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  • res009k3

    res009k3 Oct. 3, 2001, 9:23 p.m. (Message 27716)

    Contr(a/y)/Square, etc.

          I got in on the contra-square-country and
     related threads late, sorry. There was so much
     material to which to respond that I thought I
     would respond in one essay and then let the
     reactions sort themselves into old or new strands.
     So as not to confuse some specific topics, I have
     included the name in brackets of the person to
     whom I feel my response should be directed. While,
     by the nature of this site, I accept that there is
     an RSCDS, or at least a SCD bias, I feel that, as
     we post, we step back and look at the forrest
     instead of the trees of our own immidiate
     experience. We should also remember that there is
     no inherent value placed on difference. So when
     one describes that one thing is not the same as
     another, one has no right to assume that the
     reader will place a higher or lower value on
     either side of the difference other than the
     acknowledgement that such a difference (or lack
     there of) exists.
          First, I feel, is the matter of definition
     and here we need to define and separate the
     general and the specific. I feel it safe to assume
     that we are speaking of some forms of figure
     dancing. Within this definition, there are
     differences both documentable regarding the source
     of the word contr[a/y]. Personally that, depending
     on the time and place both the country (of the
     people) and the contra (opposing dancers), are
     equally applicable, except when one wishes to
     include all dances of the country folk [lines,
     couples, circles) which are not opposing and thus
     should not be included. If one accepts my
     definition of figure dancing of couples opposed to
     each other we are able to proceed. So, I cannot
     accept the simplistic concept that "contra" is
     only a corruption of "country" {Adam} because
     there are examples of the opposite also being
          Those who speak of an inherent difference
     between English and Scottish dancing are
     distorting history as, with the exception of some
     footwork, there was no unique historical
     difference between the two. The current difference
     was created by the RSCDS having a need to
     differentiate itself from the EFDSS. [NB: The SCD
     started off with "country dances as danced in
     Scotland" and much later, after such existed,
     changed the term to "Scottish Country Dancing"
          Those who stress a unique Scottish style are
     confusing the RSCDS style with the style of
     dancing in Scotland outside or with less RSCDS
     influence. This style has a longer tradition and
     acknowledges no border between Scotland and
     England. If one analyzes these styles, one finds a
     graded series of styles with the Borders sharing
     more with each other than that found in the
     Highlands and the English home counties {Bob &
         Within the concept of a contr(a/y) dance there
     are numerous ways in which people can face. My
     interpretation of the set puts the longways for as
     many without any minor sets as the prototype. The
     standing around and length of the dance due to
     repetitions gave rise to minor sets which, if one
     checks out the dates of historic dances would
     indicate that the minor sets grew incrementally
     from two to three in size {Pat}. With whole rounds
     or whole sets being dances of a four couple set
     repeated four times {Bob & Jan & Pat & Seonaid}.
     This was great for outside and in halls, barns,
     etc. that, for architectural reasons, were long
     and narrow. A further variation was added when
     opposite sexes changed sides allowing for the
     eccosaise, or 1s improper formation.
          When venues became wider, the concept of
     round the room allowed for the eccosaise to curve
     into circassian circles (generic not the dance),
     swedish progressions, a la DWS |33| could also be
     bent around the room as could "union" dances |44|
     be bent around the circumfrence of the room. The
     form known as square or quadrille is simply an
     evolved form of two interlocking eccosaises. In
     fact many of the circassian circles performed by
     head then side couples make up a standard first
     formation of various named quadrilles. This
     evolution is not my speculation but can be
     documented by dance dates and formations
          There have always been callers, official or
     otherwise, so it is difficult to locate a
     particular time and place (prior to the American
     experience) when caller became a specific title or
     occupation {Bob}.
          Contrary to what many might think {Adam},
     while the majority of dances are currently 32
     bars, many of the dances that are not current were
     shorter, 16 & 24, some of which have had a coda
     attached to fit the current 32 bar style. Dances
     longer than 32 bars are relatively rare. The
     popularity of 32 bar forms is related to the
     binary nature of a combination of both tunes and
     related poetry, with AABB being the most common
     [check your church hymnals] {Adam}.
          The unity of British people under one court
     in London, provided a separate evolution of the
     British countra dances different from those on the
     continent [German and Spanish contras look to
     France for their inspiration, if not their music].
          As the unity of the British Empire was broken
     in the American revolution at about the same time
     as the popular dancing in London moved from
     contr(a/y) to couple dances, various localized
     variations gave rise to the differences between
