Ron's Contra Dances
Star-Thru Corners

Star-Thru Corners
Duple Improper Contra
Ron T Blechner

A1: N B+S (4,12)
A2: 1s Down the Center, Turn As Couples (8)
      1s Up the Center, 2s Gate 1s Around (4,4)*
B1: 1s Take Free Hands, Star-Thru Corners (16)**
B2: 1s B+S, end facing new Ns (4,12)

* 1s wind up below the 2s
** Star-Thru Corners: Like Contra Corners, but (a) The actives Star Thru across instead of Allemande 5/8. and (b) The allemandes with corners are handy-hand. (c) The corners are on opposite sides of the set. In this dance, the first corner is opposite gender-role, and the second corner is same gender-role.

Danced for the first time at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, MA, on November 8, 2013. Well received, though still working out exact teaching language. Calling language is similar to Contra Corners, substituting the correct moves.

A Walk In The Park

A Walk In The Park
Duple Improper Contra
Ron T Blechner

A1: N B+S (4,12)
A2: Circle L 3/4 (5)
      PS (10)
B1: LLF+B (8)
      Star L 1x (8)
B2: P Alle L 1.5x (8)
      Gents Cross by R Shoulder (4)*
      P California Twirl (4) (to face new neighbors)

* It’s essentially a Gents 1/2 Gypsy R, back up to form a ring, immediately California Twirl

A Slow Walk In The Park
Duple Improper Contra
Ron T Blechner

A1: N B+S (4,12)*
A2: Circle L 3/4 (5)
      PS (10)
B1: LLF+B (8)
      Star L 1x (8)**
B2: P Alle L 1x (8, slow)
      Ladies Chain (8) (to neighbor, then face new neighbors)

* Or N Gypsy and Swing
** The Alle 1x in 8 beats is done a little slow.

Back-story:
Earlier in 2013 I was looking for a basic contra dance to teach as many basic moves to new dancers as possible. The Alle 1x with partner was easier for new dancers. It includes a neighbor swing, and no moves that require losing hand contact with at least one person. It’s probably also suitable for faster-paced music, with the looseness of the B2.

I intended to name this easy dance A Walk In The Park, when I came up with the slight variation. Since the original had easier moves, I gave that the Slow adjective, and both dances were named.

A Slow Walk in the Park first danced September 14, 2013, and A Walk In The Park created October 9, 2013.

Thanks to Linda Leslie for brainstorming names with me!

I’ve called A Slow Walk In The Park successfully, both with newer and experienced dancers.

Called A Walk In The Park November 8, 2013. The B2b should be taught carefully, but the dance works well.

Slice to a Wave

Slice to a Wave
Becket CW Contra
Ron T Blechner

A1: Gents Slice to a Wave in the Center, Balance (4,4) (new gents have R hands!)
      Ladies Slice to Interlocking Waves in the Center, All Balance (4,4) (Ladies will be on R side of partner)
A2: Gents Lead Ladies Back + Swing (16) (to gent’s home side)
B1: Gents Alle L 1 1/2 (8)
      1/2 Hey (8) (PR, LL, NR, GL)
B2: P B+S (4,12)


Slice to Another Wave
Becket CW Contra
Ron T Blechner

A1: Gents Slice to a Wave in the Center, Balance (4,4) (new gents have R hands!)
      Ladies Slice to Interlocking Waves in the Center, All Balance
(4,4) (Ladies will be on R side of partner)
A2: Ladies Lead Gents Back + Swing (16) (to lady’s home side)
B1: Ladies Chain (8)
      1/2 Hey (8) (LR, NL, GR, -)
B2: P B+S (4,12)

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A Busy Week

Last week was my busiest as a caller ever, and potentially for a while. I had the pleasure of dancing at three friendly, fun dances, with three talented acts, and a bunch of volunteers and organizers who were great. Oh, and, the dancers. :D
Amherst Contra Dance, Amherst, MA, with Agnostic Fiddle Insurgency
Locust Lane Contra Dance, Harrisburg, PA, with 2/3 of Floorplay
Valley Contra Dance, Bethlehem, PA, with Dr. Twamley’s Audio Snakes

I had a variety of challenges, including one dance with young children, trying out new dances, and calling a dance with a gent’s chain. (hint: demo) But the biggest challenge was not repeating the set list.

