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CONTRA DANCE EXAMPLE OF COLLECTIVE PERFORMANCE IN THE UNITED STATES by Julie Allison Lado A thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology Under the sponsorship of Maria D. Vesperi Anthony Andrews and Maribeth Clark Sarasota, Florida May 2012
! "" DEDICATION I, Julie Allison Lado, dedicate this work to all contra dance practitioners and students of collectivel y embodied social phenomena o f the past, present and future.
! """ ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First and foremost I acknowledge appreciation and gratitude for the time, energy and inspiration my committee has provided throughout my time at New College The thesi s process is truly interactive, and I have enjoyed incorporating what I have learned from you into something that I am genuinely proud to call my own. Secondly I thank my family for the unyielding support they have provided me in times of perceived despe ration or defeat. I would not have the strength or confidence that has carried me though my New College experience without knowing they were right behind me every step of the way. Next I express love and gratitude for those people I most commonly find so lace in, these people are my friends my lovers and my roommate s If you saw me in those moments of oblivion and frustration, you know who you are and you know how the simplest things, hug s and smile s, bring me back to center. And for that, the simplic ity of being there, I thank y ou with all of my heart for all of my life. Also I have extreme appreciation for everyone who participated in my fieldwork. It would n't be Anthropology without you.
! "# TABLE OF CONTENTS Dedication .. ii Acknowledgements ... iii Table of Contents ... iv Abstract .... v Introduction 1 Chapter One Literature Review and History of the Contra Tradit ion 8 Chapter Two Ethnographic Content and Analysis 76 Conclusion 118 Appendices .. 121 References 148
! # CONTRA DANCE AN EXAMPLE OF FULLY PARTICIPA TORY DANCE PERFORMANCE IN THE UNITED STATES Julie Allison Lado New College of Florida, 2012 ABSTRACT This thesis is an ethnography of practice on concentrating on contra, a contemporary American folk dance. Contra is also a style of music; both are i nspired by European dance traditions and oldtime American music traditions. Present day contra is unique because it is a collectively embodied performance art that does not assume an audience, and is therefore fully participatory in its approximation of so cial equality. Aside from using participant observation at the 2012 Snow B all in Gulfport, Florida to approximate the experience of contra, this thesis is an account of change in the tradition from past to present, while attempting to comment on the atomiz ing tendencies of the modernized world by articulating contra as an act that establishes community by means of collective recognition and acceptance of difference, through a contextually accepted assumption that "all dancers are equal. ___________________ ___________ Maria D. Vesperi Division of Social Sciences
! INTRODUCTION Contra dance in the United States to day is a revival of a historic tradition of called figure dance. Contra is a collectively embodied practice that has characterized the cultural landscape since settlement of the New World by French and E nglish settlers. It is commonly understood that d ance within ritualized social gathering is a phenomenon present in human practices around the world and through time. A sense of transcendence is sometimes associated with dance action, such that dancing al lows embodied, and possibly suppressed, energy to become part of a group's reality. I understand reality as the epistemological ontology that is most commonly accepted among members of a cultural group. Culture, separate from reality, is the means by which people define and project personal identities and shared values. This work is an anthropological consideration of the contemporary United States (specifically Florida) contra dance tradition as it was experienced and interpreted by me at the 2012 Snow Bal l dance weekend organized by the Tampa Friends of Oldtime Dance in Gulfport, Florida 1 I have personal familiarity with this dance tradition (in Gainesville and Tampa specifically) because I have participated in it since childhood, which positions me as a researcher with experience based background in the context I studied. The occurrence of a contra dance requires a level of structural uniformity In order to set the stage for the structural requirements that constitute and facilitate the collective action of contra, I ask the reader to imagine walking into a dance hall, historical building, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The name of one participant was changed at her request, as will be noted in chapter two. All other names and place names are original.
! # or gymnasium, where one is greeted by a door person who is a member of the local dance community or a member of the local dance organization. It is the role of this per son to collect door fees (which cove r the cost of renting the space and compensating musicians and callers) and to orient newcomers. It is the case at dances organized by the Gainesville Oldtime Dance Society, and should be the case for other dance communi ties, that the first 30 minutes of a dance event are characterized by a brief introduction to the figures and formal constructions of a contra dance. These instructional sessions are populated by both experienced and novice dancers, which provides the sens e of social solidarity that characterizes this dance group. The presence and willingness of experienced dancers to guide newcomers in their process of orientation to the space communicates the care and passion they associate with this for m of dance, and ma rks contra a tradition they wish to share with interested parties. The training that characterizes the beginning of a local dance event also communicates an eagerness for the inclusion of others, and the growth of the contra dance community. This desire to inform and include outsiders in this community of practice is partially inspired by the threat of the tradition being lost, and implies that the people who constitute the community are interested in respectfully including anyone interested. As a member of the Gainesville contra community I interpret this invested interest as actions guiding inexperienced individuals through the liminality of the contra context. I characterize the contra context as liminal, representing a threshold, because dancers' perce ptions and attitudes of partner dance and old time folk music can be
! $ transformed by the experience of a practice that is rooted in community membership more than it is a call to an idyllic past. Embodied challenges to socially constructed assumptions abo ut age, race, size, and gender identification are visible in the ways contra practitioners live their identity in the contra setting as dancers who display an ability to dance with anyone. One of the most striking and unexpected embodiments of the contra dancer identity is the sight of men, most likely more than one, wearing skirts. In the process of fieldwork I didn't directly converse with informants about this style of dress, but previously in my dance experience I was told that dancing in skirts makes for a more breathable experience, and it is a challenge to "women getting all the fun" of wearing beautiful patterns and being the sole experience e rs of centripetal force when twirling. As one who rejects gender essentialization, I could resent this assu mption that women have more fun in dance settings than men simply because of what they wear; however, in the contra setting "fun" is readily available to those who can pinpoint and construct a means of experiencing what they want, thus establishing contra as a collectivity enjoyed in its subjectivity. Contra is informed by French bourgeois society, early New World settlers, and also derives from English country dance The present day encapsulation of this Western dance tradition limits the presence of socia l constructions of gentility and gender performance to the bare minimum. The conventions and structures currently present in contra dance are only those necessary for the formation of the contra idea: multiple couples dancing up or down long lines in pre established figures. Structurally, contra dance requires a source of music,
! % (traditionally a live string band; however, recent renditions of the contra have been performed to techno music), a caller who instructs process of each dance, a means of sound pro jection, dancers who are willing to interact with anyone who comes "down the line at them," and a place to dance in/on (wood floors are the commonly accepted preference). It is the caller's responsibility to orient dancers through the course of a dance, a nd the musicians play tune s that accompany and accentuate each dance. In the caller's performance of her/his responsibility it is commonplace to refer to the dance roles of the individual as being either the "Lady" or the "Gent." This use of gender specifi c terminology does not imply structural limitations to the individuals who embody dancer roles; they are simply a remnant of earlier forms of collective social dance where no functional or practical alternative has been suggested and incorporated. I see no serious threat to individual agency presented by the use of gendered terminology because the terms are used as a system of reference to physical locations in "hands four" (set of two couples dancing together for one round of the dance). The figures perfo rmed in the course of a dance are, for the most part, the same figures that have characterized collective partner dance since its beginnings in rural England. Some figures that constitute contemporary co ntra dance can be found in the A ppendix. Although the majority of the figures dance d in contra are rooted in deep historical precedent dancers are continuously incorporating swings, dips, lifts, along with other elaborations or recontextualizations of other dance/music styles. The truly fantastic aspect of contra dance is that it is such a simple form that innovations and creative
! & authority can be seamlessly incorporated. Later in this work my informants speak to the specifics of taking creative liberties with the dance form in light of other dancers and in the context of an assumed respect for others' experience. Respect and responsibility to recognize one's personal desires as limited by the surrounding dancers positions this project as one that speaks anthropologically to the relationship between the indi vidual and the collective as a process that facilitates the collective experience of freedom in form. Contra is extremely structured; it could even be regarded as being controling considering the role of the caller as a single person who tells everyone els e in the room what to do However, i t is not exactly the case that callers control how individuals dance; they control what figures individuals perform, a level of control necessary for contra as structurally unified action. There is interpretation at the individual level; the caveat is that it would be considered bad form if one seemed to be dancing only for her/his self, and not at least partially with those around who make the dance structure possible. In this discussion of creativity in structured conte xts, I introduce a few more bits of terminology that specifically reference acts of creative freedom that are not determined or specified by the caller. The first is "p lay." When two dancers agree that they are going to play as partners that means they wil l constantly switch who dances the Gent role and who dances the Lady role. Next is "c haos," an intensified version of play, where a set of four, or even an entire contra line, decides that this mixing of roles danced can happen between any two dancers at a ny time thus making for the most free form version of the contra structure, where dance roles are merely positions in a line being continuously
! occupied by different dancers at different times. An element of play and chaos is "twinning," where two people dance a single dance role. One significance of these alternativ e, innovative modes of practice is that they are limited by the dance structure, so the people who participate in contra with out playing or maki ng chaos are able to do so with out feeling marg inalized by those who do. In this thesis I present contra as an individually embodied experience of collective participation that can only be learned or perfected through performance. Contra is unique because of its tendency toward social inclusion and per formative expertise simultaneously. All people present at a contra dance event are or at one point or another will be elements of the performance no one mode of performance is more integral to the event than another, exemplified by the conversational dyn amic among dancers, musicians, and callers as each pays attention to the other. In other words, all elements of a contra are required for the occurrence of a contra event. Contra is not a classical dance practice where performers appear for an audience, be cause the would be audience is the dancers themselves. I am also interested in the negotiations of expertise. Wha t makes dancers "good" and how d o they perform contra well? How does one communicate appr e ciation of respect for another dancer? It is my goal through fieldwork to understand why dancers dance, and how the collectivity of the experience furthers or hinders personal enjoyment of the practice. Additionally, I seek to understand how contra dancers understand contra whether it is a performance tha t reminds them of a historically "American" practice and the idyllic past, or a community of practice in the present that reinforces practitioner
! ( identities as they are created in moments of contra. The purpose of this study is to contribute to the general knowledge of folk dancing in the United States as it is today I see this presentation of contra as an opportunity to explore the reality of connective non sexualize d dance. At the heart of it, my argument is a call for appreciation of dance styles of th e past and present that facilitate collective experien ces of identity const ruction. In the past half century contra dance has lost popularity among the general public; however, the contra dance practice and the establishment of communities of practice cont inue to exist in the contemporary United States. The literature consulted for this project is either anthropological or philosophical writing concerned with the phenomenon of dance, the embodiment of culture, and the establishment of identity via praxis. M y literature review begins with studies specifically concerned with defining contra as a historical and contemporary reality, followed by literature specifically focused on dance and embodiment, and concludes with interpretive anthropological theories that support the phenomenological experience of identity as individuated participation in collective settings. Aside from literature directly concerned with dance and anthropology, I consult works pertaining to the practice of ethnography and the application o f poetics to anthropology, where the dialectic and conversational nature of experience is emphasized. It is my goal in this project to elucidate how contra can induce a state of freedom in a necessarily formalized setting.
! ) CHAPTER ONE HISTORY OF TRADITI ON AND REVIEW OF LITERATURE In this chapter I present and review various sources about the history and mechanics of contra dance, plus theoretical works on collective embodiment and community establishment from an anthropological perspective. I begin with Richard Nevell's 1977 publication, A Time To Dance, which presents the origin, history and transformation of country dance through time and place. Aside from discussing the history of country dance in general, he focuses on the evolution of regional contra traditions from Europe to New England, Appalachia, and the Western United States. In this chapter I also present contra as an individually embodied experience of collective participation, the benefits of which can only be learned or experienced through p erformance. I use The Phenomenology of Dance by Maxine Sheets (1966) to elucidate the temporal and spatial uniqueness of dance performances, and establish the theoretical basis for contra as a phenomenon of collectively created social contexts. I consult R Keith Sawyer's Creativity in Performance (1997) reader for a discussion of the poetic nature of performance, as I attempt to present contra as a kind of performance art that actively resists the traditional requirement of an audience in its conversationa l or dialectical nature This poetics of contra approximates the intersection of performance theory and social practice such that my field research included direct interactions with the facilitators of contra culture. My informants are the participants, wh ose presence makes the contra context possible. This dialectical positioning takes on both an emic and etic perspective of contra, and encourages contextually rooted ways of thinking about and describing experiences of performance, community and identity. This approach
! attempts to demonstrate how a performer's sense of self can be fused with her/his awareness and acceptance of others /otherness Here, I critically examine a range of works with regard to their relevance to and establishment of a theory of cr eative praxis in situations of embodied performance of social context. First, I will consider those pieces directly concerned with contra as a historic practice and its origins in the United States The Contra Dance Book by Rickey Holden (1956) is a guide to understanding where in the European traditions contra originated, how it emerged in the New World, and how contra and square dance movements played a role in the construction of American identities in the 1950s post war era. Holden introduces contra as "one of the six geometric forms of the American Folk Dance," where sets of dancers repeat a sequence of movements such that they progress toward one end or another, and do this in a way that magnifies the pleasure of collective dance practices. Additionall y, Holden suggests, contra is "democratic" because multiple couples are working together to inspire a joy of "being with the music" (1956:1). I can partially agree with Holden's characterization of contra as democratic, because the dance community is seeki ng the facilitation of social change, although it is not a politically active body. The relationship between democratic practices and freedom will be explicated later in my discussion of John Dewey's and Bronslow Malinowski's theories of freedom and cultur e/civilization. The contra dance context is an opportunity for collective enjoyment of moving with others to music. Yes, the contemporary contra community of organizations and dancers work towards the creation of momentary spaces of social equality by wel coming
! "+ all new comers. This is what I think Holden is trying to communicate in his characterization of contra as democratic. However, there is no voting element in contra where dancers collectively decide through consensus which dances to dance, or elect of ficials to present the voice of the people. Throughout history the name of this kind of dance has varied (e.g. country dance, long ways dance, contredanse, line dance, string dance) (1956: 3). The term country dance is known to be the "English term for th e making of certain shapes, patterns or figures' upon the dancing space" (1956: 3) When the "country dance" tradition of England was introduced to the French court by travelers between the two countries, it translated as "contredanse." Therefore, country dance remains an English term and tradition, while "contra" proper is an English re interpretation of a French translation of "participants standing opposite each other" (1956:3). This long ways partnered dance tradition is unique in its incorporation of progression" choreography where each couple moves through the line they are dancing in. This aspect of moving through a dance temporally and through a dance line spatially presents the creation of a liminal space, where practitioners are presented with the challenge of working together for fun, such that each dance is considered a threshold of experience. By the mid 18th century contra became an upper class ballroom dance used to facilitate courtship in both the Europe and the United States while remaining a dance of Irish, Scottis h, French and English heritage (1956: 4). In historic contra, as in English country dance, the titles of dances are "names of places, historical events, quilting patterns, young ladies and the fiddlers who played for them" (1956: 4), thus
! "" exemplifying how contra is more than merely a dance style; it subsumes the surrounding world. As contra has grown and evolved, this tradition of matching tunes to dances has faded in light of its popularity as both collective and creatively inspir ed. New concepts that inspire contra bands and choreographers in the contemporary contra scene are emerging too fast for the tradition of matching to continue. This phenomenon is further clarified in my interview with Max Newman, a contra band musician 2 As contra moved from the countryside of the British Isles into France, and further into the New World, dancemasters (those who claimed rights to the contra practice and hosted instructional classes) catered to the white gentility (1956: 5), thus positing contra as a practice only available to those with the financial and social resources that met the demands of the dancemaster and the social context erected around the profession of dancemastery. The emergence of the dancemaster as a social role was an att empt to standardize the contra tradition by "toning d own" dance steps of the country side for the more civil and conventional setting, partially due to popular dress styles of the social elite that had a restrictive effect on women's movements. Aside from t he restriction of women's movements, dance masters incorporated a tipping of the hat, and kisses on the hand, into the traditional country dance choreography (1956:5). Thus introducing conventions of court ship and sex/gender normalization to the rural prac tice upon its introduction to growing cities. The physical structure of movements in every contra dance is reflective of the two part tune s that dances are performed to. T hese tune s are organized into an A of eight !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! # This informant is referred to by his actual name.
! "# bars and a B of 8 bars each repeated or thirty two beats per tune used in time through the dance Progression of dancers occurs at the end of the thirty two bars, where and when couples weave up or down the line to begin the next time through the dance (1956:8). Contra dance requires a "suitabl e tune" that is "essential for its enjoyment" (1956:9); in other words, contra is not only a kind of dance, it is also a kind of music where any two four or six eight reel or jig is contra danced to and a kind of musical performance (in the context of con tra dance) T he historical tradition characterized by dances being danced to specific tunes provide d a conceptual framework for each dance. Whereas the most recent trend in contemporary contra communities has involved the incorporation of electronic music styles with contra dance styles, the conceptualization of contra has shifted through time I choose to use Holden's work in this thesis because it describes contra as a historic practice that extends past the act of dancing through its capacity to foster community. His book is an example of a knowledgeable practitioner taking on the responsibility of educating interested parties about the history and theory of contra as a group experience, while recognizing that knowledge of contra is apprehended through experience. In order to effectively learn or know contra, interested parties must do it first hand. Holden's publication also exemplifies that knowledge of the tradition has remained open and free to the public, regardless of shifts i n popularity. In closi ng, h e communicates the openness and fluidity of the contra community because the last page of the book is an invitation for correspondence from readers regarding comments or further information on the subject. His call for correspondence is also reflectiv e of the
! "$ steps taken by people of the past, who did not have the communication resources available to the public today. While Holden's handbook is mostly an instruction manual, A Time To Dance by Richard Nevell (1977) is a more detailed historical account of how the contra tradition spread through the United States and into regionally defined music/dance practices. Although Nevell's book is not a formal piece of anthropological work, it reads like present day ethnographies where researchers puzzle piece th e history of a tradition from historical texts and interviews with contemporary practitioners whose experiences color and inform characteristics of the practice that are not recorded in manuals or historical texts. Nevell, a contra dancer himself, begins h is work with his personal introduction to contra. When he was young, he recalls, dancing was not something boys did for fun: "We dance for some ulterior motive" (1977:4). It wasn't until his introduction to contra that this socially constructed and gendere d expectation was effectively challenged and resisted in his transformed understanding of dance and social relations. Nevell's learned appreciation for dance as someth ing more than a means to an end exemplifies my characterization of the practice as limina l and non sexual In his initial experience of contra, Nevell identifies the group as being "counter culture," practicing "freedom of self expression thought the arts: yet obviously enjoying a dance that was clearly structured, almost regimental, and to tally under the control of one person who told them what to do!" (1977:5). This juxtaposition of freedom and cooperation is a significant aspect of contra, rendering it unique and challenging in light of a "cynical history of country dancing" and the probl ematic
! "% aspec ts of the i dyllic American past (1977:5). Nevell suggests that contra provides an opportunity for people to shed emotional armor and discover "what [one's] body could do and enjoy" (1977:6). He identifies a special connection facilitated by his contra experience as "the kind of unspoken understanding between people that comes only from having shared a mutual experience" (1977:7). This individual memory of a collective creation through doing speaks to the phenomenological aspect of collectively e mbodied practices, which is integral to my argument that contra allows for a socially positive atmosphere where individual uniqueness is recognized and respected in the process of group dance. This book is not speci fically focused on contra dance; it is a collective history of country dance in the United St ates (including Morris dance, buck dance, and square dance) which explicates "the story of contra [as] part of a story that includes all of America and many forms of country dance" (1977:6). Although t his is in fact what Nevell provides, I cannot agree with his view that "all of America" is included in this history of folk dance because he is writing about a distinctly United States tradition performed predominantly by people of Western European descent who experience little by the way of social inequality or ethnic rejection in the United States context. In his intro duction to folk dance practices, Nevell draws a connection between dancing and gardening. He discusses the possibility that collective ri tual dancing developed with religion and increasing knowledge of the environment and its natural cycles (1977:14). Nevell's speculation about a connection between dance and agricultural knowledge is supported by Holden's articulation of country dance as bo iling
! "& down to "six geometric forms" of folk dances, which could be shapes associated with farming practices. Nevell discusses d ance historian Curt Sachs who suggests gardening practices inform the geometric shapes found in country dances supports this ide a (1977:14) Nevell explains that "immediate forerunner of the contra dance as we know it was called Morris dancing," which is usually two rows of dancers moving to and fro, however in earlier times included a circle formation which bares "traces of the old fertility ritual" of dramatizing "the process of growing food" and "sustain[ing] life" (1977: 16). Therefore old time dance practices are ritual performances that "somewhere along the way became more of a social function" (1977:16) as societies bega n to urbanize and dance was popularized as a mode of social interaction and identity construction. Resulting from the initial popularization of country dance is a "history of country dance [that] is also the history of movements" of people, such that Fren ch settlers introduced social country dancing to the United States and English colonists, where it was later molded and modified by practitioners to be what it is today (1977: 18). Therefore, the main idea of including this history is to show that cultural acts are embodied and carried through time and space by those who choose to perform the practice, and the these performances inform practitioner's perceptions of themselves as members of a collective through experience More simply stated, contra and its predecessors such as Morris dance, and ancient garde ning ritual are performed metaphors for communal living.