     the European and the American forms, and the lack
     of a central focus both in the UK and the USA gave
     rise to local British styles and steps and in the
     USA the various forms of squares, quadrilles,
     contras, and running sets {Bob & Pat}.
          Most of the other differences have more to do
     with the lack of integration of teaching and
     styles during the declining period of contr(a/y)
     dancing, than actual original differences in local
     style. The RSCDS began with a created style that
     separated it from the EFDSS. This is more a
     difference of philosophy than real: EFDSS
     descriptive, RSCDS prescriptive.
          The degrees of seriousness vs boisterous, and
     freedom variation and enthusiasm between one style
     and another is also a function of geography and
     social class more than inherent in the forms
     themselves {Pat}. Just as phrasing, or lack there
     of, is also related to the relative sophistication
     and organization for the groups perpetuating the
     art form {Chris}.
          One of the problem of performing an obsolete
     or archaec form of art is that the social context
     of the original is missing. Lacking this context
     gives rise to all sorts of antisocial attitudes.
     It its native habitat, contr(a/y) dancing never
     had any sense of right or wrong, just more or less
     acceptable. Thus what, at any particular time or
     place, was more acceptable had a better chance of
     surviving [see Darwin] and the less was more
     likely to die out. In this example, traditional
     was not a matter of right or wrong, just
     acceptable for a longer period of time. The social
     factors giving rise to revivals of contr(a/y)
     dance are quite different than those of their
          Our sense of community has changed, and their
     are different competing alternatives. So, in my
     experience, the community that dances has evolved
     into a community of dancers, many of the members
     of which have no other reason for association than
     simply the dance. Occassionally, some of these
     individuals have few other communities of social
     contact. When this is the case, "success" in the
     dance community is not seen in sociability but in
     percieved ability in the dance form. This leads to
     in crowds and outcasts; ranks of beginners,
     intermediates, advanced, and teachers {as a rank,
     because many "teachers" can't, don't, or won't
     teach}. Often, there are special sets that only
     dance togather, in addition to those who
     negatively judge other sects/cults/organizations
     of contr(a/y) dancers based on an outside criteria
     which has nothing to do with the particular form's
     internal dynamics. So "Traditional" square dancers
     react to "Western" Square dancers {Adam}.
          Listen to how people accent the various words
     and syllables in their dance form. Hardly anyone
     emphasizes the word "DANCE", oopse, this would
     imply human contact. Instead one hears of SCOTTISH
     country dancing. Some even call themselves ROYAL
     scottish country dancers, as if some royalty from
     a royal patron rubs off on the dancers [some
     fantasy huh?]. I don't see this a problem with who
     simply say, "COUNTRY dancing" as this is simply a
     way of indicating traditional as opposed to modern
     such as: disco, techno, ballroom, house, country
     western, rock, etc.
          Part of this hierarchical schezophrenia is
     the use of the terms dance and ball. Some
     "beginners" fear balls because of the higher
     technique implied {Alan}. An excessive stress on
     style (and the resultant class structure) has
     resulted in a loss of sociability {Tod}. Ball
     programs instead of being inclusive are so
     complicated that one is too involved in the
     dancing to be social {Alan}. Often a tired dancer
     is pressured into an unwanted partner or dance
     because of the compulsion to complete someone
     else's set. Masters of ceremony make no
     recognition that in a social situation, some
     people, sometimes would rather sit and talk than
     dance, but instead they are forced by guilt into a
          Regarding cribs, I side with the position
     that a good teacher/dancer can easily reduce good
     notes to cribs that would make the original
     unnecessary for either teaching or calling a dance
     {Laura}. Notes that confuse dances with dancing
     are another matter. If one knows dancing, all
     cribs of whatever type of contr(a/y) dancing could
     be the same, everything else being a default based
     on related figures or the particular dance form.
     As a result the only mystery in cribs are those of
     someone attempting to use a foreign language
     dictionary but lacking the structure of the
     grammar upon which to hang the words and attain
     meaning {Adam}.
          It has been my experience that it is
     ignorance with a hint of prejudice that motivates
     to say all these "x" look (sound, feel) the same.
     When, in all honesty, all the speaker is saying is
     I am not sophisticated or knowledgable enough in
     this subject to understand the differences.
     Driectly coming from this same viewpoint is my
     internal response to a child saying that "x" is
     boring, when in fact all he is doing is admitting
     that he is not mature or sophisticated enought to
     look for something in an alien form with which to
     become interested. Boredom is a function of the
     bored not the subject {Pat}.

     [Bob, you brought up a point regarding different
     ladies changes that I did not understand. Can you
     explain them to me and give me examples of the
     differences? RG]

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