Here’s what I came up with:


Amherst:
Cascades, Orace Johnson
Butter, Gene Hubert
Treasure of the Sierra Madre, James Hutson
All You Can Eat, Ted Crane
Slice To A Wave, by me
Scrod Pudding’s Trip To The Mall, Bill Olson
The Missing Piece, Bronwyn Woods
(break)
The Tease, Tom Hinds
Ants Marching, by me
Momma Loo’s Reel, Gene Hubert
Baby Rose, David Kaynor

Harrisburg:
A Nice Combination, Gene Hubert
Butter, Gene Hubert
Love and Kisses, Ted Sanella
The Magpie and the Seal, David Zinkin
Chama River Reel, Merri Rudd
Trip to Peterborough, Rick Mohr
Heartbeat Contra, Don Flaherty
(break)
Shadrack’s Delight, Tony Parkes
Hot Buttered Rolls, Perry Shafran
Read Between the Lines, Bob Isaacs
Sarah’s Journey, Gene Hubert
Friday Night Fever, Tony Parkes

Bethlehem:
A Pocket Full of Rye, Bob Isaacs
Centrifugal Hey, Gene Hubert
(guest spot) Zombies of Sugar Hill, Gene Hubert
Box the Gnat Contra, Becky Hill
Slice to Another Wave, by me
Balance to My Lou, Becky Hill
(break)
Rockin Robin, Rick Mohr
Dacing of the Dozens, Dave Colestock
Roll in the Hey, Roger Diggle
3,33-33, Steve Zakon-Anderson

Video from BIDA a few Sundays ago. Apologies for the couple of small spots with sound muffles!

Rowan’s Plain and Fancy

Rowan’s Plain and Fancy
by: Ron T Blechner
Becket Contra

A1: Gents slice forward L to make long wavy line of gents, with R hand to new N Gent, Balance (4,4)*
      Ladies slice forward L to make interlocking long wavy, standing next to their partner. New Ns now across from each other. Balance. (4,4)
A2: Ns Lock Eyes, Swing on Gent’s Home Side**, swing (16)
B1: Gents Gypsy*** L (8)
      1/2 Hey (8) (PR, LL, GL, NR)
B2: P Gypsy + Swing (16)

* This is similar to other dances where one gender marches to the center to form a long, wavy line, and then the other gender marches to the center to interlock arms for one big interlocking wavy line of both genders. The only difference is that this is also the progression, similar to a dance where the progression is a Gents Allemande Left the next neighbor-gent at the top of the A1.

I recommend it be taught without the progression, and then the second time through add the progression. If the dancers get it immediately, you can get away with a 1-time walkthrough + teaching the A1a again.

** Since you’re nearly nose-to-nose with your neighbor already, it’s not really a Give and Take, but it’s kind of a Give and Take. I recommend:
- Teach it, “Gents Coax / Lure your neighbor to your side and swing.”
- Call it, “Gypsy and swing”, or Give-and-take with the caviat that there’s not a lot of room for the ladies resisting.

*** Some men don’t like to do a gent’s gypsy. You can teach it and say something like, “This move is all about eye contact. It doesn’t NEED to be flirty, though… you can give the other gent your best manly show of respect on the dancefloor.”

Written, this looks like a complex dance, but it’s really not. I would rank it as a low-level intermediate dance. The most difficult part is the end-effects, where dancers stand out in improper, but facing in like Becket.

The Story: I wrote this dance for Rowan Lupton’s 18th birthday, which was celebrated on January 26, 2013 at Princeton’s contra dance in New Jersey. It was danced as a technocontra. The dance is named after Rowan, and a diner in Quakertown, PA, where the dance was written. The dance basically wrote itself in 15 minutes. I asked what types of moves Rowan would like, and I knew there had to be a gypsy meltdown and the interlocking waves. The gents needed to swap sides to sew the beginning and end together, and a gents gypsy seemed appropriate since Rowan will often dance as a lady/follow role.