! "' A fter the arrival of contra to the New World Nevell explains contra moved though the country and new traditions emerged with every large moveme nt of people. One problematic characteristic of early contra and country dancing developed during the Gold Rush in the Western territories, when N ative American women were forced to attend early Western dances "before white women made their move out West" (1977:51) thus resulting in "different classes of people" becoming more apparent and rendering this specific dance event context exclusionary and misogynous. I find the exclusionary and misogynous elements of North Western American country and folk dance a re not elements inherent in the practice, as much as they are the result of attitudes held by people and structural injustices of the time. In contrast to the situation in the West, Appalachian dancers faced a different problem in light of Christian puri tanical missionaries seeking to convince mounta in folk of the devilish consequences associated with dance and fiddle music (1977:44). Furthermore, black slaves were a minority participating in Southern country dances, where a modification of clogging, know n as buck dancing or jigging, was popularized. Buck dancing was an opportunity for a marginalized group to participate as entertainers; however "slaves became renowned as the best jiggers in the South" and were exploited by the social elite and the ethnic majority (1977:49). It is these problematic characteristics of early United States folk dance history and early American culture that contemporary contra practitioners actively work against by resisting the enactment of exclusivity and elitism in the soci al arena of contra dance today. P resent day dancers are
! "( aware of the past and see dance as a means of transforming ideas of belonging and entertainment In his development of the history of contra, Nevell explains that t he 1870s were marked by the centenn ial celebration of progress in the newly founded United States, where industrialization of the East, the conquest of the West, and the reconstruction of the South allowed for "the majority of Americans [to] accept progress as the inevitable and desirable characterization of the future "even if it meant the gradual extinction of the folk arts and their grandparents" (1977:53). The 1870s also marked a time of change in styles of calling where the general dancing public rejected the need for, and authority of dancemasters though the gradual introduction and growing popularity of freedoms associated with the swing move and rejection of those conventions implemented by dancemast ers (1977:58). After this time formal etiquette was de emphasized and contra contin ued as a practice in socialization and community reaffirmation. After the Confederacy's defeat, Civil War was conceptualized as a symbol of federal, cultural, and economic strength resulting i n an emphasis on manufacturing and industrialization R ural App alachian communities and their cultural traditions were increasingly marginalized Contra is a notable characteristic of this transitional time because it remained in practice, despite social and economic movements that threatened its social acceptability. With the emergence of corporate mining and large scale deforestation in the Appalachian region, dancers saw little to celebrate; however, the contra dance of these truly rural regions remained unchanged through the late 19 th and
! ") early 20 th centuries (1977 :59). Aside from the Appalachian South effectively preserving dance traditions in light of extreme social and economic change, the West set the stage for a "melting pot of old tradition" in that the western square dance echoes what English country dance wa s before the popularization of contredanse in France (1977:60). The strength of the country dance traditions embodied by practitioners of this time and place are integral to the persistence of contra in the 20 th and 21 st centuries. The First World War sp arked an American nationalist revival of folk traditions in urban areas. In 1918 Elizabeth Burchenal published Twenty English Dances thus creating the first book to discuss contra as "worth while physical activity" (1977:62). Nevell's inclusion of this fa ct is significant in that it explains how a nationalist revival of fol k dance traditions fostered attention to the body. The later half of Nevell's history focuses on the "use" of country and folk dance as political tools in times of social flux. He identi fies Henry Ford as one who promoted "square dance as a means of preserving American culture from revolutionary' changes such as Jazz" (1977:63). Coming from an anthropological perspective, the racist and classist assumptions associated with such a nationa li st agenda are blatant and need to be framed in relation to larger issues of structural violence Whereas country dance is traditionally a practice of the land owning elite, jazz is a 20 th century musical tradition fostered by African Americans attempting to legitimize their presence as creative beings in the United States cultural landscape Nevell characterizes Ford's book, Good Morning: After A Sleep for Twenty Five Years, Old Fashion Dancing is Being Revived by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford (1926) as a fai lure in that it lacked a group spirit of collective enjoyment. In this publication Ford
! "* essentialized folk and square dance as "that style of dance that best fits with the American temperament" and somewhat consciously reified the elitist attitudes of 18 th century dancemasters in its elevated discussion of etiquette and morality in the dance setting (1977:65). Nevell identifies Ford's movement as a clear rejection of truth a bout United States folk traditions since ; Ford projected a reverence for Victorian e ra convention and did not recognize square dance as a forum for spontaneity and creative self expression in a collective setting. Nevell concludes his history of contra in the United States cultural landscape with a discussion regarding the popularizatio n of contra through the 20 th century. By 1935 publications solely concerned with United States folk life had emerged as interested individuals began networking to sustain present and future knowledge of United States n folk and dance practices. One individu al who Nevell reports as particularly important in the United States folk dance revival was Ralph Page, a caller from New Hampshire who called and organized some of the first regular dances in New England (1977:66). A more detailed d e scription of how Page did this is presented in Chapter Two as part of my ethnographic interview with Max Newman Nevell reports Page saying that people dance, and have danced, because it is what has been done for the past 170 years, and "because there are plenty [of] available musicians who have grown up in the purple of the country dance tradition" (1977:69). This metaphor of purple being at the heart of a traditionally red, white, and blue United States, provides support and structure to my argument for contra as a form of United States folk dance that challenges historical traditions of segregation and
! #+ privilege while providing a setting for communal appreciation of pluralism in the United States cultural landscape. Page and other New Englanders who actively facilitated th e folk dance revival understood the importance of the dance as more than historical artifacts, since the communal practice "helped early Americans express their allegiance to a community spirit." These forerunners also "recognized the need for change in th e dancing to meet the needs of the changing society of dancers; tradition was in their minds but was not to stand in the way of the reasonable evolution of a folk activity, which by its nature should remain spontaneous and free" (1977:69). Nevell's survey of important characters in the mid 20 th century revival of folk dance traditions provides an account of by whom and why contra is known and practiced up to the late 1970s in the United States The final work consulted in the category of specifically cont ra dance related literature is The Square Dance and Contra Dance Handbook by Margo Gunzenhauser (1996). This piece is a comprehensive guide to various styles and tradition s of country dance and calling. Like Nevell, Gunzenhauser works under the assumption that both contra and square dance are United States folk dance traditions that experience regional differences and the mixing of styles (1996:1). Gunzenhauser begins with an explication of the role and history of the caller tradition. She posits that this role was not always a necessary component of the contra dance event, but became favored over time (1996:2). This position is supported by Nevell's and Holden's discussion of the partially lasting effects of the dancemasters who attempted to standardize an d commodify country dance, while foregoing the caller and expecting dancers to memorize entire dances without
! #" being cued. In communities of practice that were not seriously affected by dancemasters "the fiddler was often the caller too," thus forming a uni fying link between musicians and dancers (1996:2). She discusses that square form dances were subsumed into the country dance tradition when French and English dance traditions intersected during initial migrations to the New World. Square dance gained r evived popularity during the Gold Rush era, and later again after World War II when it was projected as a respected recreational activity "on par with sports and other hobbies," thus resulting in a melding of regional styles and the professionalization of calling (1996:2). Aside from being an integral point of connection between dancers and musicians, I find the history of calling interesting and relevant to an anthropological consideration of contra because it is a characteristic of ritual linguistic pract ice that has survived the test of shifting attitudes through time. The differences between recreational squares and contra da nce are such that modern W estern squares use large numbers of basic movements requiring "concentration to remember all," which fo r some is the exciting element. However, contra "involves a smaller number of basic movements, most of which are quickly learned such that callers and "choreographers concentrate on exploiting the established movements in exciting and satisfying ways" (1 996:3). Thus, the difference between contra and W estern squares exemplifies a contemporary tendency for folk traditions to be inclusive of regional diversities and new comers with practical interest rather than performances of skill or expertise
! ## Similarly to Nevell, Gunzenhauser identifies practitioners active in the 1960s and 1970s who became disillusioned with the contemporary establishment of square dance and preferred the milieu of rural traditions where they were free to be enthusiastic and memorizat ion of tune /dance pairs was not a requirement of participation (1996:3). The national organization, Country Dance and Song Society (est. 1915) contributes to the "process of preserving, developing, and researching traditional American folk dance forms." Th is organization is unique to contra because it does not "decide w hat is correct' or incorrect,' nor does it concern itself with certification" when it comes to legitimizing and supporting the contra dance tradition (1996:3). Since the caller embodies a necessary link between musicians and dancers, "music plays a crucial role as a counterpart to the dance... dance and music become parts of an integrated whole" (1996:4). This idea of an integrated whole established through collective action is the focal p oint of this thesis. I intend for this work to approximate a sound explanation for the purpose of recognizing a historically rooted United States folk culture that has moved beyond interests in exclusivity and authenticity towards community and inclusion Historically the music that is performed is traditio nal folk music (jigs and reels); however Gunzenhauser notes that today "strains of jazz, swing, or foreign ethnic music" are being incorporated into the contra arena. In all forms of dance, music provid es rhyth m, guiding the timing of dancer s movements and melody that informs the collective flow of dancers. Uniquely, contra puts more of an emphasis on melody and centrifugal force between dancers (1996:4), known as the "flow" or
! #$ "groove." When melody an d calls are sonically unified dancers need pay little attention to rhythm because dances are organized to match the rhythmic structure of the music. Instruments that are found in traditional New England folk music include a piano fiddle combination "suppl emented by accordion, hammered dulcimer, guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo, five string banjo flute, recorder or penny whistle" (1996:5). This array of instruments reflects influence by Scottish, Irish, and French music traditions that are found in both jigs (2/4 time) and reels (6/8 time). In contrast, the Southern style of folk music has more of a bluegrass influence. In light of "the Appalachian region [being] more isolated than New England, and the ability to read music was much less common the Appalach ian music tradition "seems to have undergone a more pronounced transformation to an indigenous American style" (1996: 6). Gunzenhauser finds that this claim is validated by a collective adherence to regional individuation and unwillingness to forego rural dancing traditions in light of surrounding society pushing for "an America characterized progress and standardization" (1996:6). The hi story of contra has culminated in to contemporary ideal that contra dance, as known by contemporary dancers, involves "t he caller and musicians as an integrated cooperative unit" who enjoy the event in unison (1996:7). Just as the caller and musicians are expected to be functionally unified, it is expected that dancers are collectively unified among themselves such that flo w is established through "giving weight" in the midst of dancing, and eye contact is used to acknowledge other dancers' subjectivity at every step of the way (1996:8).
! #% Aside from discussing the particularities of what the contemporary social atmosphere of contra has become, similar to Holden, Gunzenhauser provides a guide to calling and sheet music for some well known dance tunes. Although contemporary contra has rejected the formalities and etiquette of the 19 th century social elite, there remain some exp ectations of participants in the contra dance context. The most prevalent of these expectations is the importance of partner changing, such that the contra environme nt actively welcomes single new comers, and works to prevent the better dancers from stickin g together (1996:13). This particular aspect of contra cultu re will be further explored in the discussion of my fieldwork, where dynamics of "expert" dancers is observed and questioned. Even in the arena of calling there is a drive to maintain a truly wel coming environment. When instructing a dance or in the midst of calling a dance, it is never the dancer's fault for being out of sync or just not getting it, because instructors must respect the presence of "room for individuals expression with in the tra ditional style" so long as dancers do not create obstacles for others or disrupt the general flow of the dance (1996: 16). In conclusion, Gunzenhauser's book is a guide to teaching that uses detailed descriptions of regional styles, and the articulation of social goals associated with folk dance practices, to provide readers with a foundational knowledge of what contra is and how it works. DANCE AND PHENOMENOLOGY The following section of this literature review is directly concerned with the phenomenologica l characteristics of dance in general, and in the contra mode of
! #& perfo rmance art specifically The contra practice is embodied and performed in an atmosphere that does not structurally or functionally require an audience in order to be formally classified as a performance. It is performance because it is embodied. In the case of contra the performers are the audience as practitioners who are entertained by way of participation rather than observation. This means of entertainment via praxis supports my claim that contra constructs a liminal socia l space The first piece explicated in this category is The Phenomenology of Dance by Maxine Sheets (1966). Phenomenology is a branch of twentieth century philosophy that studies consciousness from the first person p erspective, the phenomenological experiences of thinking, knowing and the results of doing so. Consciousness in the first person perspective suggests intentionality, where one's embodied experience of being in the world is the direction and object of theor etical consideration. This line of phil osophical consideration was begu n by Edmund Husserl, who sought after "the heart of the experience itself: the immediate and direct consciousness of man in the face of the world" (Sheets 1966: 10). Maxine Sheets artic ulates phenomenology as descriptions of humans and the world as humans are living in the midst of the world. The lived experience, which is the root of phenomenology, happens through the body with one's conscious awareness of itself as a body among other c onscious bodies. Later I use the work of Pierre Bourdieu to identify the symbolic power associated with social space where individuals partially construct identities in consideration of their surroundings. Phenomenology requires that an "experience must be had in order to be described. P eople are "not an objective structure to be known, but a unique existential
! #' being[s]," and "human consciousness intends, or creates its own objects" of experience (1966: 11). Using a "pre reflexive" (defined on page 26) me thod of describing the lived experience allows for a holistic perspective on experiences beings have in the world because it positively accounts for the possibility of difference between individual articulations of experience Since the lived experience is the object of consideration in the phenomenological approach, it follows that objects of the world surrounding are apparent to individuals when individuals directly and consciously perceive them. The intersection of this mode of philosophy and contra danc e occurs via the recognition of the need for experience in order to have a working knowledge of the concept at hand. Contra is not a practice that can be lectured upon and then understood by an actively listening audience; in order to know contra one must feel contra. The requirement of embodiment in one's understanding of the contra experience is a concept that I will consider in review of ethnographic interviews in order to show the differences between individual experiences. In addition to concentration on the first person embodied perspective, phenomenology requires a consideration of time and space as singular and inseparable elements of the lived experience. "Space does not exist apart from time," because both are apparent in one's consciousness of the body as "here ," rooted at a time in a place (1966: 26). Time can be understood as a collection of now moments organized into sub structures (past, present, future) and recognized as inseparable from itself or the place at which time is being observed by t he lived body. For example, dance is created and does not exist prior to (or after) it is embodied because the phenomenon of dance is that dance
! #( is experienced in the moment (1966: 14). The same uniqueness holds true for contra, such that each time a dance is called and performed it is being called and performed in spatially and temporally unique settings where dancers, musicians and their performances are distinct to the moment. One's implicit awareness of self as conscious and embodied, along with one's acceptance of a time space unity, are assumptions foundational to phenomenology. However, Sheets states that "no actual theory emerges from phenomenology because phenomenology is concerned not with theories about phenomena, but with descriptions of their existence, which is simply the fact that they appear to consciousness" and are unique in context (1966:11). Phenomenology is not concerned with a fixed body of beliefs as much as it encourages a particular point of view centered on an "essential relationsh ip between consciousness and the world" (1966: 12). This relationship informs one's description of the lived experience in so far as "first the appearance of the thing and secondly the conceptual framework is built up in describing" the thing (1966: 15 ). Therefore, statements from dancers who recognize contra as a community and not merely a skill to be perfected will exemplify the inseparability of consciousness and surroundings present in the contra context. Such a perspective of time and space requir es an implicit awareness of self. Having an implicit or pre reflective understanding of self means one is aware of her/his presence because she/he is conscious of being in a place at a time without justifying one's presence in relation to surroundings (196 6: 17). A dancer's awareness of time is such that the dance is "a perpetually moving form, a unity of succession, whose
! #) movements cannot be measured: its past has been created, its present is being created and its future awaits creation" (1966: 21 22). Dan ce is a useful example in discussing the phenomenon of time because the body is trained to move seamlessly though time while being hyper aware of one's momentary here ness. The precision required for dancers to know their bodies in motion exemplifies a lev el of skill that "is had precisely at the point at which the body ceases to be an object manipulated toward a given end and becomes, instead, a lived meaning or a lived experience of meaningful gestures" (1966: 27). The contra dance context exemplifies thi s transition from being a manipulated object to a meaningful agent with meaningful movement because every dancer is experiencing the phenomenon of dance among other dancers who are simultaneously conforming to and deviating from a core concept in personali zed approaches to fun. One's awareness of here ness is a totality, not an externally related system of parts. For instance as one is typing a word she/he is not consciously focused on the striking of individual keys as much as she/he is focused on a combin ation of strokes that result in the desired word or phrase. Sheets notes that "bodily gestures and movements are a lived kinetic experience of consciousness body's spatial experience," meaning the body's s ystems of perception synthesize one's awareness of her/his presence in the space time unity (1966: 23). The individual's awareness of body as self is central to the phenomenological method of performance interpretation because both the world and the self in the world are experienced through the individual' s body and brain (1966: 25). Thus, in order to clarify the phenomenological aspects of the contra context and experience, one simply needs be reminded that thinking and moving are inseparable acts,
! #* such that the former allows for the happening of the latte r, and the latter does not occur in the absence of the former. The practice of contra requires an oscillation of this consciousness of here ness between recognition of self and respect for experiences of the present collective, such that in the midst of pa rticipation one has the opportunity to elaborate in the moment so long as it does not seriously interfere with their connectedness to surrounding dancers. CONTRA AND DIALECTIC POETICS An article by Richard Bauman and Charles Briggs, "Poetics and Performa nce as critical Perspectives on Language and Social Life" ( found in R. Keith Sawyer's Creativity in Performance 1997 reader ), proposes the inclusion of poetics in fields concerned with performance research and ethnography of communication. I use this artic le to propose that ethnography of communication can include ethnography of embodied (lived experience of) identity performance (practice) such that the poetics of performance is directly concerned with noting and experienc ing opportunities for creative au thority in social constructions of self. In t his thesis I presen t contra dancers as participants in a soc ial dialogue that differs from other contemporary embodied music and dance traditions. Keith Sawyer introduces this article with a discussion of poet ics of performance as "the emergence of verbal art in the social interaction between perform ers and audiences" (1997:228). I present the position that contra is a un ique practice that exemplifies the transition in performance studies from a "study of forma l patterns [to] symbolic contents" because the audience involved becom es an aspect of the holistic
! $+ performance, therefore establishing the key characteristic of the contra dance (full participation) in terms of modern approaches to studying performance (1 997:228). As previously mentioned, there is no "formal audience" that is contextually expected to observe the expertise taking place on a "stage." Most contra events encourage all persons present to participate, regardless of how familiar or distant they a ppear. The caller role makes the performance of dances possible because it is their purpose to inform the band about the desired tune and dancers about the movements that constitute the performance of a dance. Musicians, traditionally viewed exclusively as performers, take on an inverted role in contra. Although they are performing the tune on a stage, musicians are positioned to face dancers, who are focused on other dancers, thus positioning musicians and callers as the only true observers of the entire p henomenon of a living contra in motion. Aside from the inclusive nature of contra that is characterized by a structured collectivity among performers, I discuss the poetic use of language in the contra dance context. When a caller chooses to sing a dance (as common in the Appalachian tradition know as Patter ), rather than deliver directions in a monotone voice, she/he is affecting a core script by means of verbal art. Verbal art, according to Bauman and Briggs is a "central dynamic force" in shaping studi es of language and communication (1997:228). In addition to the creative freedom of a caller's delivery of calls, the participatory dancers can also creatively communicate to "performers" (musicians and caller) their appreciation of a dance via verbal prai se after or embodied enjoyment ( exaggerated dancing ) during a dance. In the context of contra, the caller embodies "the dynamic
! $" character of language use and the central place the it occupies in the social construction of reality" (1997:229) because calle rs play an organizational role in the physical intersections of participants thus they are linguistically constructing movements of the dance reality Although it may seem that the organizational responsibilities of the caller place her/him at the pinnacl e of the contra context, a contra event could not be performed in the absence of either dancers or music. Bauman and Briggs illuminate the intersection of performance studies and the social construction of reality such that the performance of practice is a means of establishing social realities. The social reality that is created via contra is in the form of a contra dance event I consider a dance event similar to J.L Austin's "characterization of language as social action," where speech acts constitute the occurrence of speech event s or moment of communication. Austin's views are further supported by "Malinowski's view of language as a mode of action' rather than a means of thinking'" (1997: 231). Just as language is a mode of verbal action, contra da nce is a mode of social action where individual dance acts (i.e. the performances of each individual dancer, the playing of instruments, and the communica tion of dance steps) constitute the formation of a uniquely contra social reality where participant cr eativity and open mindedness to difference are integral to the contemporary tradition that challenges social injustices of the historic tradition. Bauma n and Briggs suggest that "performance is not lodged in [formality] alone but in larger formal function al units" (1997:232). Contra exemplifies this characterization of performance through its allowance of agency to dancers, such that
! $# they do not solely dance to become experts who strive to perform for an unknowing audience; rather, contra dancers dance bec ause contra fulfills a social and functional role in their recreational lives (i.e. communal participation). The validity of this assumption regarding other's reasoning for participating in contra, and the value of community recognition over expertise, wil l be affirmed, denied, and elaborated upon in my fieldwork section In order to further explain this transition in performance studies recognizing the occurrence of embodied discourse, I discuss the role of flirting in the contra line. It is common for co ntra dancers to want to express an appreciation for another dancer in a manner that does not necessarily imply physical attraction or sexual advancement. According to Bauman and Briggs, "Performance does not always connect discourse automatically and unimp eachably with particular illocutionary forces" meaning that the embodied performance of action is allotted a certain element of ambiguity in the social arena of communication, thus making room for re interpretations of social normativity (1997:235). This c oncept of inherent ambiguity speaks to the role of form and function ality in the social construction of realities such that "formal patterning becomes imbued with functional significance" (1997: 235). In the context of flirting in the contra line, one can see how expressions of appreciation or encouragement are intended depending on how it's done, and whether or not expressed boundaries are respected. Beyond performance studies being concerned with the social malleability of verbal signs in linguistic comm unication, Bauman and Briggs express a concern in performance studies for "the case of marginalized groups on the periphery of industrial
! $$ capitalism" where "performances are often overly concerned with deconstructing ideologies and expressive forms" (1997: 236) This thesis deconstructs contemporary associations of partner dance as a mode of sexuality or loyalty contra can be sexy and intimate in a momentary way that does not necessarily imply solicitation when dancers are familiar with each other Bauman a nd Briggs recognize performance art as integral to "the process of deconstructing Western views of language and social life" (1997:236) and thus support the discovery of alternatives to socialized norms. Case being that Western social norms of sexualized p artner dance present an opportunity for modern performance researchers to validate contra dance as a United States folk practice that actively challenges people's perceptions of partner dance as sexual It is the embodied performance of contra that can blu r lines defining traditional understandings of audience/performer relations, gender associations, religious ideologies, social stigmas of touch and more. Since contra is a phenomenon characterized by the mixing of both people and structures it is of no surprise t hat the present state of contra p ractice remains in flux and in conversation with other contemporary dance cultures. The newest phenomenon is contra' s its intersection with the electronic music (techno) and "rave" culture. The emergence of techn o contra, or crossover contra, symbolizes an "interactive focus" where "features of one genre are embedded within a token of another" (1997:233), such that young contra dancers of today have invented a new form of contra dance that mimics the style and atm osphere of an aspect of nightclub culture (black lights, glow
! $% sticks, and techno music) without forfeiting the traditional movements, caller/dancer structure, and community centered mindset of the historic contra practice. Here, I make a theoretical conn ection between the socio historical f act of contra dance and poetic analysis of creative performance as speech like communication. I consider the actions of all individual participants as line s of text in a poem, the music that is performed offers an inter pretation of the poem's meaning, while the vocalization of calls is seen as the writer's intention in original creation, such that a dancers' embodied interpretation of these calls represents the reader's interpretation of linguistic metaphor. For support, I turn to the article "The Improvisational Performance of Culture in Realtime Discursive Practice" by Michael Silverstein, (also found in Sawyer's Creativity in Performance ) who estimates the role and measurability of improvisation in verbalized communica tion. I elaborate upon these characteristics of conversation as characteristic of the contra tradition, whereas individual interpretations of instruction are comparable to individual interpretations of and reaction to linguistic metaphor in speech or poetr y. The concept of individual creative performance in the midst of a formalized setting can also be explained in terms of responsibility. It is the responsibility of the caller to provide instructions in a timely fashion allowing dancers to be "in the know and on beat throughout the process of a da n ce. It is the responsibility of the band to perform the desired kind of tune and listen to the caller who determines the end of a dance, while it is the dancer's responsibility to not only perform correct moveme nts as direction is delivered but also to have fun recognize, realize, and embody her/his
! $& creative self as an individual component subsumed by the collective dance environment. This recognition of self as antonymous, yet suspended in the collecti ve movem ents of many, embodies group awareness on the dance floor and possibly fosters a heightened appreciation for collective performance. I find the dancers r esponsibility to be the most fascinating part of contra because it requires an oscillation of attentio n between the self and the collective resulting in a performed art of the self. In the contra context the dance that is being performed is the "text in context" of a certain kind of event performance. According to Silverstein "text is evaluated for the w ays in which it is an organized structure in realtime representing states of affairs of distinguishable entities in universes of reverence" (1997:267). The contra context consists of "entities" (dancers) who create "universes of reference" (the socially c onstructed reality) and embody an "organized structure in realtime" that represents collective participation in the unified creation of contra as a socio historical practice repeatedly performed throughout space and time. Silverstein also discusses "denota tional textuality in context," an element of communication that refers to units of a text that explicitly reference the performance of a specific move. I n other words, the calls of a contra dance are like the grammar of a dance language that allows for the performance of roles in a distinctly contra fashion where partners progress up and down dance lines. Silverstein also discusses the creative capacities of social action as "causally effective in the universe of identities as a basis for relationship and further social action" (1997: 268). In the context of a contra dance event this creative capacity is realized in that one dancer's decision to improvise can inspire others to elaborate similarly, thus
! $' resulting in momentary shift in the tradition. The crea tive space that is available to contra dancers is a characteristic uniqu e to this dance tradition and noteworthy because of its recognition of individuality as an aspect of the collective context. This possibility of collective elaboration in realtime pe rformances separates contra from other forms of partner or ballroom dance where elaboration and innovation are discouraged. Silverstein discusses contextualization as "a correspondingly understood functional effect of appropriateness of text to context or effectiveness of text in c ontext" (1997:270 ). In contra contextualization is the presence of necessary elements in the functioning of a dance, dancer timing and positioning, which cannot be altered by any dancer's elaboration without initiating "chaos." The collective performance of contra is like a conversation in the presence of call delivery and reception between caller and dancers, and between caller and musicians. According to Silverstein "the realm of indexicality is merely a complete congeries of pointings to'" (in Sawyer 1997:271). In contra, calls are indexcially referencing specific ways dancers move about one another in sets of four arranged in lines where the sequence of movements performed results in dancers progressing up and down lines with their partners. ANTHROP OLOGY AND CONTRA In review, I have introduced literature pertaining directly to the practice of performance art, and discussed contra as a socio historical element of American Folk life that has been marginalized by popular music t raditions. Also, I have introduced a theoretical overlay to discuss the phenomenon and poetics of contra as a collectively
! $( embodied and performed practice that directly fosters a community based sentiment and appreciation for the practice. In the midst of a free market capitalist economy contemporary contra dance challenges this ideal of individuated modes of survival by providing a means of collective cooperation towards an objective; fun. S ocially stratifying effects of economics do not escape the social arena of folk dance. It is evident through the historical popularity of the dancemaster among New England elite that bourgeois social status supported and facilitated change in English country dance, which was later stigmatized as an undesirable means of performing country dance and ideals of community. Roderyk Lange's 1976 publication, The Nature of Dance: An Anthropological Perspective, is helpful in indentifying how dance fits into the anthroplogical scope and study of people in cultures. I will use i t to further elucidate a definition of dance as rooted in social contexts. T his book is written from a progressivist perspective where self knowledge is obtained though examination of others. Since the late mid 20 th century anthropology has positioned its elf as theoretically opposed to assumptions of progressivism and the evolution of societies through a predetermined path with industrialized capitalism as the desired end goal for any society or practice. I plan to use assumptions associated with progress ivism to explain its exclusionary and marginalizing effects, and how the contemporary contra community works against the effects of such exclusion. Lange begins with a d iscussion of dance as philosophers of antiquity understood it. Cicero believed "no bod y dances, unless he is drunk or unbalanced mentally"
! $) (1976:4). This stigma of freedom in creative self expression as being inherently associated with intoxication or mental instability s urvived the test of time, contaminating the acceptance of dance as a r espectable form of action. It is evident in P uritan ideals identifying dance as a sinful act R eports on th e social role of dance in early recorded history exemplify how either the presence or absence of dance was used to inform social stigmas associated with dance and dancers. Therefore the establishment of state level governing structures informed and later used dance as a means of controlling people's perceptions of others. Through out the history of Europe dance became a more socially accepted and re spected form of social interaction. This is supported by Lange's interpretation of "noble" in historical dance texts referring to the way one dances, rather than the kind of dance being done. King Louis XIV established dance as an "obligatory part of civil ized man's way of life" (1976:6). Further Lange introduces Adam Smith's definition of dance as people's "first and earliest pleasures of his own invention" through the co nnection of rhythm and movement. L ater romanticism increased interest in folklore tha t was being adopted by a more refined society (1976:11). This transition of folk traditions from agricultural pastoralists to the social elite exemplifies how the dance master tradition was able to change folk dance to suit high society through changes in t he way dancing was labeled Lange's work is a review of how perceptions of dance in anthropology have changed over time. Lange discusses Herbert Spencer's attempt to identify the origins of dance as rooted in ritual, religion and late r entertainment. This Victorian era philosopher
! $* was one of the first to promote schools of thought supporting social and cultural progressive development known as Social Darwinism. As I mentioned earlier, contemporary anthropology does not support assumptions regarding a prede termined trajectory of any society or group of people. All existing cultures exist in their own right as valid and correct as they are, and if change is instituted there is no single desired end point that such changes are obligated to strive for. INTERPRE T IVE ANTHROPOLOGY AND TRADITION Next, I consult Simon J Bronner's Explaining Tradition: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture (2011) to situate this ethnography of contemporary contra practice in a discussion of distinctly "American traditions" and the motivatio ns f or the persistence of traditions through time. In his prologue, Bronner explains that he rejects the view of tradition as having a "supposed tyranny of the archaic, pastoral past that inexplicably hung around to the present cosmopolitan day" partially due to mass media representations of tradition, in light of the modern world, as "ethereal, if not bizarre" (2011:1). Ultimately, Bronner sees tradition as a "living process in modern people's lives" that interacts with "modernity" and can be "explained b y its reference to precedence" (2011:1). Bronner discusses the tendency for the "European Enlightenment movement to promote freedom, reason, and democracy to demonize tradition as the enemy of rationality and progress such that tradition was accused of "hindering their rebellious or creative imagination" (2011:1). Bronner's ultimate conclusion regards tradition as a "feature of the lived experience [that] should make it more attractive for considerations of human life and
! %+ culture" (2011:2). Although the re is no singular global tradition that is characteristic of all people and cultures I agree with Bronner's call for increased attention to the relevance of tradition in everyday self construction. In the midst of an eve r changing world surrounding know ledge of local or ideational tradition informs people's actions in mome nts of uncertainty (2011:2 3). This phenomenon of co nnectedness is exemplified by United States c ontra music and dance tradition because participation in the dance event links one to th e general community of past, present, and future people who know and perform contra as both a practice and as members of a group. Bronner identifies the phenomenon of connectedness as a means of social bonding through ritual repetition that results in "a l asting symbolism" (2011:3). He later contrasts adult perception of tradition with children's experience of t radition, while making note of the differences between American and Japanese ascribed cultural importance of tradition. He says that in the United S tates "children are taught to embrace invention, trendiness, and novelty" and to eschew anything traditional as tainted by being behind the times and out of style," which is not the case in Japan (2011:3). In rejection of Bronner's insistence on using the ories of psychology to explain acts of embodied culture, I chose to take a relativist stance on tradition. Bronner describes this perspective as having "contended that tradition is perceived through the eyes of the beholder, rather than being capable of ob jective generalization" (2011:3). I support a relative perspective because tradition is the result of a specific way of transmitting and interpreting knowledge to/from another, whereas means of transmission must be context dependent, and therefore not subj ect to objective generalization or reception.
