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  • ...

    Rudge, Janet Oct. 2, 2001, 2:11 p.m. (Message 27655)

    Hi all,
    
    This question was asked a little while ago and I don't think 
    there was an answer posted on the list...
    
    For those of us in the UK who have never come across Contra 
    Dancing in our travels, can someone please explain what it is?
    
    I feel a little left out of the current thread comparing it to
    SCD because I can't picture what you're talking about!
    
    Many thanks,
    
    Jan
    
    Beaconsfield, UK
    RSCDS London Branch
  • ...

    Fyreladdie Oct. 2, 2001, 4:33 p.m. (Message 27659, in reply to message 27655)

    Jan,
        Contra dancing is closely related to English Country Dancing. It is done 
    in lines much the same as SCD or ECD. Often the 1st or 2nd couple have 
    switched sides. Dancers continue to dance down the row of ppeople until they 
    reach the bottom and return by moving up the row of people, Generally, there 
    arte no divided sets. It was a form of dancing done in the colonies early in 
    American history. Many of the Irish, English and Scottish tunes are used. 
    There is little or no footwork and differences on how some of the figures are 
    executed ie: Ladies Chain. 
        It seems to be very attractive to many people because of the ease at 
    which one can enter the dance. With a good set of dancers it can be a 
    delightful diversion. With people less skilled, it can get rough and not as 
    enjoyable. Contra uses a caller which will call the entire dance. I, too, 
    find the social aspect of Contra less than in SCD.
    
    Bob Mc Murtry
    Felton, CA
  • ...

    Fyreladdie Oct. 2, 2001, 4:35 p.m. (Message 27660, in reply to message 27655)

    Jan,
        Contra dancing is closely related to English Country Dancing. It is done 
    in lines much the same as SCD or ECD. Often the 1st or 2nd couple have 
    switched sides. Dancers continue to dance down the row of ppeople until they 
    reach the bottom and return by moving up the row of people, Generally, there 
    arte no divided sets. It was a form of dancing done in the colonies early in 
    American history. Many of the Irish, English and Scottish tunes are used. 
    There is little or no footwork and differences on how some of the figures are 
    executed ie: Ladies Chain. 
        It seems to be very attractive to many people because of the ease at 
    which one can enter the dance. With a good set of dancers it can be a 
    delightful diversion. With people less skilled, it can get rough and not as 
    enjoyable. Contra uses a caller which will call the entire dance. I, too, 
    find the social aspect of Contra less than in SCD.
    
    Bob Mc Murtry
    Felton, CA
  • ...

    seonaid.gent Oct. 2, 2001, 3:30 p.m. (Message 27661, in reply to message 27655)

    Hi Jan,
    
    I'm not an expert, but here's what I've picked up about contra on the
    few occassions I've tried it.
    
    Contra dancing is a type of dancing fairly similar to SCD.  It is
    usually done in sets of long lines 'for as many as will'.  The term
    contra comes from the fact that you face your partner (or are contra
    to them).  Usually the odd couples start on the opposite side of the
    dance, and the dances are normally for two couples.  A lot of the
    basic figures are similar eg circle, stars/wheels, ladies chains,
    swing/spin, but there are other more exciting ones too.  For some
    dances a basic running step is used, and others use step-hop
    (depending on the rythmn of the music used).  Contra tends to be more
    tiring, in that you are dancing most of the time.
    
    For a better description I suugest you look at 
    http://www.sbcds.org/contradance/
    or
    http://www.freenet.hamilton.on.ca/link/jig/a_contra_dancers_primer.htm
    
    Anyone wanting to give contra a shot could come to IVFDF in St Andrews
    on March 1-3 2002.  There we will have a contra workshop on the
    Saturday, and a ceilidh with a mixture of contra, SCD, ceilidh,
    english ceilidh and probably other sorts of dance too on both Friday
    and Saturday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons! (There's
    also a SCD on the Saturday night)
    
    Cheers,
    
    Seonaid
  • ...