Video of the dance. This was also its premier, at a technocontra:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poECUfGt4Hs

Technocontra

In the last two years, if you’ve been dancing on the east coast, you’ve probably at least heard of technocontra. For those who haven’t, it’s a fusion of mixed original and sampled dance music usually with live instruments played on top. It’s done usually under low lighting with disco lights and black lights.

Some bands I’ve seen and enjoyed perform technocontra include Phase X, Firecloud, and DJ Improper. I’ve had the pleasure of calling with Phase X at a couple of small parties, and a couple of guest spots. Phase X is Chris Jacoby’s mixed music with both he and partner Ross Harriss layering on live instruments of a great variety.

Last Saturday, I was thrilled to join them onstage at Princeton, NJ, for a double-dance evening, with regular contra for two hours, and technocontra for three. Laura Winslow split the night of calling with me, and was a pleasure to work with and a talented caller.

From a calling perspective, technocontra is challenging. I’ve been actively working to make this one of my specialties, and since this is such a new type of contra dance, I’d like to offer some advice based on my experience. First, the main reasons why technocontra is challenging:
1. It’s dark.
2. It’s loud.
3. The music isn’t always as clear for the dancing. Sometimes, the A and the B may sound similarly. Other times, the musicians may drop out the beat in the music, as is common with the style.

My recommendations:
1. I bought a small music stand to hold my cards, and clipped a book light to it.
2. Call longer.
3. Be ready to count, even if that means tapping off the beat on your leg.
4. Communicate ahead of time with the musicians about their music. Find out if there’s any particularly difficult musical challenges.
5. Keep your dances a bit more simple than a regular contra.
6. Give your dancers a bit more time to rest, and make sure to insert some dances in there with some rest time for each gender.

My dances from that evening:
(I’ll hopefully have video to post soon!)

Regular Contra Dance:

(1-5: Laura called the first 5)
6: Chuck the Budgie, by Rick Mohr
7: Pedal Pushers, by Bob Dalsemer
8: Camp Harlam Reel, by Mark Widmer
9: The Missing Piece, by Bronwyn Woods
10: 20 Below, by Bill Olson

Technocontra:

1. Appetizer, by Scott Higgs
2. Rockin’ Robin, by Rick Mohr
3, 4 (Laura Winslow called)

5. 30 Minute Technocontra Medley:
(Alternating me and Laura, with the usual 1-time-through overlaps)
1. Friday Night Fever, by Tony Parkes
2. Cascades, by Orace Johnson
3. A Nice Combination, by Gene Hubert
4. Al’s Safeway Produce, by Robert Cromartie
5. Cetrifugal Hey, by Gene Hubert
6. Chama River Reel, by Merri Rudd
7. Heartbeat Contra, by Don Flaherty
8. Butter, by Gene Hubert

(break)

6. Rowan’s Plain and Fancy (new dance, will post separately)
7. Scrod Pudding’s Trip to the Mall

8 - 10. (Laura finished out the evening.)

Calling BIDA and New Dancers

One of the recurring themes in my contemplation about contra dancing, over the last year or so, has been community building and how to treat newer dancers. My first opportunity to call BIDA last Sunday had a variety of ways to demonstrate.

First, before the dance even starts, before the day or even week of the dance, as the caller, I was in touch with the organizers and the band. I was impressed with BIDA having a clear set of community values that emphasized safety and feeling comfortable and welcomed. I received this information weeks before the dance happened. BIDA also clearly promotes these on their website. Walking in the door Sunday evening, I had an expectation of the crowd, how the dance organizers and community wanted them treated, and values to promote.

Second, there were new dancers. About a dozen showed up for the beginner’s lesson, and about another dozen or more showed up during the first dance of the evening, and possibly more trickled in after that. For a dance with about 100-ish dancers that evening total, that was a significant portion of the total feet on the dance floor. And people weren’t sitting out, and, happily, not a lot of people left during the break.

Immediately, I had to change a few things with the program to compensate:

  1. While I had a mostly-easy program of dances planned, I eased up, and slowed down the overall progression of the night’s difficulty.
  2. Until dance #7, I taught two walkthroughs for each dance. The second half only had one two-walkthrough dance. (Chuck the Budgie). I did a floor demo for the roll-away-swing for Notorious First Date.
  3. I called longer, and kept keener attention, especially the first half of the evening.