! %" In light of understanding tradition as a "source of insight" into understanding why people do as they do Bronner reference Jaroslav Pelikan, who sees "tradition, rather than being a relic set in stone, could b e a renewable, malleable resource for the future," such that tradition is relational; instead of being a "synonym for the past, tradition brings out the connection" of the past to the present (2011:4). This view of tradition as relational to the present; r ather than being monotonously informed habit or routine, which imply unthinking repetition" (2011:5). The intersection of tradition and contemporary societies is supported by Pelikan's identification of the "sheer presence" of tradition in modernity (2011 :5). In his "explanation of tradition," Bronner claims to be approaching the gap "between scholarship and lived experience" and answering the question of "why has tradition been belittled?" by saying that the mockery of tradition "supports the constructe d image of modernity and youthfulness as progress" (2011:6). He accuses modernity of favoring "the prestige of the novel, individual, commercial, youthful and original production, which in turn exalts the future oriented capitalist society over communal st ructures, folk creativity, and transmitted wisdom" (2011:6). I suggest contra serves as an example of the kind of tradition Bronner encourages, because it is a communal practice that has continued through time as an aspect of United States folk culture an d the recent practitioners of which attempt to transcend social boundaries of class, race, and sexuality. He situates tradition as a factor of modernity, "in response to emotional anxieties and social conflicts" (2011:7). My use of Bronner in this presenta tion of the lived experience of contra dance, music, and community is intended
! %# to situate contemporary contra in the United States as a social and c ultural anomaly in light of individualism Bonner "ultimately seek[s] cognitive sources of people's actions that have been taken on account of tradition" (2011:8) I can't fully agree with Bronner's psychological behaviorist emphasis on intentionality; however, I also can not forget that the individual's reasoning for action plays part in the experienc e of creat ive beings in culture. I have nothing to say about mental or emotional capacities; I merely seek to share what people say about how this particular traditional practice makes them feel. Bronner finds this insufficient in defending the necessity of traditio n. Bronner makes the metaphor that tradition is the fuel of a culture that "provides precedents by which they make their cultural choices and locate themselves in place and time" (2011:8.) Here, it is evident that Bronner considers tradition to be a mediu m for place based or context based id entity. The true phenomenon of United States contra dance tradition is that customs and modes of practice differ little through out the land; therefore contra dancers from coast to coast can collectively identify with e ach other even if they haven't actually danced with one another. B efore the 1960s "hippie" revival, most contra dancing was uniform, different people dancing the same dances to the same tunes in other areas. Today it is the idea of the contra community th at provides a unification of identity, rather than that collectivity being established through knowing dance/ tune pairs. I can agree with Bronner that tradition acts as a fuel that works on the minds of practitioners as it is transmitted from one to anothe r through time and in space, and this fuel is unlimited and renewable through the act of sharing (transmission).
! %$ In response to Kammen's 1999 claim that the "analytical concern for folk behavior is a sign of abhorrence for popular culture or a problem with modernity," Bronner proposes a "wider identification and deeper explanation of why tradition is such a powerful living faith and force" (2011:9). To an extent, I see that Kammen's claim on traditionalists is somewhat validated in the contra context, becau se the 1960s the contra revival was a reaction ag ainst the glorification of rock and roll and material obsessions. Even earlier on in contra dance's country past barn dances and kitchen junkets were an opportunity for people of rural regions to collective ly affirm an identity that was tied to socio economic status. Bronner writes that this deeper understanding of tradition as a force of living faith is "instrumental in disrupting the hierarchical binary of low and high culture" (2011:9). In the context of contra dance, I see that this danc e tradition has already done so; those who organize dances these days strive to create a welcoming and fluid atmosphere where "class," gender, occupation, theoretical orientations, and race or heritage have little importan ce to a dancer is identity in the midst of the dance the point of which, is to fearlessly and freely face, accept, and work together with difference. Bronner recognizes the necessity of tradition a s knowledge of the way things are done because these stra tegies help maintain "social identities and connections, and resolve their anxieties and conflicts" (2011:10). As previously noted, I cannot fully agree with Bronner's endeavour to discover the "causational or psychological" reasoning that locates the source of cultural practices. I see culture as something that ultimately exists outside of the individual, but is internalized and enacted in mome nts of contextual participation. A search for the physical correla tions of mental state to
! %% action/ performance limits the ambiguity and creativity of interpretation that validates arguments for human agency. In Bronner's theory of tradition it is the cultural framing of repeated behavior that brings "attention to tradition as an ideational force," I interpret this to mean that performance of a ritual, the element of tradition, communicates to others in the know something about the performer's ideas about or knowledge of the tradition (2011:10). Another interpretation of an "ideational force," is the effect of what p eople think on the people with whom they share present space with. It has been the case historically that tradition and culture were discussed in the context of folklore. Bronner suggests repeatedly that most representations of tradition have been posite d against the benefits of progress associated with modernism. He questions why this is the case when traditions persist through lifetimes and landscapes. The term "folklore" was termed by William Thoms in 1846, and later clarified by Edwin Sidney Hartland as being "the science of tradition" (2011:63). Bronner characterizes the discussion of tr adition inspired by Thoms and H artland as "a rush toward industrial capitalism and the rule of scientific reasoning" such that "communal societies" stand in "contrast to their modern age" and are therefore "superstitious" (2011:63). This early 19 th century vision of tradition as a challenge to the progress of business virtually dehumanizes the experience of living in the midst of others. Regardless of the extent to whi ch the urban setting evokes a sense of anonymity no one lives in the absence of others, which results in the individual's constant presence in a community characterized by practice. I choose to characterize contra as a United States "folk' practice becaus e it allows for the creation of an in group. The lived experience of contra dance
! %& approximates this reality of never being alone because one's personal enjoyment of the dance context requires the recognition and validation of others in a similar situation. Since a living contra leaves room for individual creative expression while requiring attention to the people around, the contr a experience can be seen as a mode for how in the moment consensus can be achieved The positive ramifications of accepting ind ividual creative interpretation of tradition is exemplified by contra dance because it has remained a communal practice for centuries despite economic and political pushes toward increasing individualism in the United States. Traditions such as contra have irremovable roots, they enable resistance to the norm without completely rejecting the techn ological benefits of the present. This phenomenon can be observed in many facets of the contra context, for example, the shoes that some dancers choose to dance in are the latest in arch supporting footwear. Also, the fact that some male practitioners choose to wear skirts while dan cing to create more ventilation and a comfortable dance experience exemplifies a push for practicality rather than performance according to the old ways. DEFINING ANTHROPOLOGY In this chapter I speak to the question of whether or not contemporary anthropology and the ethnographic approach are or could be truly scientific. In 1990 Michael Carrithers published the article "Is Anthropology Art or Science" where he notes that "anthropological knowledge has been thought to lack the absolute certainty attributed, wrongly, to t he natural scientific knowledge (1990:263). The accusation follows that the writings of ethnographers are purely interp retational and therefore
! %' works of fiction. Carrinther's point is that writings on patterns of interpretation and identity construction informed by membership in a collective are "reliable with in recognizable limits," rather than absolute since "all hum ans are capable of grasping a closely knit series of interactions in a narrative sequence," (1990:263) Ethnography validates practical knowledge of creative agents in social settings, not absolute knowledge of underlying structures of physical constructi on. The works of anthropologists have been accused of being "tentative rather than conclusive, relative to time, place, and author rather tha n universal (1990:263). A lthough researchers of culture from anthropology's beginning spoke of universal realities based on contextual observation, until Boaz's contribution of cultural relativity where anthropologists moved away from claims of universal characteristics by claiming their works as representative of a people "suspended in webs of significance" (accordin g to C. Geertz 1988) at a place in time, thus claims made about attitudes and beliefs of people suspended in culture are context dependent and can be related to by an outsider, and approximated by embodied experience. Anthropologists deal with knowledge ba sed "on personal experience" where J. Clifford identifies "the dialectic' of nature of anthropological knowledge its essentially interpersonal and intersubjective character." The subject of intersubjectivity is a topic fit or non fiction writing because it is a phenomenon of worldly being. As humans in this world we do not exist separate from one another, thus rendering intersubjectivity as an element of reality experienced uniquely by each individual regardless of one's consciousness of. FREEDOM WITHIN FORM
! %( The remainder of this chapter is a critique of an individualized idea of freedom, in favor of the social context of contra dance in the United States, as a collective action that exemplifies the phenomenon of subjects embodying freedom of expression despite structural conventions. I encorporate Alfred Schutz's early analysis of cultural science with ideas of freedom and culture/civilization formulated by Bronslow Malinowski and John Dewey in a discussion of cultural formations and states of mind emula ted by contra, inspired by the work of Sherry B. Ortner. This chapter also includes pieces by Maribeth Clark and Clare Parfitt, discussing the quadrille (the French predecessor to United States contra dance) as a social action that carries political meanin g associated with notions of democracy. Contra dance is able to exemplify why a mindless self indulging notion of freedom is physically impossible, and disrespectful to others because of the functional structure of contra dance. The practice of contra open s access to greater understanding of how the individual can express freedom within a structured setting. The truth of the matter is that people are never in a setting that is not structured, and since humans are individuated and expressive beings, that exp ression must fit the form of the embodied setting. It is interesting that although contra is an American tradition, contemporary contra and its practitioners express a rejection of American ideas of ethnicity based nationalism, entitlement or existence bas ed freedom in favor of a more collective and relative approach to incorporating convention into identity. Philosopher John Dewey, and anthropologist Bronslow Malinowski explain the concept of freedom as a "gift of culture" and discuss the misconceptions o f freedom
! %) wielded as justification for unbalanced self indulgence. I use Dewey's 1939 publication Freedom and Culture, in tandem with Malinowski's 1944 publication Freedom and Civilization to set the stage for an understanding of modern contra culture as a means of approximating moments of social and political freedom. The embodied experience of contra dance approximates this theoretical notion of freedom as a feeling induced via participation in regimented form, because the social context of contra is supp ortive of radical self expression in situ with formal dance structures. I chose to incorporate the works of Dewey and Malinowski, because these two academics wrote about similar social phenomena around the same time in American history, yet did so from di ffering theoretical backgrounds. As an influential contributor to present day anthropological understandings of culture and difference, Malinowski is crucial to the establishment of this work as theoretically anthropological, even if the research performed or conclusions drawn cannot be classified as strictly and objectively scientific. Although his book, Freedom and Civilization, was not compiled until after Malinowski's death it remains a work that considers the "problem of freedom" as a historically and politically constructed idea that is used in a way that does not fully agree with its practical or functional realities. Although Malinowski was a functionalist and was unable to theoretically account for change, I understand his treatment of the "problem of freedom" as relevant to the context of contra because expressions of agency in contra implies structured limitation. As Dewey recognizes culture as a mode of mutual understanding and moral regulation, Malinowski perceives culture as a timeless phenomeno n that compounds upon
! %* itself by way of agents accepting or rejecting historical and contemporary tendencies. In other words, the culture of today is a resultant factor of the successful transmission of knowledge through generations (1944:4). Aside from de fining the term culture, Malinowski defines democracy as a political order in which the relation of the individual to the community was not one of conflict, but a "complimentary relationship of give and take" (1944:4). This version of democracy is exemplif ied by contra dance because the context depends on the presence and performance of individuals who make and take experience from the general context. Malinowski clarifies that "submission to rule did not mean bondage, but enlightened interest" and the ability of self expression" of what one is and intends to not be (1944:4). This is seen in the contra context because dancers decide based on individual desires, and contextual details, how much they perceive a need to conform to called movement. I consult the work of Alfred Schutz, who draws from T.S. Eliot and Gottfried Leibn iz to discuss the philosophy of what he calls "cultural science" as a process that allows for the identification and characterization of experiences that define the acting individual as a constitutive member of a social collective where as freedom is a product of conformity to cultural tendencies. Although Schutz was never a student of sociology, his writings on the matter have been inspirational to people in the field. What schutz calls "cultural science," I interpret as a science of historically informed trends of the individual's socially constructed (subjective) identity. Culture is the medium by which people define themselves either through acceptance or rejection of trends and societal
! &+ expectations. Schutz defines the cultural sciences as theoretically claiming discussions of "subjective meaning" and the use of "ideal types" (2011:xiii). The use of ideal types is an aspect of the scientific study of culture that present day ant hropologists find theoretically distasteful. Ideal types are constructed though prejudice rooted in assumptions made about present intentions or character based on one's environmental and ethnic background, the stag e of societal expectation. The evaluation is based on something that doesn't exist: a single individual who fully represents the position and intention of all other members of a collective whole. The truth is that each individual provides a different level of unknowable complexity. Sc h utz's incl usion of the phenomenon of intersubjectivity in discussion of social realties is his expansion of and alternative to Edmund Husserl's "transcendental philosophy" (2011:xiv) whereby intuitive spiritual elements of the lived experience are valued above thos e of the empirical material reality. Both Dewey and Malinowski were writing during the commencement of the Second World War. These works are frequently in conversation with sentiments and actions taken and expressed by Nazi Germany in a way that reveals h ow a discussion of freedom and self governance is a delicate matter regarding the individual's desire for control and willingness to act immorally for personal gain, especially when there is an external structure to justify race based preference and extrem e violence. The topic of freedom via cultural belonging is relevant to my presentation of contra dance, since the practice is rooted in musical traditions associated with white dominant American culture, yet present day practitioners claim to promote a soc ial atmosphere of acceptance and
! &" openness to difference, even if that difference is not always present at a dance. Thus the present day version of contra is a rejection of historical injustice without denying the possible enjoyment of oldtime group dance a s separate from its inherently problematic past. The socially cohesive elements of contra dance are continually enjoyed without perpetuation of white hegemony. The fact that present day contra dance musicians and dancers are incorporating styles of music other than oldtime American folk, such as jazz, blues, rock and roll, and techno suggest that the present embodiment of contra dancing as a moment of unified action and shared value can propel it through generations of people and unpredictable difference. I argue, in agreement with Ortner, that any discussion of action or behavior needs to include a discussion of agency in motivati on, with freedom for people to define for themselves why they do what they do as validation of identity or freedom. In the pr ocess of fieldwork I observed some characterizations of contra culture : Dancing with many people through the course of a dance event a rejection of the tradition of dance partners having exclusive social relationships that imply romantic interest. Not d enying someone's request to dance unless one intends not to participate in that particular dance challenging tendencies of unintended discrimination based on age, dress, or dance style Wearing comfortable cloth ing representative of an open minded ness with regard to class or status where cloth e s serve a function of comfort in the activity
! Facing the challenge of working, playing, and dealing with other people acting together a validation of the notion put forward by Malinowski that "no man ever a cts alone" (1944:35) and that "not a single human actoccurs outside the context of culture" (1944:37). Smiling and joking symbols of the embodiment and expression of enjoyment Imagining contra as something more than just a dance symbolic understanding of the importance of the presence of a group that allows contra to exist as a mutually supportive community of practice. A predominance of white dancers and musicians evidence that contra is an American tradition that has persisted in the cultural lands cape since the formation of the nation, and has seemed inaccessible to minorities who associate traditional American folk music with racial injustices of the past. Touch in a social setting a challenge to anxieties regarding germs and bacteria, as well as a challenge to the relatedness of sexuality and partner dance. Talk and dance with complete strangers example of an unexpected level of trust justified by one's presence at a dance, where assumptions are made about the kind of person who discovers an d embodies contra. Children raised in the contra environment another example of how the community is trusted, such that parents respect members of the community as persons who have potential to positively inspire a child. Profession of a desire to "let go" or "have fun" an example of sensations of freedom experienced in a formalized setting
! &$ The socially constructed space that accompanies the contemporary version of a contra dance a nd perpetuates these tendencies by making room for people to observe, through embodied experience, how differences found in race, ethnicity, class, or mentality "are not due to anything inherent" (Dewey 1939:19). Even though the majority of observed practitioners are white o rganizers express a desire to explore modes of inc reasing plurality on the dance floor. However, this sentiment is not fully actualized in the dance population and deserves further exploration as to why the people who enjoy contra do not include more ethnic minorities. I present Maribeth Clark's 2002 arti cle "The Quadrille as Embodied Musical Experience to further explore how contra dance is historically informed by the French quadrille dance tradition. I use contra dance's connection to the quadrille to support the idea of contra as a cultural mechani sm designed for participants to realize the phenomenon of freedom found in structure, a sentiment characteristic of civic participation. The quadrille is the French histori cal precedent of square dancing, square dancing is related to contra in America bec ause before there were entire evenings of contra dances, the event was traditionally an evening of square dances characterized by a few contras (long ways dance). Embodied musical experience is characterized by a feeling of movement to rhythm, an act of be ing in the moment as both an individual and a member acting in unison with a community. Dance in general reflects scales of unified action. Traditions such as contra reflect the highest level of unified action; the feeling of unified action informs the gen eral consensus regarding meaningful action in a meaningful place.