    Todd Pierce Oct. 2, 2001, 6:53 p.m. (Message 27664, in reply to message 27661)

    Some responses to the recent messages on contra vs SCD. I've been doing SCD
    for 12 years now but only doing contra for 6 months - so perhaps that's not
    long enough to talk about contra as a knowledgeable person. But right now I
    far prefer contra to SCD. Maybe it's just that I am tired of SCD after 12
    years - but I think right now the attraction is because of two reasons -
    
    First dancing is my only chance for exercise and contra is far better for
    that. In a typical SCD class here we may do 5 or 6 dances in 2 hours. Each
    dance may last from 2 to 6 minutes. That's a total of say 30 minutes of
    dancing in 2 hours - or 25% of the time. The rest of the time is spent
    teaching a dance, or socializing, or trying to round up enough dancers from
    the kitchen to form a set. In contrast I can get through 10 or 12 contra
    dances in a good 3 hour class and there is very little break between them.
    And a typical contra dance may last close to 10 minutes (I've never actually
    timed one but it seems that long). I'd say I am dancing for close to 75% of
    the time I spend at contra. At SCD I rarely break a sweat. After contra I am
    drenched. (Of course that very fact turns some people off on contra!)
    
    Second the contra group here has live music every week. In 2 1/2 years of
    living in Asheville NC I have yet to see a live SCD band appear at our
    class! Though I can see one if I travel.
    
    Some of the recent posts have talked off 'people vs perfection'. That's a
    bit too simple, though I will say yes, some contra dancers don't look at me
    when I dance with them; but I can say the same about many SCD dancers. But I
    do know contra class here has a 30 minute lesson every week for new dancers,
    and after that, most of the beginners are able to do the rest of the dances
    that night. Compare that to most 'general' SCD classes where if a beginner
    turns up, they may get to do a couple of dances, but are told to sit out the
    others because they are for 'experienced' dancers - and that may happen for
    weeks until the beginner is allowed into these other dances. I don't know
    what we can do to prevent that - if you changed it, SCD would no longer be
    SCD - but the numbers here speak for themselves - 150+ dancers a week at
    contra, 5-8 dancers a week at SCD.
    
    That's enough ranting!
    Todd Pierce
    Asheville NC
    xxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxx.xxx
  • ...

    Adam Hughes Oct. 2, 2001, 6:54 p.m. (Message 27668, in reply to message 27661)

    Jan,
    
    I can't add much to what Seonaid and Bob Mc Murtry have said.  Following 
    is the private reply I sent to Jonathan when he asked last time.
    
    Seonaid, find me an American step-hopping, and I'll show you a morris 
    dancer!  The step is usually rolled smoothly from the heel through to 
    the toe, almost like Tai-chi.
    
    Todd, if you don't sweat doing a strathspey, you are doing it wrong!  I 
    like contra and SCD equally, but can get better Scottish dances than 
    contra dances in the UK, which means I try and encourage my SCD friends 
    into contra to raise the standards.
    
    Adam
    Cambridge, UK.
    --
    Contra dance is Eastern US longways set dancing.  The word Contra is a
    corruption of Country.
    
    All dances are 32 bar reels or jigs, for two couples in a longways set
    of many couples, and every "odd numbered" couple starts the dance.
    Usually the odd couples begin the dance improper.  Many other dances use
    the formation from "Glasgow Highlanders", which they call "Becket
    formation".  Most of the figures are the same, but the style is
    different, with more "jive turns" and "ornamentation".  There are only a
    few "proper" dances (ie men on one side), adn they tend to be older.
    
    It is walked rhythmically rather than stepped, and usually has figures
    which while phrased, are "rushed" or slightly accross the music (there
    may be 5 changes in full rights and lefts for example) and tends to be
    more dominated by exceptional figures than standard ones.  This is
    because keeping moving is more important in the dancing than being
    measured, as Scottish tends to be.
    
    for a better source try:
    
    http://www.cambridgefolk.org.uk/contra/what_is_contra.html
    
    Especially follow the link to the American description.
    
