music festival, which happens near Yosemite each memorial and labor day weekends.


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: ClaireBear
Date: 08 Apr 10 - 02:24 PM

Greg is a good friend and yes, he's still calling. He is based in Santa Cruz County, as am I.

I am cringingly shy in person; getting handed from partner to partner is something I find infinitely mortifying. I wish it weren't so, but it is ... so no, I don't contra. I like partner dancing -- anything that doesn't require switching partners -- but my sweetie doesn't do that, so, sigh, no dancing for me.

Oh well. I send him off to NW Folklife every year for four straight days of contra...he sends me off to the Getaway each fall for three straight days of folk singing. It's all good.

Cheers,
Claire


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Subject: RE: Keeping the fun in contra dancing
From: Bert
Date: 08 Apr 10 - 10:28 PM

The change in Square Dancing started in the Fifties and was mainly due to the availability of better sound equipment. This allowed the dancers to hear the caller clearly. The callers were then able to vary their calls on the fly.

So Square Dancing changed from dancing set dances to dancing just the movements that were called. So the dancers didn't have to learn whole dances, they just had to learn the movements.

Of course the callers then started inventing new movements and Square Dancing got more complicated.

Most Square Dance clubs nowadays dance at a stated level, say 'Mainstream Plus' (I say nowadays but I haven't danced for some years now) They also hold beginners courses to train up the next generation of dancers.

Those dancers and clubs who didn't like this 'new stuff' started calling their dancing 'Traditional' or 'Old Time' Square dancing.

There is plenty of room for everyone.


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