! &% Clark describes the quadrille as a "frame of experience" where four couples were arranged in a square formation; it was also a social opportunity to become familiar with opera music of the day. She cites an anonymous writer from 1834: "Parisian public almost always dance an opera before they see it. Two outlets to gauge popularity: if they fail to strike our auditory sense directly, they will travel through our legs to arrive at our ear" ( 2002:503). Later, she describes the kind of opera music being produced at the time as "contrasting melodies predictable uniformativity [that is] downbeat oriented" (2002:504). More specifically 2/4 and 6/8 time played for the quadrille, which "absorbed the dance rhythms of the waltz (3/4 or 3/8) and polka (2/4)" rendering the dance as "a formal construction of five movements with a strict metrical emphasis" (2002:504). It is this emphasis on a regimented meter that is noted by most critics of contra; t hey find it boring and repetitive. Clark states that this emphasis left early contredanse and quadrille with "little room for innovation" (2002:505). However, in my contemporary experience of contra, I argue that the consistency of meter aids dancers in mo ments of innovation because they are able to know how many counts they have to be free before they must return to the form. The need for fixed meter in "the quadrille challenged the arranger to create variety within a form", such that "borrowed melodies mo ve between theater and salon, ballroom and bar" (2002:505) highlighting a connection between the people who hear the music and the p laces they go in regard to how body is contextually dependent (2002:506). Clark reports that the quadrille had meaning becau se it "belonged to all classes and knew no boundaries" since people had "access to [it in] a variety of venues"
! & & (2002:506). T his uniformity in entertainment was possible through the simplification of music for the purpose of movement. By 1820 the quadrille was considered the "standard" of the "contredanse francise" (2002:507). Clark provides a fantastic metaphor describing the social and physical phenomenon of formally structured partner dancing. She regards the "great liveliness of the event" as emanating "from mechanical beings put into motion by forces out of their control, suggesting unref ined movements of simian mingled with that of the automaton" (2002:512). This image presents the occurrence of a second level of identity construction in the lived dan ce experience because one's creative endeavors are structurally limited, however, not binding. Clark then draws a comparison between the quadrille and the cancan, where "the music increasingly provided a flexible frame for self expression a broad range of exaggerated expressive content, bodily restraint to an extreme physicality [where] neither style of dancing was limited by either gender" (2002:513). This element that is characteristic of the quadrille and the cancan is also characteristic of contra in that the dancers regularly are forced to be aware of how little space they may have between themselves and dancers in the next line over. Clark's article on the embodiment of music experience is refer enced by Clare Parfitt in "The C ontredanse, The Quad rille, and The Cancan: Dancing Around Democracy in Post Revolutionary Paris" (2008). Parfitt uses Clark's claim that "the emphasis on the freedom of movement and the lack of control signified the potential for revolution and political chaos" in reference t o "an imagined past that cherished civility and wit in entertainment" (2002:514) to explain how elements of the quadrille were
! &' incorporated to performances of the cancan. T he quadrille was alluded to in cancan performances as a form of socialization that mocks the freedom movement" and inspires the dramatic character of the contredanse where "everyone improvises according to their genius and emphasizes his or her individuality" such that the cancan inspired "early socialist ideas of the body politic"(2008: 33). This connection between dance and political revolution justify my support for discussions of subjectivity in culture that allow for moments of agency with political meaning. Both Clark and Parfitt identify a socio political tension emulated by dance s tructures and the music associated with them. Clark identifies this tension as being "between its firmly embodied nature and the idea of transcendental musical experience" (2002:525). I question what is it about the non participatory audience that makes fo r a more transcendent experience. The political significance of what Clark is approaching in her presentation of quadrille as an example of what French music is not, is referenced by Parfitt in her presentation of the connection among contredanse, the quad rille, and the cancan as "new models of the body in society" that were "influential in reshaping various European and American body politics in the 19 th and 20 th century modernity" (2008:29). This discussion of the body politic realizes the inseparability of collective action from the greater political context that the action is performed within. In agreement with Clark, Parfitt notes that "standard and simplicity allowed for the breakdown of class distinctions" (2008:29) by means of creating accessibilit y to knowledge of opera music. She classifies the dance as a "site for negotiating the tension between post revolutionary liberalism and persisting hierarchical social structures"
! &( (2009:29). The claim of extreme accessibility and the breaking down of socia l class is interesting considering it was done by "using the bourgeois model of the civilized, rational body [that the] working class found increasingly restrictive" (2008:29). From here I conclude this chapter with a discussion of Shery Ortner's 2006 "S ubjectivity and Cultural Critique" which illuminates the importance of a relative and interpretive theory of culture and social agency. In this piece Ortner focuses specifically on the "importance of the notion of subjectivity" in relation to discussions o f power (2006:37). She orients her statements around a view of "anthropology as a cultural critique" (Marcus and Fisher 1986) as an examination of "cultural formations and inner states of acting subjects" (2006:37). She challenges conclusions drawn by Emil Durkheim concerning the individual as something "through which society' does its work" by positing the acting subject as one who works though society. Rather than a product, the individual is an acting subject. She clarifies "human thinking" as "an effec t of, or medium for, the pure play of structure" where people's thoughts and assumptions are societially informed but the actions taken by individuals are not fully constrained by convention (2006:38). One area where I propose contra dance can shed light o n the agency present in a situation that might be thought of as unchan geable is in the context of racial and ethnic discrimination. A person who may feel that she/he has to be frightened or reticent in the presence of experiencing d iverse people of in a co ntra line can let their subjective enjoyment of the rhythm or groove can create a point where fear and reticence becomes a choice. That happens when a dancers decide for themselves that dancing a good dance is more important than being affected by the exte rnal world.
! &) In support of a post structural examination of the role of subjectivity in the midst of collectivity, Ortner presents it as the "dissolving of man" where "what pretends to be man in the universal sense is, literally, man in the gendered sense" (2006:39). Contra dancing symbolizes this post structural critique of essentialized gender, because even though the names of dance roles are gendered (Lady/Gent), there is not an expectation for the person in the Gent role to be necessarily male, or the La dy necessarily female. In her review of present theories of the subject Ortner explicates Piere Bourdieu's theory that the "subject internalizes structures of the external world, allowing for the formation of habitas (the "dispositions that incline acto rs" in ways constant with limits of structure") (2006:40). Ortner discusses Bourdieu in a way that identifies a "partial knowing'" held by all human beings through the inclusion of Giddens' and Sewell's call for a recognition of "agency" in all social su bjects (2006:40). She notes the importance of recognizing "subjectivity as the basis of agency'" as a "necessary part of understanding how people (try to) act on the world as they are acted upon" (2001:41). This phenomenon of subjects acting on a force t hat shapes one's ability to act is directly exemplified in the contra context by an expressed intention to have fun with the dance, and a social encourage ment to not act too far out of the dance structure in a disruptive way. In tandem with Bourdieu, Ortne r presents Clifford Geertz as the "major social and cultural thinker to tackle the question of subjectivity" who has provided a "subjectively oriented theory of culture" (2006:43). Geertz' theory of culture is two fold; culture refers to the world view of a group (a view of culture that has been criticized due to the risk of
! &* essentialism) and a "process" in "construction of meaning" (2006:43). Interpretive anthropology allows for an investigation into "local worlds of subjects and groups, who however much they are dominated or marginalized, seek meaningful lives for themselves" (2006:45). The contra community symbolizes physical sensations of freedom of meaningful movement without the inevitability of domination. Ortner defines subjectivity as "a complex of feeli ngs and fears" (2006:46). T he experience of subjectivity and feelings of alienation as individuals drive s humans toward symbolic forms designed to guide one in processes of socialization and recognition of similarity in difference, or freedom in fo rm. Ortner discusses Geertz's idea of the "ceremonialization of social intercourse" presented in his review of Ba lines e people and culture (2006:48). Ceremonialization is present in the contra event; most dance organizers encourage a pot luck style snack b reak after an hour and a half of dancing. There are also "after parties ," where a member of the community opens her/his home to dancers after a dance event for conversation, jam sessions, and an opportunity to get to know th e community off the dance floor Ortner also identifies the tendency for cultural forms to produce cultural mind sets (2006:48). The mind set established by contra culture through the centrality of the dance is one of freedom from fear rooted in judgment or ignorance of difference and wh at it means, which leads one to consider cultural forms as something legible like text. Contra dance not only has the potential to alleviate fear of difference; it can also alleviate a fear of what Ortner calls "conceptual chaos" (2006:50). The concept of chaos is immediately present in the occurrence of a contra dance. How could one know and
! '+ trust so many individuals to act respectfully in unison? It is something in feelings of alienation inspired by individual self reliance in the modern context drive peo ple toward. The destination being a sense of belonging in a community where one can be her/his self. This view of contra, and culture in general, depends on Geertz's 1973 conclusion that symbolic systems constitute human existence (Ortner 2006:51).
! '" CHAPT ER TWO ETHNOGRAPHIC CONTENT AND ANALYSIS Through showcasing excerpts of ethnographic interviews this chapter explores why contra dancers contra, how the collectivity of the practice plays into the experience, and what allows for a sense of freedom in thi s formally constructed partner dance setting. My approach, as the ethnographic researcher, is inspired by David M. Fetterman's description of ethnography as the journey a researcher takes to "give voice to people in their own local context" (2010:1). This chapter is an account of the role I played in constructing a perception of contemporary contra dance in Flor ida as a practice that fosters a sense of community or belonging, and a phenomenon that is applicable in any city and to virtually any kind of music Aside from a presentation of my interpretations of the experienced environment, I present participant dancers' descriptions of contra as a means of exemplifying how the collectively embodied pe rformance of a shared interest in having fun is present in th is reportedly safe and uplifting group setting. My fieldwork was conducted at the 2012 Snow Ball contra dance weekend, a three day event organized by the Tampa Friends of Oldtime Dance (TFOOD: pronounced toh foo di), held at the Gulfport Casino in Gulfpor t, Florida. This annual gathering is known countrywide as an opportunity for experienced dancers to participate in a familiar event characterized by a quintessential "Florida" theme, decorated with numerous pink flamingos, palm trees, and beach scenes. Thi s event was attended by dancers from all over the United States.
! '# After interview subjects selected their topic of discussion I let them speak in an open ended way until I heard them say something I wanted them to clarify or elaborate upon, or until they seemed ready for the next question. During the interview I recorded the conversation on an mp3 digital voice recorder while taking notes in a field notebook. After the completion of each interview I looked through my notes and marked key points in the con versation. As a dancer myself, my presence at the weekend was two fold. My main objective was to gather consent and conduct interviews in an attempt to gain insight about why dancers dance and how it feels, how contra has become what it is today, and what qualifies as good dancing \ dancers. Second, I attended Snow Ball simply to dance, socialize, and hear new music something I consider fun. I view my previous experience with contra as beneficial to my presentation of the social mechanics and physical feeli ng of contra because I grew up doing it and m y enjoyment has grown over time. H owever, I do not believe my status as a community member implies I would be a better researcher than a non community member performing a similar project. In light of my love for contra dance, I often found myself conflicted as "the researcher." Part of me was eager to hear what others had to say about contra, while another part of me couldn't help but just want to be dancing. My recognition of myself as an individual in a setting of active collectivism is a prominent theme in my presentation of contra as embodied participation and trustworthy in its openness to difference and the unexpected. I believe the act of contra wo uld not be as appealing if it weren't for the presence of f un oriented attitudes of accommodation for
! '$ fellow participants -a projected encouragement of positive, accepting attitudes. Participants' active recognition of contra as a community generated through a practice enables them to experience it as reliable honest, and therefore trustworthy. The way dancers are willing to reach out to fellow members of the community is the kind of attitude I see building the bridges of community, because the dance promotes visceral and meaningful connection. Dancers are pay ing attention to each other while concentrating on being responsible for completing their portion of the shared action at hand. I experienced and recognized the difficulty in adhering to my status as "researcher" most profoundly during the first evening da nce of the weekend. I had not danced for months and it was the first thing on my mind; consent forms and interviews would happen eventually. My desire to dance distracted me from my responsibilities as a researcher because the contra atmosphere is not only personally familiar, but also physically orients the participants' attention to the dancing. My attraction to the event and excitement for its beginning moments resulted in me speaking to only one dancer about my project/purpose on the first night. In ou r informal interview, Linda Ellinger from Minneapolis and I spoke about her attraction to contra as an opportunity for exper ience community outside of work. She said it is unlike ballroom dance since dancers are not expec ted to arrive with a partner Li nda challenged the assumption that partner dancing implies the couple is "together" in a larger sense.
! '% Linda was not the only informant to mention the difference between partner dynamics in a ballroom setting and those of the contra setting. Renee Brewer 3 (a Jamaican American woman dancer who lives in Gainesville, Florida) and Leslie Green (an African American women dancer from Tampa) also noted the assumption that one could show up without a partner, can ask anyone to dance, and dance with most everyone a sked, made contra appear as a relatively accessible and intriguing dance environment: Renee: I wanted to meet some people, and I saw contra dancing [in the newspaper], I called the number, and it was Berry [Gibbons] who answered. And I said, "Do you take beginners?" and he said, "Oh yes, we love beginners. Just come half an hour before we begin and you will get some training." And so I did that, and I found the people there to be very welcoming and very accommodating; everybody made mistakes, but no one ma de you feel stupid. And that was all I hoped. I had always liked dancing, and this was just one more thing that made it easier is the fact that you didn't have to have a partner. Leslie: I was single. And well, I have always danced or was a dancer of some sort since I was about four or five. And I always loved dancing, my mom wanted me to join performing arts high school in New York and I realized if I did, it would become work. And I have always enjoyed movement, so I didn't want that to become something I depended on for money. So, I was looking in the paper, The St. Pete Times, and they had this really nice spread about contra dancing. It was several pages, and they had some really cool pictures. And the thing that caught my eye was that you don't need a partner And it's like, there are times when I want to do something, but I may not be able to do it, if the white folks don't want me to do it. So my challenge was, "Well, I'm going" and since you don't have to have a partner, or at least the whole premi se is you can ask anyone to dance and they have to dance with you, which is really different than any type of couples dancing. Linda also told me about the Tapestry Folkdance Center of Minneapolis, an international folkdance non profit that in 1999 purchas ed (and now owns) its own dance hall, one of the few and possibly the first of its kind. In her 2002 article, "A Dream Come True: How the Tapestry Folkdance Center Came to Be published by the Country Dance !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! $ The name of this informant has been changed at her request.
! '& and Song Society, Lydia McAnerney notes the orga nization and its building as a "tribute to folkdancers in the Twin Cities and beyond." In the process of raising money, the organization received a $123,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation. McAnerney describes how the constant inclusion of volunteers ma kes this building "more than a building" because it "created a loyalty that will [ideally] ensure a strong community for years to come." The idea of a folk dance non profit organization owning a building supports my argument that contra aids in efforts to strengthen the bonds of community Non profit organizations such a s the Tapestry Folkdance Center need structural support to create opportunities for people to come together. Folk dancing in general, and contra most explicitly, allows people to enter a dan ce floor as equals and embody walking patterns with as little or as much complexity as one prefers, while challenging socially constructed boundaries of identity performance and discrimination because the point is to connect (physically and ment ally) with the surrounding people When practices that allow people to be accepted and accept others are structurally supported, the diversity of the community is provided with an opportunity to embody space through time and music, while working together towards fun in a shared experience of structured unpredictability. That first night I mentioned my project to a few familiar faces, and it seemed most would rather have been dancing also. Despite my anxiety about research responsibilities, I couldn't blame them or m yself in light of the surrounding positive atmosphere. The way I see it, Friday night of every dance weekend is like the Super Bowl kick off. It's everyone's first opportunity to start paying attention to the same thing, and have a great time interacting w ith it a United States pastime, where people gather, make
! '' new connections in repetitive structures of competitive/group solidarity tradition. Saturday was different; interviews were much easier to initiate since there were multiple dance sessions schedul ed with significant breaks in between. It is commonplace for the Saturday of dance weekends to include sessions of dance forms other than contra. At this particular weekend, Saturday was characterized by a session of complex square dances that provided a c hance for dancers to fine tune their "listening while dancing skills." Complex squares are used as an opportunity for callers to get seriously creative in the moment by manipulating dance forms in combinations less predictable than those of contra or simpl e squares. In my only interview with a contra musician, Max Newman of the contra band Nor'Easter (Boston, MA), he described a modern approach to contra music that involves bands adapting their music to dances "on the fly," and explained how there isn't as much opportunity for that when playing for square dances: For instance square dancing, where you would just play whatever you wanted to play, because in a square dance it's a little more difficult to match the moves to what you are going to play and the difference being that the caller is changing the order of what they're saying all the time. So it's a little bit difficult to compliment that. You would kind of just want to stay out of their way. Through recognizing a difference in the way musicians play square and contra dance music, one can imagine differences between the theories of practice employed in the respective dance styles. Whereas contra dances are inherently repetitive and momentum/connection oriented, square dances are performed as a means f or both the caller and dancers to enjoy a challenge that hones their mastery of folk dance choreography.
! '( Saturday also included a marathon dance and a callers' workshop. A marathon contra dance is the idea that multiple tune s will be played and multiple d ances will be called in sequence without breaks to change lines or partners. Marathon dances are a commitment, because participants have to dance completely through the line before they may drop out of a dance. Often the frustration with or aversion to m arathon dances stems from situations where dancers get lost or give up in transitional moments and consequently break the line, thus forcing other dancers to work around the gap. Also when transitioning from one dance to the next a confusing progression ca n threaten the integrity of an entire line. This illustrates the importance for callers to plan based on experience. "Techno" contra is usually structured like a marathon dance, where sometimes callers call, but at other times they play almost no role if the dance does not change for the entire set. In Leslie's first introduction to techno contra, she describes how the version of techno found in Florida is not the same idea she saw on video, which was most likely a dance at Warren Wilson College in North C arolina where the phenomenon is said to have begun: I have hopes for it. I saw a video several years ago of a techno contra dance, where it was dark, and they weren't calling. It's like, the y walked you through it and then the music start pounding. So, the idea is its not that complicated of a dance, and the cool thing to me was that everybody was improvising. So once you've got the basic steps, people are trying out different things and folks will rub up towards each other, and wearing flashing/y stuff that was really cool. We have been attempting it up in Tampa, and it hasn't done that. They have pretty good mixes of the music, but they insist on calling. So you can't really improvise if you have to pay attention to the caller. You know what I mean? I f they are trying to yell over the music, the music is going to be soft, so you aren't going to feel it in your gut... so you can't put all your energy into going with the music.
! ') Callers' workshops are a common element of dance weekends. Since the idea of a dance weekend is to build on previous experience and provide insider knowledge of the community's practice, giving dancers an opportunity to see contra from the caller's perspective is requisite. This particular workshop was lead by Seth Tepfer of Atlant a, Georgia, one of the two callers hired for the Snow Ball weekend. Approximately 40 people attended the workshop (some experienced in calling, others not) and a pizza lunch was provided. We began with an introduction to the idea of calling. On the most ba sic level, callers are teachers. By a show of hands there were about 10 teachers in the group. Seth explained that calling, besides teaching, is about programming, where dances are bracketed into two or three sections and the caller or dance writer design ates a theme or intention for each section. Another aspect of calling involves keeping in mind the "flow of the evening," such that it is the caller's responsibility to balance difficulty and energy levels. Seth introduced the work of Tony Parkes, Contra D ance Calling: A Basic Text where he describes the "flow" as a bell like curve, where dances are fairly easy to begin with, increase in difficulty through the middle of the dance session, and then return to being less difficult at the end. Reasoning for en ding with a decrease in difficulty of dances is important, according to this caller, because the music is designed to move and carry the dancer, which doesn't happen effectively when dancers are grappling with complex dance patterns and \ or feeling tired. The caller's workshop discussion emphasized how the music, difficulty of moves, other dancers, and the caller's expectations affect dancers' energy. With confidence, effective teaching, and full attention on the dancers, callers can call complex dances and maintain a responsibility to
! '* dancers' enjoyment while calling an impressive dance. Seth also characterized the caller as one whose job it is to "emanate joy and mak e the band look good." One way to keep energy levels high he suggested is to start some/e very dances with an entertaining joke or short story about the dance to come. The workshop concluded with an exercise where all in the group partnered up and lined up for a dance. There were no musicians; this was a dance where participants were dancing an d practicing calling in time. The basic idea behind calling is that it must happen in a timely fashion (four beats ahead of the figure) so not to leave dancers waiting in the moment not knowing what comes next the effect is seamless dancing. Once again m y ability to give in to the moment and dance waged mental war with my push to further understand the mechanisms of contra, thus making it difficult to keep my calls in time. T he most emphasized aspects of calling had to do with attention to dancers and co mmunication with bands. In my interview with the musician dancer Max Newman, he explained the same idea from a different perspective: Most of the dances that we dance now were written in the past 20 or 30 years so they don't have tunes that go with them. So now, I look at the qualities that this dance has and I imagine the music that I might play and somehow try to match my music to that dance. And on top of that spontaneously we can think about how we can interact directly with the dancing. And all that i s very typical of the modern New England way of playing for contra dances, which doesn't have much to do with traditional New England fiddle music but it's just the New England style It's a real combination between what you know you're going to sound like when you start playing and adapting totally in the moment. You know, watching the dancers. In the same interview, the contra band Nightingale was referenced as an oddity in the contra music landscape. This well known band was characterized as having "very strict arrangements" such that they expected callers to "choose the dances that will go with the
! (+ music that [Nightingale is] going to play." This is the opposite extreme of contemporary New England contra bands that invest interest in adapting their music to the dance in moments of performance. After I got into my "researcher" mindset, gathering interviews was a more seamless process. It happened that one interview usually led to another; other dancers would see me in conversation with a tape recorder a nd ask why I was interviewing people. I spoke openly about my project, which allowed the word to spread without me having to speak into a microphone (I have terrible mic fright). There were a few cases where once one interview was completed another dancer would immediately approach me with interest. Each interview began with the request for written consent. Then I provided each informant with a series of topics that characterized the scope of my research, and asked her or him to select from those topics wh at they felt they were most comfortable speaking about. In most cases informants chose to speak about their personal experience with contra and how the contra community came to have meaning in their lives. Aside from personal introductions and affinities f or contra, I expressed interest in history of the dance and music traditions, the social atmosphere/structure of dances \ weekends, and experiences with spreading the word and broadening the contra community. There were only a few informants who knew much ab out the history of contra dance other than the tradition was brought to the New World during European colonization and immigration. I foresaw that finding dancers who had a wealth of knowledge about the history of contra might be difficult. Hence, other sections of this thesis provide information from academic
! (" works about the contra tradition in the United States. In discussing people's personal introduction to contra and their experience with it, I was directly concerned with the "why" and "how" aspects of its attractive nature. I consider contra dance "attractive" because it allows for collectively individualized comfort and freedom through physical manipulations of one's own body. Berry Gibbons and Suzie Rudder, two dancers and dance organizers from Gai nesville, Florida; and Meg Wilkins, a dancer and organizer from Seattle, Washington, had this to say: Berry: Well, moving in time with music is a lot of fun. It's very flowing, and it's easy to be in the moment, which is an important thing to be. But als o it's a very nice community of people. And besides I can't really say that I have good friends at work; this is my community as far as I'm concerned The fact that the community, for the most part, is very open and loving and caring for everyone else, th ey take the time to teach, they don't get pissed off if you screw up. They understand and are very accepting, you know, I'm shocked that 90 percent of the world doesn't contra dance. Suzie: I remember a woman who, when she got divorced, said it was so nice to be able to go somewhere I could have some human touch, I could actually touch men and they would touch me, and it was social and there were no expectations of what I would do It's terribly wholesome. Meg: Well, there are three things, first, just th e joy of moving to music with other people. I don't care what's going on in my life, if I'm dancing to good music with good dancers I am in the moment having a wonderful time and I can't stop grinning. It's become my community. And you know, in the 21 st century there are all these problems of broken up communities, and where do you find community, and artificial building of community, and I have a community. It's the contra dance community. And I can go anywhere and I have community And the third thing i s that it's a way that allows me to meet and get to know people all over the country. People come to Seattle to dance, and I go other places and right away we have one thing in common to talk about. I meet people and, um, two dancers who are here were rece ntly in Seattle, and I didn't know them, but they knew other contra dancers in Seattle so I had them over for dinner, and now they are friends of mine. And I probably wouldn't have invited them over for dinner if they had any other connection.