I did have two experienced dancers indicate that they spent a lot of time helping new people out through the evening. That is, frankly, to be expected with 25% new people. Even to a veteran caller like George Marshall at a experienced-dancer venue like Greenfield, Massachusetts, I’ve danced times when there’s been a lot of new dancers, and I’ve had to pay a lot of attention to keep my hands-4 moving along. It is what it is.

Third, my beginner’s lesson is already similar in the values I teach to what BIDA wants to convey. I make sure I emphasize having fun, safe ways to physically connect with other dancers, and the freedom to ask anyone (and of either gender) - or politely say no to anyone.

Fourth, I incorporate safety and good connection in my walkthroughs of dances.

Here’s my program from the evening:

  1. A Nice Combination, by Gene Hubert
  2. Cascades, by Orace Johnson
  3. La String Bean, by yours truly (a circle mixer variation on La Bastringue)
  4. Box the Gnat Contra, by Becky Hill
  5. Centrifugal Hey, by Gene Hubert
  6. Fairport Harbour, by Paul Balliet
  7. The Missing Piece, by Bronwyn Woods (last before break)
  8. Pedal Pushers, by Bob Dalsemer
  9. Chuck the Budgie, by Rick Mohr
  10. Notorious First Date, by Steve Zakon-Anderson
  11. Poetry in Motion, by Lisa Greenleaf
  12. Trip to Peterborough, by Rick Mohr

No dance fell apart. Some couples had some issues early on, but nothing too serious. The most amusing thing was, perhaps, was in Trip To Peterborough, where two couples in the most new-dancer-heavy line interpreted:

Gents Allemande L 3/4, Pass neighbor by Right,
Ladies Cross by the Left, swing partner

As:

Gents Allemande while Ladies orbit, swing partner.

Which works, so I wasn’t exactly going to stop the dance or change my calling because of it. I did, however, get stopped as I was walking off the stage, en route to try and find a waltz partner, from one presumably experienced dancer who decided that it was imperative that they inform me that my calling was wrong, and that it was indeed an orbit. They politely prefaced it by indicating, of course, that they knew I was probably on my way to a waltz.

*sigh*  No second waltz for me.

Dear dancers: Please do not ambush a caller right before a waltz! If you feel the need to criticize a caller, unless it’s related to safety, your choices are:

  • Wait til after the waltz
  • Contact the caller the following day via e-mail or Facebook. Then you have extra time to, say, look up the dance you thought was called incorrectly, and see, in fact, it was fine. :)

Anyway.

I’m happy how I called. I flubbed parts of the first two dances’ second walkthroughs, which ultimately weren’t a big deal but were embarrassing to me, nevertheless. The band sounded great. The BIDA organizers were super together and helpful, and the dancers stayed and had smiles on their faces. I’m going to chalk this one up as a good experience.

I have video, but it’s now far-too-late and I need sleep. I’ll post video once I have a chance to review it, edit, and upload.

Yours Truly,
Ron

La String Bean

La String Bean
Circle Mixer, by Ron T Blechner

A1: Ladies to the Center + Back (8)
      Gents to the Center, Turn Around + Back (8)
A2: Current P Alle L 1 1/2 (8)
      New P DSD (8)
B1:  Same New P B+S (4,12), end facing CCW around whole set
B2: P Prom CCW (16)*

* B2 Alternate: P Prom CCW (8), P Courtesy Turn 1 1/4 (8)

Here’s an easy variation of La Bastringue that, no coincidence, works very well with the tune La Bastringue. It’s an easy circle mixer with an easy transition.

First danced at MIT in Cambridge, MA, on 10/23/2012.

Calling Sunday at Greenfield

It’s my pleasure to call a couple of dances this Sunday at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, MA. The event is the Fall Frolic, and I’ll be calling along A-List callers Will Mentor, Bob Isaacs, and Adina Gordon. I’ll be sharing Bob Isaac’s block along with fellow talented new callers Sue Gola and Laura Winslow, to the tunes of Free Raisins - a talented local New England band.

I’m excited! If you’re up in Massachusetts this Sunday, you should join us, 2pm - 10pm at the Grange!