    I like contra as it is danced on the east coast of the states.    On the
    west coast it tends to be a bit rougher, and wilder than the east, a the
    gentleman from SF mentioned.  Almost all Contra dances operate a strict
    no-smoking, and tee-total policy.  In the UK it tends to be dominated by
    "playford" dancers, who tend to plod rather than roll.  It actually
    suits Scottish dancers well, since many of the same figures and memory
    techniques can be applied, although it differs in that all dances are
    walked and called rather than cribbed.
    
    A good example of a Scottish dance which could be a contra dance is 
    "Come Ashore Jolly Tar".  Or imagine John Drewry had written loads of 
    nice, flowing dances for two couples, and that's what contra can be like...
    
    Adam
  • ...

    Alan Twhigg Oct. 2, 2001, 7:29 p.m. (Message 27671, in reply to message 27655)

    From the differing opinions expressed on this thread,
    it seems clear to me that one can't generalize about
    contra dance groups, any more than one can about the
    standards or social atmosphere of different SCD
    gatherings. About the only common ground is that
    contra places little or no emphasis on footwork and,
    since the dances are usually called throughout, it is
    a more approachable form for participation by new
    dancers. The downside can be a large degree of
    turnover in the dancing population that tends to
    dilute the development of community and teamwork -
    which are at least as important to some of us in SCD
    groups as the emphasis on precision and technique.
    
    My own experience with contra, some years back, was
    sufficiently negative that I've never returned to it -
    and this may be a local problem, as others who dance
    in the SF Bay Area have expressed similar feelings. I
    found it extremely cliquish, such that the group of
    dancers in the choice top center portion of the hall
    never left that area, but immediately switched
    partners when one dance ended and another began. It
    was also physically daunting, in a different way from
    SCD - I took to wearing leather boots with reinforced
    toes because I kept getting stepped on by people
    wearing heels. To top it off, there tended to be a
    slight excess of men at these dances, but it was not
    PC for men to pair off for dances.
    
    
    -Alan Twhigg.
  • ...

    Adam Hughes Oct. 2, 2001, 8:07 p.m. (Message 27673, in reply to message 27671)

    Alan Twhigg wrote:
    
    > since the dances are usually called throughout, it is
    > a more approachable form for participation by new
    > dancers. 
    
    
    Oh, how I wish this were true.  Listening to a caller is as much a skill 
    a reading Pilling.  Square dances are all called and they have a medal 
    system which means you can't must sit out certain dances if you haven't 
    got the medal!  Now that is surely even more off-putting to newcomers 
    than any RSCDS class.
    
    Walking through each dance before dancing it is why a formal Contra is 
    more accessible than a Scottish Ball.  And it is why there is a scary 
    jump from a class to a Ball.
    
    Adam
  • ...

    SallenNic Oct. 3, 2001, 12:53 a.m. (Message 27681, in reply to message 27655)

    In a message dated 2/10/01 4:56:43 pm, xxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxx.xxx writes:
  • ...

    Patricia Ruggiero Oct. 3, 2001, 3:10 a.m. (Message 27682, in reply to message 27655)

    Adam wrote:
    "Contra dance is Eastern US longways set dancing.  The word Contra is a
    corruption of Country."
    
    There are two theories about the word.  One is as you suggest, and comes
    from the French who liked "country" dancing so much that they adopted it and
    called it by its cognate "contre"danse.  The other theory, seeming to be
    fading from favor, is that it refers to lines opposite, or contra, one
    another.
    
    Pat
  • ...