! (# Later on in the same interview with Meg, I asked how doing contra seemed to suspend societal expectations and traditional roles: Yeah, I think one of the things inherent in the contra form, compared to something like any of the other dance forms, like ballroom dance o r swing or zyde co is that both the lead and the follow have a great deal of freedom in whether or not they lead or follow and the style in which they do it. And so you can have the young folks in Ashville doing their gender bending erotic dips and someon e else dancing completely New England traditionally in the same hands four at the same time and it works! Along similar lines, in my talk with Leslie she pointed out that the opportunity to improvise from a working form allows for increased feelings of co nnection and self confidence: Where part of me enjoys the dance I'm really savoring the music and hearing a group that really knows how to drive a dance hall you know there are some who just play, and then there are others who know how to build on it. W hich allows you to improvise. So if you are standing at the end of the line waiting for something to happen you can go dance with someone waiting in another line for those eight counts, or do you come up with your own set of steps, or play with your partne r just a bit so you can return back and dance with the people who are coming those sort of things. And the steps are, well I consider them pretty basic, and unfortunately kind of repetitive at times, unless you have a really creative caller. So I thi nk it's more about in the moment, what I am picking up from the music and the energy of the people that I am dancing around. And how exciting it is. And so yeah, part of it is about being able to lead and follow, because it gives me a well sometime the da nces are kind of simple, and at least if I am practicing my leading it gives me something more stimulating From these two perspectives I identify a connection between the fluidity of dancer roles and a rebellion against social conventions restricting or essentializing the body. I have a personal interest in the answers to questions about the attraction to contra, because my introduction to contra was not a choice. The Gainesville contra dance organized by the Gainesville Oldtime Dance Society ("GODS") wa s an event I was required to attend; it was something my mother enjoyed and there happened to be in house child care. Once I started dancing around age 10, I was attracted to it (partially
! ($ because I was already involved in different kinds of performance da nce: ballet, tap, jazz, modern). There was something fascinating about interacting with adults as a child, in a way where no one looked down on me for being young. In fact, as a young dancer I was greeted with surprise and excitement. I started dancing at a time when the Gainesville community was saturated with mature adults who were concerned for the future of the tradition in the area. I also liked it because I already enjoyed dance and the pleasures of moving in time with music, but I was astonished by t he fact that anyone else had ever imagined or knew about such a style of dace that so delicately balanced individual creativity with a structured purpose. As a child, contra was somewhat exotic to me because it reminded me of what I saw in movies when dir ectors approximated Victorian era aristocratic courts. I was at first confused by its presence in modern day United States; however, much later on I realized its relevance to community establishment through the idea of freedom in form. It made me wonder if people had always been interested in and were bonding with others through practices of the past. T his particular practice has peaked and sustained my interest for almost as long as I can remember. My early introduction to contra also sparked a certain c uriosity about people of the future. Will future generations of dancers establish traditions as inclusive and interactive as this, or are contemporary cultures subject to a future of increasing individualism? Although contra gave me a sense of belonging in the moment, it made me feel almost more alienated in the outer world when I couldn't convince my teenage friends that "square" dancing with "old people" was "actually fun." I see my sustained appreciation for contra, and a desire to share it and
! (% encourage its future facilitation, as the core motivation for this project. My experience has shown me a collectively embodied form of performance that intends to recogni ze all participants as equal by not assuming the traditional role of audience, and by challengi ng assumptions about dancer partner relations in a historically white dominated setting. Questions and comments used in interviews, where informants chose to speak about personal experience, were intended to allow dancers an opportunity to describe their i deal form of dance and dancer. I also wanted to know how participants thought of the social framework of contra -as a practice, a community, or both? To my surprise, everyone I interviewed answered this question with little hesitation, saying that contra is indeed a community, not just a practice. According to Nancy Buchannan a dancer from South Florida who is very involved in the organization of the annual Florida Folk Festival: It's a community. It's the common interest, where it doesn't matter who you are, or what race you are, or what political affiliation you have, its just a group of people who, this is what they love to do, and they do it with one another, and you make friends wherever you go with it. Meg explained: I think if there is contra dan ce every night, in every town across America, it would change the world and you know, when I talk about community, it's not just that I can meet people, and say hello. I come here every year and I see people I know You know, it's like somebody gets can cer and the community comes together to help them. According to Leslie: I think it's both; part of the practice is being in community. It's not about just learning the dance or being good at the dance, that's optional. I want to be as good at the dance as possible so I can improvise and play off, but in that I also have to be aware of who I am dancing with, the other couple I'm dancing with, and even the other people I am dancing with. You know when you go up and down the line you get to say hello to eve rybody. I have to force myself, because I used to never do this. My goal was to go in there and dance every freaking dance no matter what. And I realized I was missing out on sitting on
! (& the side and catching up with people, which is the community part. Yo u know, we came together for this reason while some of the bonuses are that you can get to know this other person, find out a little bit about their life and maybe they're someone you like to travel with and do some weekends together I really think it's a combination of both and more, I just don't know and of course people fall in love. You know one of the coolest things is to find a partner who is also a life partner who you can dance with. In addition to the communitarian aspect of contra, I questioned the role of creativity on the dance floor in order to get a feel for how dancers viewed deviation from known or traditional expectations. Is creativity something dancers strived for personally? Something they look for and enjoy encountering in other dance rs? Or did they find the in the moment creativity of others to be distracting? When I spoke to informants about the social aspects of contra, I was curious about similar issues on a personal level. I looked for information about the social environment, a nd whether or not contra was treated as a practice that dancers do because they want to become experts, or whether it is based on a shared interest in dance that allows for appreciation of otherness. I asked for examples of how the contra social experience was inclusive, and whether or not there were regional differences in the level of outsider inclusion. And finally, in consideration of the fact the contra has been practiced in the U.S. for at least three hundred years, I wanted to know how the age range of participant dancers is beneficial to a sense of community through shared practice. Similar to the question of regional differences in outsider inclusion, I questioned regional differences in contemporary performances of contra music and dance. In conv ersation with Max, he spoke to the idea of "traditional music" and the emergence of new music styles. Aside from fleshing out what regions instruments and styles were
! (' historically connected to, he noted changes in the way contra music relates to contra dan ce, speaking to acceptance of the role of creativity in making contra happen: There's a lot that, can be called old time music that tends to be thought of as Southern, which it's not. So, a lot of New England music, which is what is used for contra, ther e's a lot more influence from French Canadian stuff, Scottish and Irish, which was originally a part of old time music as well, but there is a difference in the instruments that are usually used. New England music is traditionally fiddle and piano where th e fiddle is the melody instrument and the piano is the rhythm instrument. In old time music you still have the fiddle, but you also have the banjo and something like the guitar as rhythm. You know, as much as you can generalize. The accordion is much more of a New England thing, maybe complimentary to the banjo. You know there are a lot of bands with outlandish instruments, you know like the saxophone was really popular in the forties and fifties, Old time bands you know, just play their music, they don' t necessarily worry about the nuances of trying to make for drama, which makes for an exciting pairing of the music with the dance. And that's not something intrinsic to the fiddle style, but there is a correlation there between those who play with that ol d time fiddle style and not being interested in the craft of playing for particular dances. Other than getting to know the ins and outs of dancing, calling, and music making, this project is concerned with dance group organization and outreach efforts. Whe n exploring this element of contra in interviews I asked: Is contra something to be shared, is it for everyone? Does one feel obligated to inform others, or would this gem of U.S. folk life be better if kept secret? Since contra has been growing in popula rity (partially due to new practices such as techno/crossover contra and the incorporation of online social networking) I wondered what organizers thought of a permanent folk dance hall, owned by an individual or an organization. This is what Max had to sa y: To me it makes sense, contra dancing is popular enough that you can do something like that. But that's the thing that is really pushing at the edges of what makes contra dancing unique, as opposed to just going to a bar, or going to a club and having a fun time. There are plenty of opportunities to do that. But um, because there are so many opportunities to do that I think it's worth thinking about what is special about the contra dance world and the community as opposed to the consumer [world]. The wa y I see it is that there is consumerism and then there is community and sometimes consumerism is trusted in a way that makes it seem to deserve community, but I view them as ultimately not being compatible.
! (( Friends with previously established shared intere sts in folk culture and/or community introduced some participant dancers I interviewed to contra. Berry Gibbons is one of my first informants who was introduced to contra by a friend from Elkins, West Virginia. She was a musician who became familiar with t he Gainesville old time music scene, and suggested he meet her at a weekend. Even though Berry admitted to not dancing at his first introduction to the community, he later attended a local dance "and that was it." Margaret Wilkinson remembered her introdu ction, taking place on Memorial Day weekend, 1980: I was looking for a place to live in Seattle, and I have a friend and I was going to stay with her while I was looking and she said, "Before you go around looking for a place to live come down to Seattle C enter, they've got something called folklife' and I want you to try something called contra dancing,' I think you might like it." I've been dancing ever since. Nancy Buchannan was introduced to the experience of folk dancing when she was a little girl "doing buck dancing with my grandfather in southern Indiana." Buck dancing, as described by Nancy "is a form of clogging only it is done individually and not in a group there is no rehearsed much of anything you just kind of learn steps and it's basical ly a reel, R.E.E.L, beat that you do it to." Although buck dancing has very little structural connection to contra, it is a strong element of U.S. folk dance traditions inspired by Western European dance styles. A traditionally racialized form of entert ainment among enslaved people, buck dancing, can be extracted from (however, not forgiven for) its problematic past when viewed as an embodied practice that combines the roles of dancer and musician into a
! () singularly, yet collectively, created individual p erformance. Although buck dancing incorporates the phenomenological unification of dancer and musician, it does not represent the same phenomenon of collectivity that contra facilitates. Later in her dancing career, Nancy was introduced to contra dance "at the Florida Folk Festival, probably 35 years ago" when there was "no organized dance stage" and the only dancing was presented as a traditional performance, not as an inclusive practice. She recalled beginnings of contra at the Florida Folk Festival in Wh ite Springs : Cubby Whitehead, who lived in Sarasota started teaching contra dancing to the campers at about midnight in the campground, in the dirt, with no light just grab a bunch of musicians and tell them what he wanted them to play and that is actu ally where I learned to contra dance, and as more and more of the campers got involved in it they began telling the festival that we want a dance rather than as a performance, but as an activity to do, because it is a part of everyone's history. And for ye ars after every night's performance we all danced until one or two in the morning in oak roots, and pine roots, we didn't know what and we didn't care we would have liked to have a floor, but we used what we got. Aside from dancing in Gainesville as a child, I have also attended and contra danced at the Florida Folk Festival at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center for many years. When Nancy was exp laining her introduction, I beca me overwhelmed with excitement at the thought that I was actually speakin g to a dancer who "was one of the ones with a mouth" (her words) who was incredibly successful at contributing contemporary contra dance to the landscape of Florida folk life. Beyond their introduction to the practice I explored how dancers and musicians personally connect to the holistic experience of contra. Max offered three ideas or objectives that he considered important in making contra music. The first of which is that [the music] helps the dancing. You know, it's good to dance to. Second of which is that it is enjoyable to listen to; you know, I want to make music that
! (* people like, and its not just that it technically helps you out, but that you enjoy listening to it. And the third part of that is a little bit ambiguous. But it is important to me that the music that I make is connected with the tradition and supportive of the traditional community aspects of contra dancing. Some dancers described their personal connection to contra dance as "spiritual." Berry was the most forthright with this pers pective. In response to my question of the spiritual elements to the dance experience, he answered, "Oh yeah, sure! And it has to do with being in the moment, where being in the moment has to do with a mindfulness and meditation in a dance, because you hav e to be right there." This concentration or need to "be" in the moment, both physically and mentally, supports my understanding of contra as a collectively embod ied phenomenon that allows for personalized freedom in the midst of a formed and structured con text. Even Suzie, a dancer who identified as "not particularly spiritual," recognizes the greatness of contra as being able to go virtually "anywhere in the country and know somebody or meet somebody who knew someone I know." Between these two differing pe rsonal connections to contra, one can imagine how it is simultaneously a personal practice, and yet a shared experience. Meg takes a bit of a different perspective on the question, "What connects you personally to dancing?" she reports particularly enjoy ing "chaos." As I have come to find, "chaos" is a legitimized excuse for adventurous dancers to bend, and sometimes blatantly disobey the rules of how traditional contra functions. However such moves are performed in a manner that does not obstruct the pr e est ablished structure. Meg explained her recognition of freedom in the contra form by relating it to Haiku poetry: There's just so much freedom in the form. It's a basic form that you can play with. It's like Haiku; seventeen syllables give you a great d eal of freedom, because it allows you a space in which to play with words. It's like if someone just told you to come up with
! )+ some words you wouldn't know where to begin. But ask them to come up with seventeen syllables and anyone can write a Haiku. It may or may not be good, but it gives you a framework to work from. And in many fields it's a great release for creativity. Similar to Suzie Nancy reports having little spiritual connection in her experience of contra. However, she did describe it as somethin g the makes her smile and feel good because "it is the one activity that I do and don't give a doggone what anybody else thinks" I don't care who's there, who's watching, it makes no difference how many times I screw up. I don't care. It doesn't matter L as t year I hurt my knee and I couldn't dance. And my husband said, "Why are you going to the dance? You can't dance" and I said, "Because it's the dance" so if that's a religious experience, then yeah, it is. Otherwise it's just the dance and I need to d o it. I love to dance; it's my favorite thing in the whole world to do. Between these two dancer perspectives I see different, yet similar reasoning for allowing oneself to personally connect with the practice. On one hand there is a dancer who loves contr a because it is an art form she can elaborate upon for increased satisfaction through momentary complexity, and on the other, a dancer who realizes the presence of collective structures that are ultimately forgiving and supportive. These two explanations o f identifying with this dance form allow me to draw a connection between intentional creativity and acceptance of imperfection and difference in the world outside one's self. As I have mentioned, o ne of my main research questions concerns whether contra i s understood as a community or a practice. Since I consider this research an ethnography of practice, I use participants' statements to explain how practices inform the establishment of identity based in community membership and appreciation for commonly s hared objectives.
! )" I think that we all hope that it's a community. When you start dancing, it's that you aren't just coming in and going home it does make you a part of a community. For instance, in Gainesville that's one reason why we have always tried t o have a group get together after a dance. It used to be at a restaurant or bar or something like that, and um, now we have something at people's houses. So, I mean if you talk to organizers, that's kind of their goal, that you want it to be inclusive (Suz ie) Here, Suzie brings up an important point establishing a community never "just happens," it has to be willed into existence by the creation of opportunity. Yes, the act of contra dancing creates an opportunity for strangers (for the most part) to ente r a publi c setting as fun seeking equals. H owever, it is helpful for organizations to establish that the borders of the dance community are not limited to the dance floor or the dance hall, and need to have space to thrive. Aside from how community is enco uraged, I asked Suzie about the role of social pressure when an experienced dancer sees a newcomer not dancing: Oh yeah well, I remember doing that with a couple that lived in Micanopy who came and they both were just watching, so I said, "Come on I can ge t you though a dance, I can show you what to do and where to go and everything." And he said, "I didn't come here to dance with you, I came here to dance with my wife." And I was just like, "Ookaay." This scenario can be used to explain that, even though highly structured and rooted in historical traditions, contemporary dancers use the practice to challenge societal norms. The assumption that dancing with someone ca r ries subliminal messages of attraction or loyalty is directly challenged by the way contem porary contra dancers dance, because truly good dancers can and will dance with anyone. This can be supported by the fact that same gender dance partnerships between heterosexual females and males happen regularly. This phenomenon of dancer/role freedom is an example of a shared value among contra dancers. I cannot claim contra intends to change the world; however, the
! )# contra experience can change the way one thinks, or what one has been taught, about partner dance, United States folk culture, and other peo ple in general. While Renee Brewer does not usually go to the after parties at the Gainesville dance, she sees it as "the thing that helps people to bond. Because when you're dancing you can't really talk with people, so when there is a party I think that helps the community get closer." In addition to collectively challenging societal norms, the contra community shares a value of collective support. Meg told me a story of a woman dancer from Seattle "who had a heart attack in the middle of doing a remodel and the community stepped in and finished the remodel faster that she would have done it herself." Even though Meg had no particular construction skills; she helped paint rooms, and went on to describe the experience of the community as being there "emot ionally, physically, financially, in addition to it just being a fun thing to do." According to Renee Brewer the Gainesville contra community supports and sustains itself through cooperation: It may happen less frequently now, but I remember when in the p ast, a fellow dancer needed help doing things and packing up and several people went to help her pack up. And so I see it as being very cooperative, and I don't know if it's like that everywhere. When I asked Nancy if she felt a responsibility get fellow dancers or newcomers (more) involved, she answered affirmatively, with a qualification: Yes. Not at a dance like this, not so much, because here we are pretty much on equal footing. But at a local dance, where you have people who don't know how to dance, or are unsure of it, then I am called to try and get them to dance. Here it is every man for him self. Find the best dancer and go for it! By asking participant dancers about both the individual and the collective experiences of contra dance I am making a statement about the form of contra having fluctuating functions characterized by individual preferences or desires. Whereas dancers who enjoy
! )$ or experience a sense of belonging, the practice of contra servers as a means towards establishing community statu s. If they are willing to open themselves to the community, the contra practice becomes imbued with great significance. In addition, the basic form of dance and music allows creative individuals to express responsibly and at times to inspire others both in dance and life. Max spoke in detail about his perception of the social and communal aspects of contra. Like myself, he sees "something in the form of contra dancing that lends itself to really support community building" because contra is an experience o f moving with and among others, while "you get the experience, hopefully, of having danced with everybody in the hall." Beside identifying collectivity and moving as a whole (as in "Long Lines" where dancers face across the set, hold hands with dancers alo ng the side, and walk forward and backward), Max identifies "moments of individuality, for instance, when you twirl." When speaking about the signific ance of moving together he drew an analogy between momentary togetherness and feelings of isolation in the modern world: You know, living our lives through Facebook. Or not having connections at all. The fact that here you can have an actual physical connection with people and can develop relationships with them and that we come together as equals on the dan ce floor you know, that idea that you can have a 10 year old dancing with a 60 year old And it's something that's sort of countercultural, because in the rest of our lives someone who is a different age than us there's some sort of power relationship th ere, right? They are your teacher or your parent or your boss. But in contra dance I think there's a way of getting out from under that. Because you can interact with people you wouldn't normally interact with. Max also describes the holistic realities of contra as an opportunity to recognize the existence of others, while like Suzie, he reminds the audience of this thesis that
! )% community is something that must be willed into existence by allowing the boundaries of the community to stretch past the limits of the dance floor. We are not just physical objects encountering each other. You know, this person that I am doing an allemande with is not an automaton that says, "I need to accomplish this move," but they are a human being that I get to interact with in that moment, and I especially love those dances where either there is a lot of time in between dances so you can socialize, or where everybody goes out to a diner, or something like that afterward, because then you are building on the connection you have m ade, and that's what about the dance is really important, the thing that the dance enables, which is that meeting people and finding someone, making a connection that feels kind of rare. Max's unique point of view as a dancer and m usician is exciting, es pecially in this discussion of contra as a collectively constructed reality, because he experiences the community from two opposing points of orientation. Musicians usually sit or stand on stage; dancers are practically in continuous motion off stage. Musi cians play music they have written, while dancers dance dances written by a third party. And finally, musicians get paid, while dancers pay to dance: As a musician I feel conflicted about the fact that I get paid in order to participate in the community and I make part of my living off of it And almost all dances are run because people love to do it, not because they have any interest financially doing it. You know, there are not people out there who are contra dance promoters that work in the same way a bar might work. Where you hire a musician. I would be very disturbed if that was the case. And you know, I am holding contra dancers to a double standard somewhat, because I get paid to do this. If the underpinning of dances were capitalism versus commu nitarianism that would really, well the idea of it would make me a little sad. And that makes me really love organizers, because they are doing it because they love it, or they want to build community, not because they want to maximize the amount of money that they make. Structurally and functionally it is currently necessary for musicians and callers to be paid by dance organizations, if only for travel and lodging expenses. Although contra is gaining popularity, there are still few contra musicians and c allers who support themselves solely by playing/calling dances. However, I do hope for a possible future
! )& characterized by famous, world renowned callers and contra bands. If contra grew to such great proportions, could its community centered philosophy tha t encourages communitarianism withstand the test of international fame and commodification ? In order to grasp the complexity of contra as both a community and a practice, I agree with the possibility for t he double standard Max described If contra were a complete commodified experience would the practice remain radically inclusive? As Max sees it: Personally, as a musician, I feel somewhat in the middle. You know, I am popular as a musician because we do a good job. So then I get to travel places and pl ay music. So there is a consumer aspect, because to some extent there is a product in the music that I am doing. And its hard not to at least some of the time think about that For me, I am very careful and I think it's important to be about what role do I have as an individual, in terms of the choices that I make, in terms of the kind of music that I make. Does it serve a community? Or is it simply about making decisions from a consumerist standpoint? And you know, I have to balance that personally in my own life. And I think I wrestle with it maybe more than some. The fact that Max and other participant dancers see a responsibility to personally represent that which they wish to see in the whole community supports my presentation of contra as both a c ollective and individually embodied community of practice that informs and promotes the distinctness of a contra identity. The oscillation of attention and ability to negotiate between one's self and the whole is the kind of mindfulness that I see encourag ing the same mental skill required for meaningful participation, a practice necessary for effective community building where residents feel comfortable being involved in the cooperative process. Speaking to the mental skills noticeably associated with cont ra dance, Leslie, who is a behavioral therapist, shared her personal theory about children who are raised in the contra setting:
! )' If I had to have a theory about contra dancing, its that when you start young people contra dancing, where like they are actua lly raised in it, they seem to have a broader sense of the world. They're more poised with different types of people, including older people um, I don't know how to say it, but that interests me And I have talked to other people about it, you know we've got the "hippie dippies" who wrap their kids in the Celtic thing on their chest and dance with them, and then we'll see them start walking, and we'll see them growing up dancing. I have seen a few kids like that, and they recognize you, say hi to you and have a conversation with you; they aren't monosyllabic or anything like that, and they are less attached to things and they become open to dancing with adults As a researcher of a community of practice it is one of my responsibilities to question the con cept of practical expertise in contra. When it comes to something as free in form as contra this question is hard to ask, and even harder to answer. Instead of questioning expertise, I pursued the same idea by discussing qualities that make a "good" contra experience. This concept of preferred performance includes a discussion of creativity and whether or not it is respected or desir ed. As Suzie put it, "You're a good contra dancer if you know all the steps but a lot of it has to do with how you deal with the other people in the group." A respected community member involves a level of "sensitivity to the groove," "taking care of who you are dancing with," and "making the whole dance successful and not just showing off." Suzie went on to elaborate on this co ncept by referencing something mentioned in the caller's workshop: When another person was talking about how boring South Florida dances can be with beginners and old people, I said, "You would hope there's a group of core dancers who know how to deal wi th that." There are dancers in Gainesville who are very good about pulling the beginners into a contra. They will make sure to ask beginners to dance. They will even notice when there's an entire hands four of beginners and suggest that they split up and d ance with those experienced dancers. So that sort of stuff is really what makes a good contra dancer to me. In this setting I would identify the goodness Suzie talks about as directly associated with paying attention and knowing what works. I dentificatio n of what is not preferred is another matter. Suzie described what is undesirable to her :
! )( The worst thing are the people who know all the bells and whistles, want to do all this flashy stuff and they run into people or you could get elbowed but the ne west thing with the young people is instead of a courtesy turn they just drop you to the floor and pick you up real fast And that's not to be what makes an excellent dancer because it's a part of that whole community thing, everybody is responsible for e verybody to see that everybody is enjoying it and having a good time. Leslie described another undesirable aspect. She experienced being treated noticeably different from other dancers when she'd ask people to dance because of some exciting part of their style that interested her: There still are not a lot of black people who do this, at least in the places that I have danced, I might have seen just one or two other people who are African American, I see a lot of other nationalities, but they are still va stly in the minority and so that hasn't changed. And part of what I started to notice was another type of prejudice, which had to do, in part, with size the last great prejudice and to some extent with age. And so you could dance with certain people, y ou can ask anyone to dance, and I consider myself a very good dancer and a very good follower and I love that experience of the play between the follower and the lead, where you are talking to each other but not talking. And I'll see somebody whose a reall y fabulous dancer, and I'll want to dance with them, because I want to play, and what I'll get they'll dance with me but it won't be fun. Aside from good music and sensitive dancers, "You got to have a good floor," acco rding to Meg, who also described w hat good contra isn't: "the decorations." She said decorations can "enhance the experience, it can also detract from the experience, but it doesn't make the experience same with food." These comments once again bring paramount attention to the intrinsic c haracteristics of the dance, forgoing external characteristics of the material world that are indirectly related to the embodied practice and experience at hand. Since there is a delicate balance between dancing for one's self and dancing with another, th e role and appropriateness of creativity becomes very interesting. Suzie describes creativity as being "iffy," meaning it "depends on how it's done," which has to do with "being able to see what works in a given situation." Meg sees creativity a s "not
! )) nec essary." She described dancers who dance traditionally as "very good dancers and very smooth." At the same time she expl ained "If you want to be creative there is plenty of room to play." In my previous experience with contra I have heard the term "play" in relation to dance styles, but never felt comfortable enough to make it a goa l of mine. Here, Meg articulated the "play" practice: T here is a very basic [play concept] that's been around since the 80s that's pretty common is to go down the line with a partner, and then not cross over at the end of the line and dance the other person's role as you go back up. And that's like the original at least for me, and then one step up from that is switch back and forward with your partner each time the dance repea ts itself, or as often as possible. So that can be really fun, and then you get to the next step being parallel play, where you play with one or more other couples who are heading your same direction in the line, so when the men go in for an allemande the women play musical chairs or the people in the "follow" role so there's that switching of partner and gender roles as you dance up and down the line. I asked if she noticed a social pressure to play? Only in the far left line at LEAF [Lake Eden Art s Festival] in Ashville. There is definitely pressure there. If you don't want to play, you don't belong there. And then there's what people generally call "chaos" where at least that's what it is called now on the West Coast, it changes monthly you can switch gender or partner with someone who is heading the other direction and you may never see [your partner] again. Later she told the story of her "biggest chaos" moment during a marathon "where chaos was encouraged, but not required." She started in the top hands four and decided her goal was to never progress or be let out. In order to see her goal through she was forced to adapt in the moment by dancing as both the Lady and the Gent at the top of all five lines. In her description of this moment, M eg gave a clear account of what it's like to grow as a contra dancer: And I think what makes that so much fun is when you first start dancing you go through this period of really needing to pay attention, and maybe getting frustrated and eventually you g et to this point of it being really fun, but you have to stay focused in the moment, your in that "in the moment flow" and then you get better, and you don't have to be there, and you end up doing it automatically and you can kind of get bored with it, but when
! )* you start changing gender and partner and playing, you go right back to that "in the moment flow" where you have to pay attention or you can't do it. From what I can gather based on this description, and the bit of "play" and "chaos" that I have co me across in my own dance experience, these concepts allow for a kind of contra dance that may never be mastered, since the creative inspirations of others are unpredictable. A mode of practice that establishes the possibility for contra to be a life long hobby that will remain familiar, but can never become stale. In light of "chaos" and "play," it is important to remember that each dancer has a responsibility to maintain a level of awareness of and sensitivity to others sharing the experience. After bein g informed about various characteristics of chaos and play by Meg when I heard Leslie start to talk about play I became more interested in how play is initiated among dancers, when the caller doesn't directly defined a play/chaos line. I was curious about whether the initiation of play was conversational or intuiti ve. This is how Leslie described her process: So it may be someone that I have already encountered in passing and had fun with them, or they seem to be dancing at my level, or there was somethi ng engaging about the experience that makes me think, "This person might be fun to do a whole dance with." So I won't have a conversation; it has to do with what I have previously encountered of them in the line, and I am curious and want to try more of th at. For Leslie, initiation of playing with the contra form is an intuitive feeling is rooted in previous experience. She went on to explain that this is her mode of operation because having a conversation about a term a vague as "play" can be very awkward if dancers are not familiar enough to know if their respective versions of play are in agreement. When I spoke to Max about the role and appropriateness of creativity he situated his answer in terms of individualism and collectivism. He accepts that contra requires recognition of
! *+ collectivity that is embedded in the form. In a case of ultimate individualism on the dance floor, the caller would have no purpose. Aside from justifying a collective mindset by the form of contra, Max gave his personal perspectiv e on the incorporation of creativity: As a dancer, I am disturbed by the level of individualism that I see. Like a good example is when people are doing Long Lines or a Circle, and not everyone is technically holding on to each other and I'm sure yo u've seen that, where a couple chooses to do a dip instead of participating in long lines. And I will admit that it sort of makes my blood boil because I feel like that whole thing is the point of participating in a dance. You know, if you want to go off a nd dip, you can do that, but its no longer contra dancing to me. For Max, physical connection directly symbolizes a mental connection that encompasses the contra experience; therefore it is important to him (and like minded dancers) that creativity is used in a manner that respects or calls back to the traditional practice and the idea of individuals representing sharable values. His view of a "good" dancer reflects a personal responsibility to the surrounding people: The number one thing for me that make s a good dancer is that they dance with who they're with and they make the best of that experience as can be, while also keeping in mind the dynamic. So for instance, say I am dancing and I really like dips and everything, and I run into someone who doesn' t, it's good that I dance with them. Or even a better, more minute, example would be say I was dancing with someone and their swing was a little different than mine, then I adapt to their swing. You know, maybe they aren't doing a "buzz step," they're doin g some other thing. I am going to adapt to that. And I think that amount of accommodation for the moment that you're in, both with the individual that you're dancing with and with the group So basically my definition of a good dancer is someone who makes dancing around them very easy. In my experiences as a dancer I can see that Max is not alone in his opinion that good dancers mold themselves to the surrounding situations. There have been many times where I have observed older dancers being more energetic with younger dancers, most likely due to an assumption that the younger crowd more easily accepts elaboration and challenge, thus exemplifying that age based prejudices happen in both directions. The
! *" shared value of paying attention to the people around y ou is a necessary component of contemporary contra culture, which allows for a sense of contra as a shared community. This perception of membership and inclusion is made possible through the presentation and recognition of trust. Considering contra as some thing that can be playful and serious at the same time, it is interesting to see how dancers perceive and deal with flirtatious attitudes. Similar to the way creativity is seen as a motivation that must be balanced, flirting in the contra context can also be a delicate matter. Since trust allows for a sense of community membership, I asked informants how they see and interpret "dance flirting." According to Berry, "There is a certain way of flirting, or having fun with a person of the other gender without i t meaning a nything sexually." He elaborated on this balance: Being in the moment as a male or a female and moving to the music. It doesn't have anything to do with sex. But, yeah, that line could be stepped over very easily, and when it is, it makes that other person uncomfortable you have to be sort of cautious of that. Sometimes there are people who don't understand that they've crossed a line and they keep stepping over and that's when sometimes they have to be taken aside and told, "Heywhat you're d oing is considered a little inappropriate; you need to dial it back" Here, Berry gives an example of how dancers look out for one another in an attempt to further the sense of trust and belonging in the momentary construction of the dance event. On this t opic Suzie introduced an interesting and challenging point. Yes, contra is a community of practice that fosters a sense of inclusion and mutual support, but there are some life styles or personal decisions that are not fully accepted by the contra communit y: Suzie: You know, there is no alcohol so you don't have drunks. Julie: Is it usually the case if one notices a drunk person causing a problem, that someone would ask them to leave?
