Monday, January 19, 2015

Contradelphia! And New Dances!

Time for an update in the life of Bryan-the-Caller. I've been calling more and more frequently, and just over a week ago my housemates and I launched a brand new dance series in downtown Philadelphia called Contradelphia, which was a success by every measure: there were 80+ dancers at our very first event and lots of energy in the hall, and the new dancers all seemed to get along fine and stay the whole evening.

One thing that was interesting for me as the caller was our decision as a group to use gender-neutral calling. Traditionally, contra dances are called with a "gents" role and "ladies" role, but anyone can dance either role. Given the fact that not all gents-role-dancers are men, a lot of people in the community have discussed using gender-neutral terms, and for Contradelphia I went with "lead" and "follow," because those are the most common terms in other forms of social dancing. What ultimately surprised me was how easily the dancers accepted the new terms. I took Shane's advice and made no announcement about the terminology - I just started using the terms in the beginner's workshop as though they were standard, and then started calling that way when the dance began. I made it easier on myself by selecting dances early on that had very few gender-specific moves, so that most of the time I could rely on familiar terms like "neighbor" and "partner," and let myself ease into the words "lead" and "follow" over the course of the night.

Another thing that was interesting for me was calling a relatively new dance I'd written in an audience made up largely of new dancers. Once again, it went more smoothly than I expected, and I have heard that a couple other callers have called my most recent dance, so I figure there's enough interest for me to post the choreography up here:

Winter is Coming, by Bryan Suchenski

A1. Balance the ring, Gents roll neighbor away across the set*
     Balance the ring, Gents roll partner away along set
A2. Balance the ring, Gents draw neighbor to their side and swing

B1. Ladies chain across to Partner
     Promenade across the set and loop counter-clockwise to face new neighbors**
B2. Ladies gypsy R
     Partner swing

*At Contradelphia I called this as "Leads roll your neighbor away across," but I trust the reader to translate terms as appropriate for their calling situation.
**This is the same progression as in Sharks in the Pond. I usually pause after the chain and ask dancers to look on their left diagonal to identify their next neighbor before doing the promenade-loop. The loop is to each dancer's left, but on at least one occasion dancers growled at me when I told them to "loop left," so now I say "counter-clockwise." This progression ends the dancers one space to the right of where they started, along the set (hence, it's a rightward-progressing becket).

The name of the dance, of course, is a reference to Game of Thrones, and at least one person I encountered responded to the name, quite adorably, "I keep hearing people say that phrase, but it sounds so mean and ominous!" The original choreography for this dance I settled on six-months ago was much more complicated and included a promenade-into-revolving-doors progression. The concept there was to start with a dance that felt open and bouncy and gradually became intimate and partner-focused (the transition toward Winter, in my head). Some of that feeling was kept in the final version.

Meanwhile, prior to Contradelphia I had started thinking about gender-roles in contra dances by focusing on gender-specific moves, the most egregious of which is the ladies chain. Although there exists a move called the "gents chain," it is called very rarely because it begins with the opposite hand that the ladies chain does (the left-hand), and feels backward, which means that no one in the room knows how to do it properly and it feels awkward for 90% of the dancers. I decided it was silly to have a separate "gents chain" and "ladies chain," so I wrote two dances, in which two moves were separated from their gender roles, and renamed them the "left-hand chain" and "right-hand chain":

Ambidexterity, by Bryan Suchenski

A1. Long lines, roll away (gents in front of P)
     Ladies LH chain to N*
A2. Circle L 1/2 and N swing
B1. Ladies RH chain to P
     Pass through across, turn R and promenade single along set
B2. P gypsy and swing**

*This is the move often called "gents chain." It is identical to the typical ladies chain, except it begins by offering the left hand across to the other lady, and the courtesy turn ends with the lady on the left. For the courtesy turn, the rule remains: right hand to right hand, left to left, gents back up, ladies go forward. Let dancers practice the new chain a couple times.
**To face their partner, ladies should turn over their right shoulder to begin the gypsy on the side of the set across from their new neighbors.

Equivalent Exchange, by Bryan Suchenski
Becket (starts in lines/4)

A1. Down the hall, turn alone, back
A2. Gents RH chain to N*
Star L
B1. New N balance & swing
B2. Give and take to ladies side
P swing, end facing down

*The converse of Ambidexterity - here the gents are performing the move typically called the "ladies chain." It is identical to the ladies chain, in every way, except executed by gents, with the ladies courtesy-turning them. That means that gents end up on the right, and ladies on the left. Remind dancers not to "fix" this or they'll end up in the wrong place after the star!

Of the two, Equivalent Exchange is my preferred dance to call, both because it's easier for dancers to pick up and, in my mind, more directly confronts the typical role restrictions. I've called it at Pinewoods Camp and elsewhere, and any reasonably open-minded audience should have no difficulty with it.