    Benjamin Stein Oct. 3, 2001, 2:48 p.m. (Message 27693, in reply to message 27682)

    Patricia Ruggiero wrote:
    
    > Adam wrote:
    > "Contra dance is Eastern US longways set dancing.  The word Contra is a
    > corruption of Country."
    >
    > There are two theories about the word.  One is as you suggest, and comes
    > from the French who liked "country" dancing so much that they adopted it and
    > called it by its cognate "contre"danse.  The other theory, seeming to be
    > fading from favor, is that it refers to lines opposite, or contra, one
    > another.
    >
    > Pat
    
    The version of this that I read someplace (the History of Dance?) was that Mr.
    Isaac (English court Dance Master and the one for whom the dance Mr. Isaac's
    Maggot was named) went to France to teach the French Court "Country Dances".
    Since they were mostly in opposing lines (Longways for as many as will) and thus
    "opposite lines" they misunderstood his pronounciation and thought he was saying
    Contre rather than Country and thus started giving them the name of
    ContreDanse. This of course became Kontra in Germany and Contra here is the US.
    
    Ben Stein
  • ...

    Patricia Ruggiero Oct. 3, 2001, 4:57 a.m. (Message 27685, in reply to message 27655)

    Various comments:
    
    1) Earlier contradancing included a great number of triple minor dances, and
    these were usually in proper formation.  Many triple minors were converted
    to duple minors (Rory O'More, Chorus Jig are two examples) over time.  Since
    the 1970s, when Modern Contra style is considered to have begun, duple minor
    improper dances have prevailed, and these are increasingly "equal time"
    dances, that is, the 2s have as much to do as the 1s.  Some folks are now
    heard to complain that contradances are "all the same" and are "boring."
    
    2) When discussing style and other attributes of contradancing, we need to
    distinguish between the form of the dance and the people doing it.
    Contradancing is neither inherently boisterous nor poorly phrased.
    
    3) Twirls and other ornamentation are as much as sign of poor dancing as of
    skilled dancing.  Dancers who don't realize that figures fit 4-bar or 8-bar
    musical phrases have to add twirls or spins to fill out the phrase.   My
    husband and I have had the very great pleasure of dancing with folks who
    dance in the "old style" (meaning from the 50s and 60s), with perfect
    phrasing and without ornamentation, and it is quite a different experience
    from Modern Contra style.
    
    4) My unscholarly theory is that contradancing developed from Early
    American, which itself was the evolution (or devolution, as some would have
    it) of ECD and SCD in the U.S.  One can find dances that EA claims, that
    seem also to be early contras, while their Scottish roots are unmistakable.
    I've taught "Money in Both Pockets" and "Fishers Hornpipe" in SCD class,
    without any preliminary discussion, and no one questioned their provenance.
    Next chance I get, I'm going to teach "Young Widow," a dance with a powerful
    tune that cries out for strong SCD footwork rather than a dance-walk.
    
    Pat
  • ...

    Chris1Ronald Oct. 3, 2001, 5:41 a.m. (Message 27688, in reply to message 27655)

    Jan (if you are still reading the comments on Contra),
    
    From my very limited experience of contra dancing in the eastern US, I would 
    agree with much of what has been said already. As one of the early responses 
    said, there are definite similarities with English country dancing, which I 
    expect you are familiar with. One of the notable features of contra seems to 
    be the extent to which one turns one's partner (8 continuous bars seems 
    common - or even 16?) The turning is done ballroom hold, and the main aim 
    seems to be to make as many turns as possible before the end of the phrase. 
    It is also noticeable that there tend to be as many men as women at the 
    dance. The one comment I'm not sure I agree with is that one gets more of a 
    work out with contra. I'm not conscious of there being much difference. It's 
    true that one dances more bars in the course of an evening, but the 
    walking-type step is less vigorous than the Scottish steps.   
    
    Chris.
  • ...

    SallenNic Oct. 3, 2001, 10:40 a.m. (Message 27689, in reply to message 27655)

    No idea how that got loose - my apologies.
                                    Nicolas B.
  • ...

    Rudge, Janet Oct. 3, 2001, 3:09 p.m. (Message 27694, in reply to message 27655)

    Thanks to everyone who has replied publicly and privately
    to my request for a description of Contra dancing .... 
    I feel much better now!
    
    Jan
    
    Beaconsfield, UK

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