! *# S: Oh yeah. They might talk to them and you know, often times when peop le write about contra they say that there is flirting but it's a certain kind of flirting and if you feel uncomfortable it's gone beyond what we think it should be. This awareness of a need to collectively support and defend the individual's comforts and a willin gness to act on behalf of other s comfort levels form the groundwork for what makes contra a form of mutual support in contemporary U.S. culture. Max made note that dancing in "sensual and intimate ways is most comfortable with dancers you know wel l." For him it is also important to be dancing with someone he knows well in "techno contra." He described the relatively new rendition of contra known as techno or crossover as best growing "out of a pre existing dance community with a large group of youn g and/or energetic dancers who are very creative," because "techno contras have many different moods in and of themselves." One way of accounting for the variability of techno contra social atmospheres is to recognize that electronic dance music comes from different traditions than those of old time or New England contra music. Dana Parkinson, a young dancer caller from the Tampa Bay area, told me about her experience with the crossover style as a techno contra caller: In North Carolina, where I first expe rienced techno contra, the dancing was hot, steamy, sexy, intimate and rowdy! When I put on a contra dance here at home, I go for a more fun, energetic vibe that is less sexy. I know my local dancers, and try to let techno contra fit their community in a p ersonalized way. Am I alluding to the fact that the techno contra I danced in North Carolina was too rowdy and club like for my local dance? Absolutely. We have a very different vibe down here. We have different dancers and different dancing. This recognit ion of regional differences between dance styles can be explained in part by differences in age demographics between participants in the Appalachian and New
! *$ England regions, and contra in the South. Dana's descriptions of her intentions as a contra caller give context to Leslie's description of her thoughts about techno contra: I have hopes for it. I saw a video, several years ago of a techno contra dance, where it was dark, and they weren't calling. Its like, the walked you through it and then the music st arts pounding. So, the idea is its not that complicated of a dance, and the cool thing to me was that everybody was improvising. So once you've got the basic steps, people are trying out different things and folks will rub up towards each other, and wearin g flashing /y stuff that was really cool. We have been attempting it up in Tampa, and it hasn't done that. They have pretty good mixes of the music, but they insist on calling. So you can't really improvise if you have to pay attention to the caller. You know what I mean? If they are trying to yell over the music, the music is going to be soft, so you aren't going to feel it in your gut, and they are trying to tell you what to doWhat I am willing to do with somebody, no matter what age, may not be what a young guy wants to de when he meets me on the dance floor Considering these two informants' statements, both made note of regional differences between North Carolina techno contra and newly establ ished Florida techno contra, I would like to identify a cle ar example of the age prejudice present in contra, regardless of the potential contra has for fostering intergenerational bonding. Da na is a relatively young dancer and an extremely new caller, who has fallen into a trap of age space and region based assum ptions about dancer preferences. From her statement I gather that she feels that "older dancers" would not appreciate the physical innovation embodied by Warren Wilson dancers. However, Lesl ie is a relatively older dancer from a Florida contra community, w ho would love to have a local opportunity to dance like they do in North Carolina (with less instruction and more emphasis on music and physical elaboration). I wanted to ask dancers about their personal experiences with outreach and dance group organizat ion, in order to get a feel for how active members work to ensure the future of contra dancing as a folk practice in the United States. I consider it a distinctly U.S. folk practice because contra as it is know today was shaped by 20 th century
! *% Americans (i n both the 1930s and 1960s) reaching back to a shared past. However, today contra is practiced in countries worldwide and is, therefore, possibly becoming less distinctly "American." For example, Suzie told me about a contra event in New Zealand where sh e came across a great dancer who, when Suzie complimented her, admitted it was her first actual dance. It turned out this woman learned the concepts of contra dance from instructional videos on Atlanta's contra dance website. The advent of the Internet and global social networking technologies should be recognized as influential players in facilitating the popularity and simple awareness of contra as a contemporary practice. As noted by Nancy, when a dancer mentions contra to another person, the response i s never "sounds kind of familiar." It is always the case that one either knows about it or has never heard of it before. For a practice that has been in the background of American culture for so long it is interesting that there is such a stark difference between those who are in the know and those who aren't. Berry spoke to me about steps the Tallahassee dance community took to spread the contra word: The way I understand it, they went to the campus Christian groups, and said, "Look, this is a great thin g for young adults to do. It has nothing to do with sex, or drugs, or drinking, or smoking. It's a great way for kids to have fun." And you know, so the Christian groups started coming, and then once you hit a certain level of young people, you know, it's fun for people whether you're Christian or not. Its just fun to be there as a kid with other kids. The fact that Tallahassee dancers were able to intentionally target, introduce, and include members of a religious group in the local dance community support s my claim that contra is a practice that can challenge social stigmas and allow people to recognize one another on a human, rather than political or romantic, level.
! *& Aside from outreach, I asked Suzie, a caller dancer and Gainesville Oldtime Dance Societ y organization member, about the sort of things bands and callers expect from dance groups when scheduling a dance: When a group is deciding whom they want to be doing the booking of bands and callers, they want someone who has danced enough that they are familiar with who is in the area. Years ago, we, I had this awful sheet of paper that had names and phone numbers of people scribbled all over it, and we would just call them to schedule of course now I have emails for everyone and I say these are the dates for the next six months, give me three dates that will work for you. I also wanted a caller's perspective on what works, and what doesn't work, when teaching contra to beginners. Suzie knew a woman who had four concepts she said were necessary to co mmunicate to new dancers: The main goal is to have fun, the second thing is dancing to the music, [third] dancing with your partner, and [fourth] swings" others have said "just giving weight and swinging." So uh, what people have started out with now is just circle to the left, and to the right, eight beats. And things like allemande and how to do it with some weight, and do si do, and swing, and then getting into lines And what I've found out is you get them to teach things like "up" "down" "across," wh ich is real big. And you know "neighbor "and "partner" I was talking with another caller about what to do with people, and you really just have to watch really carefully. After answering the question she directed me to Seth Tepfer's website, dancerhapsod y.com, where he has recorded dances, caller's advice, and links to other contra sites such as contradance.org from the Atlanta, Georgia dance group. In her description of what it is like to organize and run a dance weekend, Meg mentioned how organizing a dance can be as complex or as simple as one makes it. Related to our discussion of decorations and how they never make or break a true dancer's experience, she used the pre established identity of the Leif Erikson Hall in Seattle, Washington as the theme for her weekend: "Vikings." On top of all of the
! *' subsequent responsibilities of being a dance organizer, she cannot justify putting too much thought into externalities unrelated to the dance experience itself. She expresses a similar attitude when it comes to snacks at the dances. On Saturday we dance for six hours and I buy three big boxes of bananas and I put out a knife. And I say if you want less than a whole banana, then here is a knife." This method differs from the incorporation of snacks at Snow B all, because Snow Ball organizers offered a plethora of food throughout the event, a variety of fruits, salads, baked goods, and breakfast foods. The Friday night snack array was a potluck. Continuing on the topic of dance weekend organization, Suzie share d her experience at Splash Dance, a fairly new weekend in Ashville. She expressed enjoyment and praise for this weekend "because anyone who wanted to call could get up and call a number of dances." Although it was "kind of arranged beforehand," this exerci se in caller fluidity thickens a tendency in contra to create increasingly complex means of inclusion and real time creativity. Max is "on the committee for a youth dance weekend in Vermont." If conducted, this weekend will be the first of its kind, and controversial since the idea is based on age and contra is generally a practice of inclusion. He described inspiration for the weekend as an opportunity for young dancers "to get a chance to see that they have a real powe r in the community." He explaine d that since young people today are "so used to being receivers of information pleasure, and entertainment," it is necessary and beneficial for dance weekends to "remind people that they are a part of creating [the] dance" whether or not they see themselv es playing an active role. He said:
! *( Your participation and whatever your level of consciousness is, your participation is having an effect of what kind of dance that is. So that is one of the active ways that I try to convey my perspective and my values and it's valuable to me that this isn't the kind of dance form that or a community where there is one authority telling you how to do things. I really like the fact that there is a great deal of variety in approaches. And different people have different v alues in terms of what contra dancing means to them. The participatory nature of contra dance and contra communities gives the practice potential to alter the way one views individuality and interconnectedness, in contrast to alienating tendencies of the modern world. Dana identifies the importance of contra as "a place to come together as a community that is not religiously affiliated." She sees the value of local dances in their capacity to foster as sense of extended family, while praising weekends as a life changing experience" that presents "opportunities for travel, meeting new people and dancing to the best talent the dance world has to offer." In order for me to fully grasp the groundbreaking character of contemporary contra dance and its transn ational community, it was important for me to question dancers' perceptions of change over time. Berry has noticed that "a lot of people turn away from old time music" because they see something exotic about the adaptability of New England contra bands to sometimes create tune s in the moment to match certain characters of a dance. This trend is noteworthy because it shows a movement away from historical roots, which I don't see as completely negative considering the problematic racialized history associated with some conventional United Sates folk and music culture. Berry sees this transition differently than I do. He sees an importance in having "old time bands to remember who we are and where we came from." When remembering the past it is important to ens ure that recognition of the past does not become a celebration of mistakes, validating structural injustices today.
! *) Contra today is very different from both the place and time of its origins. Max provided me with information describing the early transition and beginnings of the contemporary contra style, which is the form of contra practiced today that has been separated for generations from its racialized past. He begins with how the first actual evening of just contra dances, no squares, began in the late 1960s and early 70s because of a historically significant caller from Bloomington, Indiana, Dudley Laufman. Laufman's journey in creating the contemporary United States contra event is presented in the documentary The Other Way Back (2007) directed by La ufman and David Milstone. Laufman transformed what was traditionally an evening of squares and a few contras into an evening of just contras and facilitated the spread of this phenomenon countrywide. Max identified three generations of contra as "the Ralp h Page generation, then the Dudley Laufman generation, and then the next thing the Wild Asparagus generation." These categories are distinguished by the trailblazers of their time. Page was a square dance caller, a key player during the post World War II era when he was actively involved in re popularizing what had then become Western American square dancing. After Laufman the contra band Wild Asparagus was one of the first traveling gigs in the contemporary contra world. Max sees this band as effective in the dance scene because: First of all, they figured out that they could go tour, and originally they didn't have a fiddler, but since then they have settled on a standing fiddle player. So they did that, they traveled with a caller, which is not the mos t unusual then, although now it is a bit unusual. Um, it's George Marshall who is always the caller with Wild Asparagus, who also plays in the band. And its their music that I think is representative of the New England style, which is not necessarily about being rooted in traditional New England music, but it's an approach to playing for contra dancers. And that approach is to really utilize music to connect with the dance and with the dancers and that's really a lot about pushing buttons.
! ** The Wild Asparagu s approach to playing for dancers involves "techniques where you think about how is your music affecting the dancers," Max explained. Also, Leslie made note in her discussion of the transition from traditional music to contemporary contra music that it is Wild Asparagus who "really bring[s] a kind of funkiness" to the dance, t hrough their incorporation of "Middle E astern" music styles, and a certain "percussiveness." Similar to this band, traditional New England musician Rodney Miller recorded two albums th at symbolize the transition in the relationship of contra dance to the music that is played. According to Max, the first of these albums was all "traditional New England music." The second album, Airplane (1985), was "an approach to play for contra dances that is very influenced by jazz and blues." This inclusion of other music genres into the contra style mimics and reflects attitudes participants have regarding inclusion and acceptance of otherness, while forgoing the white dominant history of conventiona l United States folk culture. This change in music is reflected in how dances are played for, since "a lot of older dances are danced to a specific tune" and "now it's ab out crafting a match on the fly." T here persists a transition in the relationship betw een contra dances and the music that is contra danced to; this transition has been increasingly more variant, t hus introducing an element of agency to the contemporary contra musician role in the dance context, where their skills are displayed by an abilit y to match movements to musical patterns, rather than by knowing the original tune verbatim. Another aspect of contra dancing that has changed due to inclusion of other dance and music styles is the terminology used by dancers. At one point in my intervi ew with
! "++ Max I referred to contra as a "Lead/Follow" dance, and he explained that it has not always been seen as such. Especially the older generations do not think of it that way. And well, I think lead follow is more gendered than lady and gent, because i t implies a power dynamic. But I think that the way people are dancing now, as opposed to the way people danced thirty years ago, is more lead and follow than it used to be. I think about it like this, "Lady" and "Gent" are gendered, but they don't repres ent a power dynamic, whereas lead follow does imply a power dynamic. And the lead follow thing is something that is coming from swing dance and blues dancing, which is having a huge influence on the way people contra dance, with all the dipping and stuff l ike that So it becomes a lead follow because you treat it that way. The modern approach to writing dances, and a lot of the dances that get called have more opportunities for individualism. With in the group, especially because almost every dance will hav e a partner swing and then a neighbor swing. Which even thirty years ago was not the case. The truth of the matter is that contra is a called dance. The relationships played out on the floor are less relevant because ultimately the caller is leading, while all dancers are following. In continuation of Max's organization of contra practices into generations, I regard the emergency of crossover (techno) contra as a fourth generation that has virtually completely forgone traditional musical roots and establis hed a truly new version of contra dancing that is transcending time in its incorporation of contemporary musical technologies and trends. I consider crossover contra timeless, not because I see it has potential to be performed forever, but because the move ments remain historically rooted in tradition, while the music is purely of the present day. Dana, who started calling in the context of crossover contra, describes it as "a new kind of contra dance that incorporates recorded music and the feeling of a nig ht club" and "was born out of a desire to provide dancers with a sexy nighttime dance party for energetic dancers to express their creativity
! "+" in a safe environment." She identifies calling "to often un phrased music that includes changing temps and beats" as the challenge in crossovers. With the emergence of this re contextualization of contra dance I couldn't help but wonder if Dana saw a potential for the crossover to completely replace the traditional form. It will never, by any means, "take over" trad itional contra dance as far as I'm concerned, but will augment it by providing dancers with a new style of contra to explore. It opens doors for DJs and musicians who want to explore the nightclub feel of techno contra. Techno contra has definitely been r uffling the feathers of dancers all over the country who don't see a place for it or can't roll with the sexy nightclub feel. I believe it was born a bit of a rebellion against traditional dance, but with popularity dancers are learning to grow alongside i t. It is maturing and changing. It will lose some of its novelty and exclusiveness as it spreads, but it is just way too much fun to die out anytime soon. Its very nature does not lend itself to the same type of community building as normal contra. Speakin g to the last sentence in the above quote, I have considered that one day contra, in some form or another, could become a commodified experience. Contra is somewhat commodified today to the extent that dancers are required to pay door fees and weekend fees ; however, these prices are traditionally set only as high as necessary to cover expenses. The growing popularity of techno contra allows for the whole hearted aspects of this kind of dance challenge the individually oriented character of popular electroni c music culture, where people usually dance autonomously and without structured form. Max also described a recent trend that has incorporated aspects of the Digital Age into traditional contra dances performed to particular tune s. This trend was embodied Saturday night of Snow Ball: Well, there were probably about eight or ten couples and we staged an impromptu old dance and we did the music acoustically. And the dance is called "Money Musk" and the tune is called "Money Musk." And I think there is a webs ite called davemoneymusk, and in the last couple of years there's been a tradition called "Money Musk" Moment, where
! "+# in one particular week, everyone tries to do "Money Musk" everywhere in the country. It hasn't permeated everywhere but you can see there, where people have done it in various places and submitted it to the site. During my fieldwork, I learned that dance weekends are not the best place to host ethnographic interviews for a number of reasons, while, there is the opportunity for the ethnographe r to gain knowledge and a sense of place by actually being at a dance, the truth is people come to dances to dance and for some participant dancers being interviewed was out of the question. Since the Tampa Friends of Old time Dance Snow Ball is known as a n opportunity to fill the hall to the brim with experienced dancers (noted by Nancy), a conversation with an college student about "what's going on" happens to fall beside the point. Resulting from this there were many dancers, including callers and organi zers, with whom I did not have a chance to speak. For those who I obtained consent from at the field site I was able to organize interviews later on via telephone and email. The final portion of the review of ethnographic material gathered during fieldwo rk focuses specifically on my interviews with Renee Brewer and Leslie Green, the only two black informants who participated in this research. The interpretations offered by these informants are not by any means representative of all black dancers' experien ces of contra. Regardless of claims made by dancers, organizers, and myself about the inherent inclusive nature of the most recent revival of contra since the 60s and 70s, including the contemporary re contextualization of contra with in the techno tradi tion; the people who practice contra have remained predominantly white. The homogeneity of dances distracts from the potential for this practice to encourage a sense of comfort in the presence of differences in age, ethnic, political, or identity construct ion. Dancers and organizers will
! "+$ be inspired to facilitate the experience of contra among non white persons who are interested in grappling with socially constructed attitudes about lived differences. Renee Brewer, a Jamaican woman who dances in Gainesvil le, describes her experiences with dance prior to her introduction to contra: "if you were invited to a party [in Jamaica] you knew you were going to be dancing; it came with the territory." Drawing a similarity between contra and Renee's description of da nce in Jamaica, both dance traditions carry and implication of full participation associated with a space defined by practice. She described the feelings she had when beginning contra as a non white dancer: Well, I was surprised when I got there, that I w as the only black person there. And over the years I continued to be for the most part, certainly in this community. There were a few others who started coming, but they don't continue or stick with it. And I don't know whether it's because well this cou ld play into it, the fact that I don't have a spouse, or a partner, so this is something for me to do, whereas I guess some other people, black or white, if they have a spouse who is not particularly interested you know, they could get pulled away. Later she describes a conversation she had with a friend about the possibilities of hesitancy among black people to get into the contra practice: I remember a friend from Tanzania coming to Snow Ball. She was not a participant, she in fact was on crutches, but she came to meet me there. And um I said to her, "you know, why are there so few African Americans who dance?" for instance in Atlanta, where there are a lot of African Americans living there. She is from the Midwest, Detroit, and she thought that it ha d to do with the kind of music, that at one time, the black community saw it as redneck music, but she was just sort of guessing. It's music from Appalachia, music from the South, and you know the South traditionally was pretty racist. It is my hope that the contemporary mode of producing contra music, a trend that intentionally includes other kinds of music than traditional New England or Southern Old time music, is a step that positions present day contra as theoretically and practically
! "+% different than t he intentionality of the dance prior to Dudley Laufman's innovation. In her experience of contra dancers, Renee describes them as being "open for the most part, and just like to have fun," in a community that "seems healthy you know, you don't get people who are drinking a lot or smoking [And] not necessarily expert musicians, but people who like to play." The intersection of desire and the non requirement of expertise in the contemporary contra practice provide structure and support for claims participan ts make about intending to be inclusive and empowering. Renee described the music at dance weekends as "energizing," because contemporary American contra music is informed by traditions of old time folk music but modified for increased attention to comple x combinations of instruments, rhythm and melody. The music can drive any active listener who is able to accept that the historical roots of a cultural practice are never forgotten but they can be redirected through change and creativity. A perspective of contra that focuses on the momentarily built energy of the music, rather than on the problematic attitudes of people who historically performed the dance music, allows for rich intergenerational experiences, where people who did not grow up knowing about t he intricacies of old time music and racist American folk attitudes can appreciate the music as interactive art since that is what it is intended to be. Since music is a sonic art, its significance is malleable to the scene and the observer, and it seems to be the case that contra is one way to practice and possibly perfect (given the requirement of presence of diverse identities) tolerance. The presence of techno contra suggests that this broadening of the music associated with contra is the emergence of a trend toward ethnic pluralism.
! "+& Renee brought my attention to the importance of interaction with the contra music and dance form when I asked her about speaking to others about being minorities at the dance. Her response was, "Who has time to talk abou t things to me that aren't important. People are there to have fun." When I asked her about techno contra, she said she enjoyed it for the most part, but found the marathon structure to be boring in its repetition, suggesting that the caller didn't "know when enough is enough." This validates claims made by Max and Suzie about the importance of paying attention to dancers in order to foster the most enjoyable experience of the music and the figures. In another experience of techno contra, Renee explains: And when I went to Atlanta recently they had a techno session, the room was very small and crowded, and I knew I couldn't stay there for those reasons. But my feeling is, that if this is what young people are feeling then let's go for it. You don't want j ust a bunch of older grey haired people and think that something will survive, it just won't. Thus emphasizing the importance of what I am going to call "intergenerationality," a word that describes the effect of interacting as equals with people both olde r and younger than oneself in a socially constructed setting. The importance of "intergenerationality" is also discussed by Max and Leslie, and validates my view of contra as an act of tolerance practice because people at a dance are free to interact as no thing more than people dancing for fun with one another. The fun to be had is not age specific or skill based; it is subjective, determined by experience rather than formality. One of the most meaningful passages of my interview with Leslie concerned her experiences of blatant racism in some dance communities that have a particularly hard time attracting non white practitioners. When I asked her to describe any changes in her personal experience acceptance, she said:
! "+' Also I have gone to dances where people assumed I didn't know what I was doing, and they can be patronizing. And I don't know if that's because I was black, or new. You know, some people were trying to be nice and saying "Welcome naive black person, let me take you under my wing and show you th e ropes" and when I out dance them I just kind of giggle and move on to the next victim and so that's one change in my awareness. Where acceptance in general is the letter of the law. But you'll see in terms of age there's a lot of older guys who want to dance with younger people. And you know, in order to keep this going we have to bring in new fresh people. And I seem to notice certain men, no matter how lazy of dancers they are they know that it's the rule that anyone you ask will dance with you, and then they constantly want to dance with these "cute little young things" so once again, the age piece and the weight piece comes in where, you know, its one of the last prejudices, since some guys just don't want to dance with a big girl. And so that I guess, that would be a change based on my personal experience. Leslie identifies as an African American who tends to get along easier with white people than with black people, and she recognizes that elements of her past led to her confidence as the "only chocolate chip in the cookie." Next, I present a section of our interview where she contrasted elements of contra with her experience in night clubs: So I consider myself in that racial minority that is very comfortable with the majority of society, so I can dance. Some, like when I look at my girlfriends who go clubbing, I'm not even there. Okay, I'm not putting on four inch heels, I'm not putting on a skin tight skirt, and I'm not putting on make up. It's something that I just don't want to do. I did i t when I was younger when it was just like disco, but the whole going into dark places and posturing or posing that way doesn't work for me. So I think culturally speaking, when my African American friends go out there are different things that are accepta ble to do. Um you don't change partners, you know what I mean, in social couples dancing you just don't change partners, and the same with other kinds of (I'm not going to say white folk dancing) but like in swing dancing some people are willing to trade, but not everyone Yeah, the clothing. Look at what we wear when we contra dance. You even have men wearing skirts because it's cooler [temperature wise]. And we expect to get hot and sweaty. I know there are some weirdoes who complain, but its like, "You came to Florida, which is hell on earth because it's so hot. And now you are exerting yourself, and now you are surprised that you're hot Do you need help? At what point did you loose touch with reality? And the way people dress is about how we know we are going to be sweating, and we want to be comfortable. Leslie highlighted something specific and unique about contra, in comparison to night club constructions of social space. She compared the "posing and posturing in dark places" of a night club settin g to contra's moments of mass collective movement in an expansive, deconstructive setting, where age, gender, and music stereotypes are
! "+( challenged rather than reified through performance. When I asked, Leslie said she had not done much active recruitment o f African Americans into the contra community; however, she did express an interest in encouraging more gay identities to participate. In her discussion of the definition of contra as both a community and a practice, Leslie was the only one of my informant s to speak about the possibility of romantic connections made in the contra setting: And the romantic thing is that you have this thing you like to do, that's physically active, which is a big part of the appeal for me, it's a place where I don't have to sit and behave like an adult. Contra dancing is an outlet where you can be a kid, and if you can find a playmate that's fabulous, and if you can find a playmate to share some of your life with, well, you win. And another interesting part, I was with someon e for ten years and just recently ended the relationship. But when you're dating contra dancers there are times when you are in a set of four and the two men are people you've been with, which can be awkward. And that's a big thing, where even if we break up there has to be a kind of understanding that I am not leaving the dance community. And that's what I am doing now, finding a way to stay in the community, without being so uncomfortable seeing my ex that I drop out. Given these multiple presentations of contra, from both personal and researcher perspectives, I hope the reader has been provided with a sense of what social, physical, and emotional factors play into contemporary contra dance as radically inclusive and self supporting. To answer the questi ons posed at the beginning of this chapter, I suggest that dancers dance because it feels good. The collectivity of the practice plays into the experience of the dance because the dance cannot be performed individually, and the sense of freedom in form is experienced by way of the multitude of intersections among music, performance styles, and identity.
! "+) CONCLUSION This work is an emic and etic representation of contra dance, meaning that my descriptions and interpretations of the contemporary contra con text as it was manifested at the 2012 Snow Ball in Gulfport, Florida are informed by both my membership in the community and by the theories I used to describe the feeling of contra as an outside obsever. In their 1996 article, "Representation, Subjectivit y, and Ethics in Urban Gay Ethnography," Allen Hersker and William Leap, argue from a similar standpoint. They are two "out" male homosexuals who suggest that anthropological research on urban homosexuals is best performed by other homosexuals, who have a sense of knowing what is right to publish and what would potentially harmful if published. As a contra dancer writing about contra dance, I do not believe that my previous participation in the community makes me more able to do a better ethnography projec t than someone with equal training, but who had never contra danced. In fact, it is my belief that an outsider, becoming an insider through participant observation, would come to conclusions similar conclusions about dancer attitudes and the long term ment al affects of contra. For example, another researcher might hear the claims to social inclusion and equality on the dance floor, but observe or experience something of the contrary, especially if she/he were not white, since this is a community that has e xperienced difficulties in the inclusion and retention of ethnic plurality. One aspect of the contra form that I did not discuss specifically is the clothing dancers wear. I classify it is as comfortable, without further elaboration. I chose to stay away from constructing interpretations of the clothes, because it wasn't something I was
! "+* focused on systematically during fieldwork. However, I can on the importance and significance of what I wear to a contra dance. I am comfortable speaking about clothing fro m a personal perspective because I can discuss it reflexivly Be it a short flair dress, a shirt/skirt combination, or a shirt/loose pant combination, my dance attire style communicates an intersection of multitudes of embodied practices. My tank tops and sport bras are reminiscent "work out" clothes, while my shoes might allude to the jazz tradition, the ballet tradition, or no formal dance tradition at all in the case that I am dancing without shoes. Footwear signifies my mood entering a dance. If I danc e in jazz boots or ballet flats, I am setting myself up for a feeling of smoothness, especially in twirls, where dancers can twirl faster if their soles are soft. If I am wearing no shoes at all it is likely that I am preparing to "let loose," with more st omps and jumps than twirls. Aside from what contra dancers wear communicating intersections between many modes of dance over time, the contemporary embodiment of contra music is becoming more of an intersection in light of practices exemplified by Wild Asp aragus and the inclusion of techno. I see a connection that cannot go unnoted; the fact that techno music is inspired by Jamaican house music, which originated in the 1960s as the dub movement, and is now being incorporated in to the contra form. The infor mant Renee, as a Jamaican woman who actively participates in contemporary Florida contra, does not necessarily represent the intersection of dub inspired music and contra dance, but she does present an element of the total context that embodies an ethnic i ntersection that reflects a musical intersection in the most contemporary generation of contra.
! ""+ I would like to conclude with some claims about how future research on this kind of community can be focused to more accurately present the feelings and modes of interaction present in this cultural group. I suggest that further anthropological studies of contra identity and community ought to include an in depth study of the things people wear and bring to a dance. It is my suggestion that a study along these l ines would give a more detailed sense of "who" each individual is before she/he walks in the door, and how they interact with the dance as it happens. I would also like to suggest that contra dancing be considered as a team building exercise in any profess ional or non professional group seeking practices of tolerance and consensus building, where every intersection of persons in the dance form are encouraged to be egalitarian in their treatment or expectations of others. I posit contra as one of the ultima te community building tools, and its success can be enhanced through structural support such as dedicated performance spaces and of organizations, musicians and callers into informal unions or mutual promotion groups. This would enable established contra p erformances to act as catalysts for the increased inclusion of others in a historically ethnically homogenous group. Additionally, any research that focuses specifically on the experience and inspirations of musicians would greatly contribute to an underst anding of the "mine en scene" (social stage set) when a contra event is in full course. My interview with Leslie helped me to see the value of a comparative project between contra in the traditional context and dance in night club settings, providing pivot al information about the way people imagine community during dance. And finally, I suggest that future studies of this particular folk practice focus
! """ specifically on the juxtaposition of a rural practice having continued presence in the urban landscape.
! ""# A PPENDICES LIST OF CONTRA DANCE FIGURES 4 Allemande Right and Left : where two dancers take right or left hands (depending on the call) in an arm wrestle grasp (with the "thumb pointing upward") and "walk around one another, pulling slightly to facilitate the turn." The caller will specify how many times dancers make a complete or partial rotation. Balance : where two dancers take hands, one or both, and step forward with one foot and kick the other, and then again stepping with the other foot and respectiv e kicking over the course of four counts. This move usually prec edes a Swing between two people; however it can be done by an entire set of four who take hands in a circle and balance toward and away from the center. Box the Gnat & California Twirl: thes e t wo figures are used as a simple yet constructed way for two dancers to trade places. Box the Gnat involves holding right hands, while the Lady dancer walks under the Gent's arm as he moves into the place she was occupying. The California Twirl is the sa me idea with the Lady moving under the Gent's arm but involves the Gent's right hand and the Lady's left. Circle Left and Righ t: where the entire "hands four" takes hands and walk in the called direction for the called duration (full circle, half or three quarters) Contra Corners : where the head couple (two danc ers facing away from the stage) perform a series of Allemandes with the two couples behind and in front of them. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! % Information here is informed by the Country Dance and Song Society Website
! ""$ Courtesy Turn : a way for couples to turn around half way, usually performed after tw o Ladies dance a figure in the center to the other side of the set, or back "home" to their partner s It is traditional for the Gent to take the woman's left hand in "his" 5 left, and places his right on the Lady's back in a manner that guides "her" through the half turn to face back into the set. Contemporary embodiments of this figure involve the Gent acting as a point of orientation and stability as "he" lifts "her" right hand and the Lady twirls, once or many times, "her" self into place. Do Si Do : when two dancers "pass right shoulders pass back to back, and back up passing left shoulders and returning to place." An innovation of this classic folk dance figure used in contra dance is the "Mirror Do Si Do" where one couple starts passing right, and t he other starts passing left creating a mirror effect between the two couples in the set. Down the Hall: when a set of four or a couple alone takes hands and walks for four or eight counts away from the music, and then back to place. The caller specifies the mode of turning back as "alone" or "as a couple," which factors into the dancers' position in the next figure, usually a Circle. Gypsy : traditional of the contra dance predecessor English Country dance, performed by two dancers circling one another wi thout touching, while keeping intense unbroken eye contact. This figure is the most effective at exemplifying the feelings of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! & I chose to put quotes around the gender pronouns used in this description of Courtesy Turn because the dancer who is the Gent or the Lady may no t actually identify as male or female, respectively. Thus presenting the opportunity for a dual dancer identity where dancers have personal gender identifications that may not agree with the gender association of the dance role (Lady/Gent).
! ""% unspoken connection because it is the most physically limiting, where dancers maintain a sense of connectedness without physical t ouch. Hey for Four : a figure where one dance role, either the Ladies or the Gents, begin by walking toward each other in the center of the set, pass right shoulders as their accompanying partner follow s and pass es right in the center, then meet their partn er on the opposite side of the set passing left shoulders (with the opposite gender role) and right again in the center with same gender role, and back to "home." Before the creation of this document I assumed a Hey was called "Hay because of the way gra ss weaves among itself when bundled and dried as feed. Ladies Chain : where the two ladies enter the center of the set, take right hands with a bit of tension (weight), and pass by to the Gent on the side of the set, who, in most cases, performs a Courtesy Turn. Long Lines Forward and Back: a unique figure where an entire line is dancing as one, as dancers hold hands up and down the line on the sides of the sets and walk forward for four counts and then back. This figure is significant in that it is the onl y figure that involves everyone on one side of the line being physically connected. Also, there is a tendency for dancers on the ends of the lines to slap hands when they meet in the middle, creating a moment where everyone on both sides of the line are co nnected through one another. This significance is elaborated on in Chapter II, where I present and analyze ethnographic content Pass Through & Right and Left Through : figures that allows for couples on one side of the set to move to the other, such that da ncers stag g er (like a zig zag) and walk past each other (in the Pass), or extend and grab right hands as they walk past
! ""& each other (Right and Left), and is usually punctuated with a Courtesy Turn initiated by partners grabbing left hands after passing. Pro menade : similar to the Pass Through concept of moving from one side of the set to another; however dancers do so in the "promenade position" where they stand shoulder to shoulder holding hands in front and across one s body. Pull By: a figure similar to L ong Lines in that the entire side of a dance line is involved in movement together. Pull By is different than Long Lines because it is danced up and down the lines rather than across the set, such that dancers take right hands, giving weight, and pass by e ach other walking in opposite directions. This figure creates a great opportunity for the creation of dancer momentum, such that Pull By's are usually called in series of two or three, where the first pull by pushes the dancer toward the next. After a seri es of Pull By's is performed a Box the Gnat, or California Twirl, is performed to direction dancers back towards "home." Star Right and Left : a circle figure, where dancers put the called hand into the center, grabbing the wrist of the person in front and walking forwards, thus rotating the circle all the way around, half way, or three quarters. Swing : one of the most intimate figures of contra, performed by two dancers "who most commonly hold one another in ballroom position" orbiting clockwise. Swings can be walked or "Buzzed." The Buzz step is a manner of swinging where dancers keep their feet close to the center of motion and use a scooting motion to move around each other. The Swing is the most important figure to "give weight" (lean back slightly) i n, because the weight given contributes to the centripetal force dancers create and are pulled by.
! ""( TRANSCRIPTIONS OF ETHNOGRAPHIC INTERVIEWS Key: informant's speech, RESEARCHER'S SPEECH Informant: Berry Gibbons W ell, we're seeing a lot of people turn a way from oldtime music. They want the pizzazz and the punch of New England contra bands, often times with keyboards and percussion. And we are sort of foregoing our roots. Which I think we need to stay in to uch with to a certain degree. :: HOW WOULD YOU DES CRIBE THESE OLDTIME ROOTS? :: W ell, the music is much simpler, it s not as driving, but it can be very melodic is that your tape recorder? :: MMHM :: Hi tape recorder! A lot of people find it to be very repetitious because its just AB, AABB, AABB, AB, da d a dada :: SO ARE THE DANCES THAT GO ALONG WITH THESE TUNES, ARE THEY ALSO REPETITIOUS? :: Y ou see, that's the trick. They don't have to be. That's up to the caller, not necessarily the musicians. But I've seen more and more people say "O h, let's don't g et them, they don't play interesting music" and you know to me, we have to have oldtime bands occasionally to remember wh o we are and where we came from, a nd those can be a fun dance, depending on the venue, the caller, you know a whole gestalt of things, not just the music. :: SO YOU SAID PEOPLE ARE FAVORING THE NEW ENGLAND TRADITION. ARE THERE STRONG REGIONAL BOUNDA RIES BETWEEN MUSIC TRADITIONS TODAY, OR ARE THINGS SEEMING TO BLEND TOGETHER? :: W ell, in the dance scene they are blending together, but if you go to jams and stuff like that is very still :: IF THEY SAY OLDTIME, ITS GOING TO BE OLD TIME. IF THEY SAY NEW ENGLAND, ITS GOING TO BE NEW ENGLAND :: ... right. :: WHAT ARE THE R EGIONS OF MUSIC TRADITIONS? :: W ell there's Appalachian, there's southe astern (Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi), then you get over into Louisiana, Mississippi a more Cajun blues type stuff. :: DO PE OPLE CONTRA TO CAJUN MUSIC? :: U h, they can, it i s n't very common though. :: WHEN IT DOES HAPPEN IS THE CAJUN STEP INCORP ORATED ? :: O h yeah. And those are all the major ones. They're all on the east coast, or at least east of the Mississippi River. And most of the West C oast styles were transported over. They haven't really developed their own styles as far as I know. :: HO W DID YOU GET IN TRODUCED TO CONTRA DANCING? :: A friend of mine in Elkins, West Virginia started playing oldtime music on guitar, with real old time guys and a lot of people from Gainesville were going up to Augusta and Elkins and she was coming down here for weekends, and she said "I know more people from Gainesville than you do, you've got to meet these people. They're really nice" ya know, so I met her at a weekend, I didn't dance, but I got introduced to people. Then I went to one of the dances and tha t was it. From there on it was downhill. It was easy to get into. Just slid on down :: AND YOU KEPT DOING IT EXACTLY BECAUSE :: W ell, it was a lot of fun. Moving in time with music is a lot of fun. It s very flowing, and it s easy to be in the moment, wh ich is an important thing to be. But also it's a very nice community of people. And besides at work, I can't really say that I have good friends at work, this is my community as far as I'm concerned. I've been doing it for so long. I'm close to retirement, so I'm not looking to make a lot of friends at work. I'm just there to work and do my job, I'm not there to make friends I'm just looking for a paycheck. :: WOULD YOU SAY THERE IS ANY SPIRITUAL ELEMEN T TO THE CONTRA EXPERIENCE? :: O h yeah, sure! And it ha s to do with being in the moment, where being in the moment has to do with a mindfulness and meditation in a dance, because you have to be right there. :: AND WHEN A DANCER IS MINDFUL IN THE ACT OF DANCING, ARE THEY MINDFUL OF ONLY THEMSELVES, ONLY THE COL LECTIVE, OR SOM E OSCILLATION BETWEEN BOTH? :: A gain, its sort of a gestalt, you're mindful of you, the person you're dancing with, and where
! "") you are in the music and the line. :: HAVE YOU BEEN A PART OF OR HEARD OF S UCCESSFUL OUTREACH EFFORTS? :: Y eah wel l, Tallahassee h as been very successful and the way I understand it, they went to the campus Christian groups, and said "Look, this is a great thing for young adults to do. It has nothing to do with sex, or dugs, or drinking, or smoking. It's a great way f or kids to have fun." And you know so the Christian groups started coming, and then once you hit a certain level of young people, ya know, its fun for people weather you're Christian or not. Its just fun to be there as a kid with other kids. And that's how I heard they built up their kid factor. :: JUST TO GO BACK FOR A MOMENT, WHEN IT WAS ADVERTISED TO CHRISTIAN GROUPS IT WAS SAID TO BE UNRELATED TO SEX, BUT IN MY EXPERIENCE IT HAS NEVER BEEN ABOUT SEX, BUT THERE ARE SOMETIMES SULTRY, FLIRTATIOUS MOVES AND ATTITUDES SO HOW IS THE WHOLESOMENESS OF THE EXPE RIENCE NOT TAINTED BY THAT? :: W ell, there's a certain way of flirting, or having fun with a person of the other gender with out it meaning anything sexually. It s again, just being in the moment as a mal e or a female and moving to the music. It doesn't have anything to do with sex. But, yeah, that line could be stepped over very easily, and when it is it makes that other person uncomfortable, so you have to be sort or cautious of that. Sometimes there peo ple who don't understand that they've crossed a line and they keep stepping over and that's when sometimes they have to be taken aside and told, "Hey :: SO THAT'S AN EXAMPLE OF WHEN, AS A COMMUNITY, WE CA N WATCH OUT FOR EACH OTHER? :: Y eah. And I've talk ed to a couple of guys before, I just say "W hat you're doing is considered a little inappropriate you need to dial it back" [points out a fellow dancer who would have info on Atlanta outreach] :: THANK YOU. IS THERE ANY ASPECT OF CONTRA THAT I HAVEN'T ASK ED AB OUT THAT YOU'D LIKE TO ADD? :: Y eah, I think just the fact that the community, for the most part, is very open and loving and caring for everyone else. They take the time to teach, they don't get pissed off if you screw up. They understand and are ver y accepting, ya know, I'm shocked that 90% of the world doesn't contra dance. :: DO YOU THINK THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE L EARNED FROM CONTRA DANCING? :: O h yeah, and it has to do with acceptan ce :: WONDERFUL, THANK YOU. :: Y ou're welcome, that was painless. Informant: Suzie Rudder Now, I've heard of other people doing dissertations on contra. :: WHERE WOULD ONE FIND OTHER WORKS ON CONTRA? :: I think the library of congress has copies of every dis s er t ation ever done, I don't know. Okay I guess I could talk a bout the social experience. :: OKAY, IS CONTRA A COMMUNITY OR A PRACTICE? :: I think that we all hope that it's a community. When you start dancing, it s that you aren't just coming in and going home it does make you a part of a community. For instance, in Gainesville that's one reason why we have always tried to have a group get together after a dance. It used to be at a restaurant or bar or something like that, and um, now we have something at people's ho uses. So, I mean if you talk to organizers, that' s kind of their goal, that you want it to be inclusiv e. :: ARE YOU AN ORGANIZER? :: Y eah, well I started being an organizer twenty or thirty years ago, and after a while I got out of it. But now they have me doing all the booking of bands and everything. A nd I remember there were some dances where there were so few dancers that we had to get the venue workers just so we had enough people to make a square. We used to hope that we had two dollars left at the end of the night for ice cream. :: CAN YOU EXPLAIN TO ME THE SORT OF EXPECTATIONS BANDS AND CA LLERS HAVE OF DANCE GROUPS? :: W hen a group is deciding who they want to be doing the booking of bands and callers, they want someone who has danced enough that they are familiar with who is in the area. Years ago we, I had this awful sheet of paper that had names and phone numbers of people scribbled all over it, and we would
! ""* just call them to schedule. And I don't remember what we paid them fellow dancers interrupt for a moment. -:: HAVE PRICES GONE UP SINCE THEN? :: O h yes, I don't remember what we started with for the door fee. People had a fit when we went up to six, I remember. :: THE SAME FOR BANDS AND CALLERS :: Yeah, actually I' m pretty sure our town pays the least in the state of Florida. If I call in Tallahassee, they pay me $100. Tampa around $65. But we pay local callers $50 and the same with band members. Also our sound situation is interesting. We don't have a sound person. So if the band can provide their own sound services we pay $60 for sound p lus $65 if they're from out of town. But if we have to hire someone for sound, we pay $80 of course now, I have emails for everyone and I say these are the dates for the next six months, give me three dates that will work for you :: COULD YOU DEFINE WHA T IT MEANS TO BE AN EXPERT CONTRA DANCER? O R IF THERE IS SUCH A THING? :: T hat is an excellent question. Because people who I would call expert, I don't think I would ever use that word, but really good contra dancers are the ones who obviously know all th e steps interview interrupted by fellow dancers again conversation diverges A nyway if you're a good contra dancer you know all the steps and everything but a lot of it has to do with how you deal with the other people in the group. You know its not abo ut being able to twirl somebody fourteen times its being really sensitive to the groove, who you're dancing with and you know like I've told people now, with my back and all I can't do the twirls anym ore it throws me off balance S o they are the people who really take care of their partners and things like that and know that is about making the whole dance successful and not just showing off. For instance that's what I was talking about in our caller's thing (workshop) when another person was talking abo ut how boring South Florida dances can be with beginners and old people, I said "Y ou would hope there's a group of core dancers who know how to deal with that. There are dancers in Gainesville who are very good about pulling the beginners into a contra. They will make sure to ask beginners to dance. They will even notice when there's an entire hands four of beginners and suggest that they split up and dance with those experienced dancers. So that sort of stuff is really what makes a good contra dancer to me they are certain people who will always participate :: SO THERE'S A SPECIFIC KIND OF PARTICIPATION CONTRA IS LOOKING FOR? ITS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT, AND EXPERTISE IS NOT VALUED IF EVERYONE IS NOT ON A SIMILAR LEVEL :: R ight, so long as you're kind of listening and pay attention. I mean the worst thing are the people who know all the bells and whistles, want to do all this flashy stuff and they run into people or you could get elbowed the newest thing I've heard of is was at Splash Dance up in Ashv ille it was really good weekend because anyone who wanted to call could get up and call a number of dances. It was kind of arranged before hand but the newest thing with the young people is instead of a courtesy turn they just drop you to the floor and pick you up real fast. And that's not to be what makes an excellent dancer because it's a part of that whole community thing everybo dy is responsible for everybody, t o see that everybody is enjoying it and having a good time :: DO YOU SEE PEER PRESSURE PLAYING A ROLE, POS ITIVELY OR NEGATIVELY? :: Humm I' m trying to think if it would make a difference, for instance if you have someone who is doing annoying things, supposedly we have this policy you know maybe at other places I don't know or think so .. : : WELL I MEAN, IF I BROUGHT A FRIEND AND THEY WEREN'T INTO IT, DO YOU THINK OTHERS WOULD PUT A BIT OF SOCIAL PRESSURE ON THIS PERSON TO TRY SOMETHING NEW THAT'S WHAT I MEAN BY POSITIVE PEER PRESSURE :: O h yeah well I remember doing that with a couple that lived in Micanopy who came and they both were just watching, so I said, "C ome on I can get you though a dance, I can show you what to do and where to go and everything. And he said "I didn't come here to dance with you, I came here to dance with my wife." And I was just like "O ookaay :: A COMMON MISCONCEPTION :: R ight :: DO YOU SEE THAT CREATIVITY IS VA LUED IN THIS SETTING? HOW? :: O h creativity, it gets real iffy. For instance the first
! "#+ square w e did today, the caller said, "O kay every time we pr omenade we are going to do it backwards" my partner and I just arched over the other couples going to opposite way... and there were people having trouble with it anyway, so that just totally screwed them up. They were probably pissed. So uh, it kind of de pends on how it s done. Give me the question again :: UM IS CREATIVITY VALUED AND HOW? :: I t depends on the group that you're with. And you have to be able to read your group. Like you know we have more university kids coming there and if they want to fl ing each other arou nd I think that's fine, a nd if they think it 's fun that's great. Like I said it s this whole sensitivity, or being able to read people. And now a days I hope that they are just going to think that I am really old so they wont twirl me fo urteen times it s about being able to see what works in the given situation :: FOR YOU PERSONALLY IS THERE ANY SPIRITUAL MERIT TO DANCING? :: N ot for me. I m not particularly spiritual I mean I just think its great. What I love is that once you've got ten into this whole thing I c ould go to a dance probably any where in the country and know somebody or meet so mebody who knew someone I know t hat's the part that I think is just so much fun :: SO THAT'S THAT FOR THE SOCIAL CATEGORY, NEXT IS OUTREACH AND TEACHING. THE FIRST QUESTION IS CONTRA FOR EVERYONE? POLITICAL? :: In Gainesville there is some stuff that is political. There are some people on the board who have opinions that cause problems at times :: I MEAN THE MAIN QUESTION WAS IS CONTRA FOR EVER YONE? IS THIS SOMETHING THAT DESERVES TO BE SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE WORLD OR IS IT RESERVED ONLY FOR THOSE WHO DISCOVER IT? :: N o, I think it is a fun avocation, hobby, activity. I remember a woman who when she got divorced said it was so nice to be able to go somewhere I could have some human touch, I could actually touch men and they would touch me, and it was social and there were no expectations of what I would do and so she that it was a wonderful thing. Not like dating and like some one said "you cou ld bring your grandmother to one of these, you could bring your mom. you know. It s terribly wholesome. You know, there is no alcohol so you don't have drunks. :: AND IS IT USUALLY THE CASE IF ONE NOTICES A DRUNK PERSON, CAUSING A PROBLEM SOMEONE WOULD ASK THEM TO LEAVE ? :: O h yeah. They might talk to them. And you know, when I call sometimes I say "don't worry if you make mi stakes, everyone makes mistakes and no one is going to roll their eyes or say something mean to you, and if anyone ever does to co me tell one of us, and we will make them leave. Anecdote abou t volley ball played near by A nd you know, often times when people write about contra they say that there is flirting but it's a certain kind of flirting a nd if you feel uncomfortable it has gone beyond what we think it should be. :: HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF A STANDING CONTRA DANCE CLUB, OPEN REGULARLY JUST F OR CONTRA OR OLDTIME DANCE? :: U h, I just heard of something like that in Portland, except this was just squares and they do it at a bar o nce or twice a week. Oh! And in Ashville not at not Old Farmers Vault, but there is a bar that they dance at least once a week. :: SO ITS ALWAYS A BAR OPENING THEIR FACILITY TO CONTRA DANCERS? :: Y eah I guess. :: COULD YOU SEE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A CONTR A CLUB IN THE FUTURE OF THE TRADITION? :: I don't know. It s so hard to know. Because like a few years ago everybody was worried that like those of us that were dancing were just going to die and there wouldn't be any more dancing. And now we're trying to get more younger people, and we 're getting more of that brief interruption -:: AND MY LAST QUESTION, WHEN TEACHING PEOPLE WHO DON'T KNOW HOW TO DANCE WHAT IS THE MOS T EFFECTIVE WAY TO DO THAT? :: W ell I know a woman who had these four things that she started beginners out with, and that was "the main goal is to have fun, the second thing is dancing to the music, dancing with your partner, and swings" others have said "just giving weight and swinging". So uh what people have started out with now is ju st circle to the left, and to the right, eight beats. And things like alleman de and how to do it with some weight, and do si do, and swing, and then getting into lines
! "#" it s not that hard, som e groups are harder than others, but if you have a few people w ho know what they're doing its so funny we started a dance out in Melrose and I thought I had taught beginners before, but these people were just wandering everywhere. But a nyhow it's a lot better now, a nd yeah, you get them into lines. And what I've fou nd out is you get them to te ach things like "up" "down" "ac ross", which is real big. And you know "neighbor "and "partner" I was talking with another caller about what to do with people, and you really just have to watch really carefully. I figure I coul d teach anybody anything. But watching yeah, even with experienced dancers, later in the evening you can see that glazed look set in and so you may just go in and say "long lines" because you saw people getting lost. But lately being in workshops, its abou t moving to the music, giving weight, and even in some places if they want to do the elbow swing kind of yee haw move, I don't care. Actually have you ever seen Seth's website. He has t ones of videos for beginners. Dancerhapsody.com he's got everything the re. Dances, stuff for callers, links also contradance.org from Atlanta. Also for instance I was dancing in New Zealand and there was this great dancer that I complimented, and it happened to be her first dance. And I was like how? You know all the steps and she said, I watch the videos from Atlanta where they have standard teaching videos Informant: Meg Wilkins HOW DID YOU GET INTRODUCED TO CONTRA AND WHEN ? :: I t was memorial day weekend, 1980. I was looking for a place to live in S e attle, and I have a friend and I was going to stay with her while and I was looking and she said "B efore you go around looking for a place to live come down to Seattle Center, they've got something called folklife and I want you to try something called contra dancing, I think you might like i t." :: AND DID YOU LIKE IT? :: Y eah I've been dancing ever since :: WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT ? :: well, there s three things. First, just the joy of mo ving to music with other people, I don't care what's going on in my life, if I'm dancing to good music with good dancers I am in the moment having a wonderful time and I can't stop grinning. So it gives me a happy experience, no matter what else is going on. So that's, really kind of the personal primary thing. It s become my communit y. And you kn ow, in the twenty first century there are all these problems of broken up communities, and where do you find community, and artificial building of community, and I have a community. It's the contra dance community. And I can go anywhere and I have community. :: CAN WE TALK ABOUT COMMUNITY BUILDING, AND DO YOU THINK THAT CONTRA COULD BE A TOOL USED TO MEND SOME OF THESE PRE VIOUSLY BROKEN COMMUNITIES? :: Yeah, I think if there is contra dance every night, in every town across America, it would c hange t he world :: HAHA, THE DREAM :: H aha yeah, and I would have so much fun. And you know, when I talk about community, its not just that I can meet people, and say "H ello. I come here every year and I see people I know, but you know, its like some bod y gets cancer and the community comes together and we make food for them, we help raise money for them if they're insurance does n't cover it. People visit them. P eople take them to their medical appointments. Um, there was recently, about a year and a half ago now, there was a woman in Seattle who had a heart attack in the middle of doing a remodel, and the community stepped in and finished the remodel faster than s he would have doing it herself. And you know, I don't have any particular skills, but I went down there and helped paint rooms. And we were getting her house together for her, and it's the contra community doing it. So it s really a I've always had a feeling of well not always, but the past ten years its appeared to me that it is really a comm unity. Its there emotionally, physically, financially, in addition to it just being a fun thing to do. Which, I don't know of any other dance form that does that. And yeah, people love Cajun dancing, swing dancing, or blues dancing, or tango dancing but th ey don't have the same community thing. And I think it s because of a change that was brought, you know that wasn't there in the eighties, at
! "## least not on the West C oast. And that change is that women start ed dancing with other women, and so the women get to kno w each other. B ack in the eighties, sometimes women would dance together, but almost never. And now it s like I go to a dance weekend and I dance with my women friends as much as guys. You know, I have some of my favorite dance partners are women. :: DO YOU THINK THAT THE HESITANCY IN THE EIGHTIES FOR SAME GENDERED PEOPLE T O DANCE WITH EACH OTHER :: It has to do with homosexuality :: YEAH SOMETHING LIKE G AY RIGHTS ALLOWED THIS TO :: Y eah, it's a spin off of that. It has to do with people seeing w here they were homophobic before. I mean I was homophobic in the eighties because what was normal back then was making fun of and harassing gay peo ple, when I was just kind of un comfortable around them. And now its changed, because I didn't know any openly gay people until the eighties, so they were always unknown. And so yeah, I was uncomfortable at the thought of it because you don't know what's going on. And then since they became so visible, I think its changed society a lot. :: AND ALLOWED FOR THIS IDE A OF A GENDERLESS SPACE? THAT CONTRA DANCE REALLY SEEMS TO FEED OFF OF. THIS ATTITUDE OF IT DOESN' T MATTER WHO YOU DANCE WITH :: Y eah. Because all I want is a fun partner. And the third thing is that it's a way that allows me to meet and get to know peopl e all over the country. People come to Seattle to dance, and I go other places and right away we have one thing in common to talk about. And I really like that, so I feel like my community is pretty much all of the West Coast and then the South East. I've never danc ed in New England, but you know, I have good friends in a lot of places and I meet people and um two dancers who are here were recently in Seattle, and I didn't know them, but they knew other contra dancers in Seattle so I had them over for dinn er, and now they are friends of mine. And I probably wouldn't have invited them over for dinner if they had any other connection :: SO YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT THERE BEING A SORT OF IMPLICIT TRUST IN THE COMMUNITY ? :: Y eah, I want to know someone who lives so mewhere else, because I want to meet other people and actually sit down and talk to them. So yeah, if someone told me some friends of my from a b ook club are in town, its like, "S o but if a friend of mine says "this couple from Florida are going to be in town, they are contra dancers" it s like, "O h great! I want to figure out who they are and have them over. :: HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE WHAT MAKES A GOOD CONTRA? IS IT THE MUSIC, THE PEOPLE, THE CALLER :: A ll of the above. You got to have a good floor. I t's the space, the s ound, the music, the caller, dancers. What it is no t is the decorations. I have never yet gone to a dance and said "W ow, you know yeah, it was a great caller, great floor, great music everything was perfect, the temperature was right the sound guy was right on, there was never a glitch, but I would have such a good time if they only had good decorations :: HAHA YEAH THAT KIND OF TELLS ME THAT THE EXTERNAL WORLD, EVEN THOUGH IT EXISTS AND WE INTERACT WITH IT IN CONTRA DANCING THERE IS AN INTERNAL WORLD THAT SHINES BRIGH TER IN THE CONTRA CONTEXT. :: Y eah, and you know its fun when there's pretty colored lights or something, but that's not going to make or break my experience. It can enhance the experience, it can also detract from t he experience, but it doesn't make the experience. It 's secondary same thing with food. I think it's the Atlanta weekend where they at least used to do the incredible landscape of food. I don't know if you ever saw that, but about five or six years ago s omeone did this edible landscape, and its like "I don't care" give me a banana. And it s nice that they do that but it doesn't make or break weather or not I had a good time at the dance. I run a dance weekend in Seattle at the Leif Erikson H all. And eve ry year our theme is Vikings, because those are the pictures they have on the wall. So there really is no theme, but it is a nicely decorated hall, and it s like "W hy add to it? Add to my work for putting on a dance weekend, and have a decorations commi ttee." And so our food is really simple too. On Saturday we dance for six hours and I buy three big boxes of bananas and I put out a knife. And I say "I f you want less than a whole
! "#$ banana, then here is a knife. And it keeps them sanitary :: YEAH, I AM A LWAYS SURPRISED AT HOW MANY DESSERTS PEOPLE BRING TO THIS WEEKEND POTLUCK, ITS LIKE THAT'S NOT REALLY GOING TO HELP ME :: E xactly, so we have bananas, chee se sticks and GORP. Good Old Rai sins and Peanuts. :: SO WE SORT OF TOUCHED ON HOW THE EMERGENCE OF GA Y RIGHTS ACTIVISM ALLOWED FOR FLUIDITY OF GENDER IN CONTRA, IS THERE SOME OTHER WAY CONTRA FREES YOU FROM TRADITIONAL ROLES OR SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS ? :: Y eah, I think one of the things inherent in the contra form, compared to something like any of the oth er dance forms, like ballroom dance or swing or zyde co is that both the lead and the follow have a great deal of freedom in weather or not they lead or follow and the style in which they do it. And so you can have the young folks in Ashville doing their gender bending erotic dips and someone else dancing completely New England traditionally in the same hands four at the same time a nd it works. And that's just it; you can do whatever you want. And so if I'm injured or tired, or have a partner who is not i nto it or not an experienced enough dancer I will dance very straight. But the thing I love to do is "Chaos" and so there's just so much freedom in the form. It's a basic form that you can play with. Its like Haiku, seventeen syllables give a great deal of freedom, because it allows you a space in which to play with words. It s like if someone just told you to come up with some words you wouldn't know where to begin. But ask them to come up with seventeen syllables and anyone can write a Haiku. It may or may not be good, but it gives you a framework to work from. And in many fields it's a great release for creativity. :: AND THAT'S EXACTLY MY NEXT QUESTION, HOW DOES C REATIVITY PLAY INTO CONTRA? :: T he thing is that its not necessary. You can be the absolut ely least creative and do exactly what the caller tells you in the way they say to do it and there are people who dance that way who are very good dancers and they are very smooth. But if you want to be creative there is plenty of room to play. :: WOULD YO U SAY THERE IS A SOCIAL PRESSURE TO PLAY :: only in the far left line at LEAF i n Ashville. There is definitely pressure there. If you don't want to play, you don't belong there. :: THAT'S INTERESTING, I HAVE NEVER HEARD THAT ASSUMPTION EXPLICITLY STATED, T HAT THIS LINE IS SPECIFICALLY FOR X KIND OF DANCER. :: I t s something that we often do on the West Coast, and I've seen it in Atlanta. And dancers just say "T his is going to be the chaos line for the first dance of the second half," or something. And t he rule there is, if you are in that line the expectation is that you are going to play and you are going to dance with anybody who is your partner in whatever role you end up in at any point. :: AND THAT COULD BE THINGS LIKE TWO PERSONS PLAYING THE SAME R OLE :: O h yeah "twinning sure. :: HA VE YOU EVER SEEN TRIPPLETING? :: U m I haven't ever seen it, but I' m sure I will eventually. What I have done is twinning with a twin. :: COULD YOU TELL ME ABOUT MORE OF THESE PLAY CONCEPTS ? :: W ell lets see, there really isn't much of a vocabulary for it. But there is a very basic one that's been around since the eighties that's pretty common is to go down the line with a partner, and then not cross over at the end of the line and dance the other person's role as yo u go back up. And that's like the origi nal at least for me, and then one step up f rom that is switch back and for th with your partner each time the dance repeats itself, or as often as possible. So that can be really fun, and then you get to the next step being parallel play, where you play with one or more other couples who are heading your same direction in the line, so when the men go in for an a l lemand e the women play musical chairs or the people in the "follow" role so there s that switching of p artner and gender roles as you dance up and down the line. And then there's what people generally call chaos where at least that's what it is called now on the West Coast, it changes monthly you can switch gender or partner with someone who is heading the other direction, because will the parallel thing you at least stay with your partner, you'll eventually get them back, or see them occasionally; in chaos you may never see th em again. My biggest chaos coup was at a marathon
! "#% where chaos was encouraged but not required and I started off in the top hands four, and I just decided that my goal for that dance was to never progress or be let out. I didn't want to stand at the top and I didn't want to progress. I ended up dancing in all five lines, but I was n ever let out and I never progressed. So yeah, I managed to stay in the top hands four during a marathon dance. And I had to dance both genders, and active and inactive, but it was really fun. And I think what makes that so much fun is when you first start dancing you go through this period of really needing to pay attention, and maybe getting frustrated and eventually you get to this point of it being really fun, but you have to stay focused in the moment, your in that "in the moment flow" and then you get better, and you don't have to be there, and you end up doing it automatically and you can kind of get bored with it, but when you start changing gender and partner and playing, you go right back to that "in the moment flow" where you have to pay attention or you can't do it. :: I LIKE TO CALL THAT AN OSCILLATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS BETWEEN THE SELF AND THE COLLECTIVE :: Yeah. :: IT'S THE MOST INTERESTING PART OF DANCING TO ME IS THAT YOU ARE ALWAYS STRADDLING A LINE, EVEN WITH FLIRTING YOU ARE NEVER ON EITHER SIDE OF IT, OR STANDING ON IT, YOU ARE ON BOTH SIDES. :: Y eah :: WELL IT SEEMS LIKE WE HAVE COVERED ALL OF MY QUESTIONS ON THIS TOPIC :: C ool, good luck with the project :: YEAH, THANK YOU SO MUCH! Informant: Nancy Buchannan Okay, well my personal my beginning the experience was a little girl doing buck dancing with my grandfather in southern Indiana. :: WHAT IS BUCK DANCING? :: Buck dancing is a form of clogging only it s done individually and not in a group, um, there is no rehearsed much of anything to it, but you just kind learn steps to it and basically it's a reel beat that you r. e. e. l. reel beat that you do it to and so I've done that since I was 8 probably :: AND IS THAT SOMETHI NG YOU DO AS A PERFORMANCE? :: I t s done as a kind of music, um it came out of the Appalachians as a form of oldtime music and a lot of the time a lot of them didn't have music such by behind it the rhythm was the feet and it was a form of drumming and rhythm that was done with the feet, my feet, periodically as my enjoyment :: IS IT A GROUP PERFORMANC E OR COLLECTIVE IN ANY WAY? :: N ope its done individually well there may be a whole bunch of people doing it, and it is not choreographed :: SO THER S NO PROMPTS, YOU JUST HEAR THE MELODY AND ADD TO? :: Y es, you do wh at ever you are called to do. But the first actual contra experience where the rhythm and the beat were the same in my head was done at the Florida Folk Festival probably 35 years ago and there was no organized dance stage at that time, there was n't any d ance stage at all. T he only dancing we saw was square dancers or the Cross Creek Cloggers, but we also had square dancers like Skip John's and the Travelers came in But Cubby Whitehead, who lived in Sarasota, he and his wife, I think, formed the English dance troupe down in the Sarasota area. And Cubby did all kinds of dancing. And when the festival was over Cubby started teaching contra dancing to the campers at about midnight in the campground, in the dirt, with no light just grab a bunch of musicians and tell them what he wanted them to play and that actually where I learned to contra dance, and as more and more of the campers got involved in it they began telling the festival that we want a dance rather than as a performance, but as an activity to do because it is a part of everyone's history. And I don't know, but about 15 years ago I guess, we started to get actual organized dance where they brought in callers and bands and had three hours of dance that finally increased up to 7 or 8 hours of dance a night. :: WOW, I HAD NO IDEA THAT YOU WERE A PART OF THE GROUP THAT BROUGHT CONTRA TO THE FOLK FESTIVAL :: W ell, I guess I was. I don't think about it that way. You know, I don't it was just, this is where I learned to do it but yeah, I was apart of t he one's with a mouth ya know, this is a part of what we want, I like this ::
! "#& THAT'S REALLY COOL :: so yeah, I guess I am. But I always looked at it as a Cubby thing because he's the one who introduced he didn't introduce it to everyone but he intro duced it to a lot of us, and got us excited about it. And for years after every night's performance we all danced until one to two in the morning in oak roots, and pine roots, we didn't know what and we didn't care we would have liked to have a floor, bu t we used what we got. :: CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT IT ACTUALLY FEELS LIKE WHEN YOU'RE DANCING? :: I smile. I never stop smiling unless I'm flirting, in which I'm batting my eyes for all I'm worth and smiling. No, it's a high. I t s just a high. It's aerobic def initely. I t s an exercise which then gets endorphins going along with the adrenaline, so it just feels good. :: WOULD YOU SAY THERE IS ANY SPIRITUAL ELEMENT TO YOUR EXPERIENCE OF CONTRA DANCING? :: No. F or me, it is the one activity that I do and don' t give a dawgone what any body else things. I am very shy you may find i t hard to believe knowing me but I don't like to have people look at me. I never like to have my picture taken and I never want to be called on to do anything but it is the one t hing that I will do and I don't care whose there whose watching, it makes no difference how many times I screw up. I don't care. It doesn't matter. It s just last year I hurt my knee and I couldn't dance. And my husband said "W hy are you going to the dance? You can't dance" and I said "B ecause it's the dance" so if that's a religious experience, then yea it is. Otherwise it s just the dance and I need to do it. I love to dance its my favorite thing in the whole world to do. It even ranks above readi ng, which is my most favorite sedentary thing to do, :: IN THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF CONTRA, DO YOU SEE THAT THERE IS ANY PEER PRESSURE, POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE? POSITIVE MEANING ENCOURAGING PEOPLE SITTING TO PARTICIPATE IN OTHER WORDS, AS A MEMBER OF THE CONTR A COMMUNIT Y DO YOU FEEL A RESPONSI BILITY FOR FELLOW DANCERS? :: Y es. Not at a dance like this, not so much, because here we are pretty much on equal footing. But at a local dance, where you have people who don't know how to dance, or are unsure of it. The n I am called to try and get them to dance. Here it is every man for himself. Find the best dancer and go for it however selfish that may sound :: IS CO NTRA DANCING A SELFISH ACT? :: F or me, yes. My husband's at home. I try and encourage other people to try it out see if they like it as much as I do just spread the contra word, because you either hear the word contra dance and go "O h god I love to do that" or you go "I've never heard of it. What is it?" there is no "S ounds kind of familiar which is kind of strange because it's a very old dance. And I've always found that odd. You know, it s even ballroom dancers will go "W hat?" however, there are a lot of ballroom dancers here. :: SO WHERE HAVE YOU DA NCED OTHER THAN IN FLORIDA? :: W ell, most o f my dancin g is in Florida, because I live so far South in F lorida to get to other dances is a huge effort. I'm about four hours from here, four and a half from the Gainesville dance, six and a half from the T al l ahassee dance. The next big dance I can thin k of is the Atlant a dance. I've danced there, an d in Ashville. Every time I go N orth, I make it a point to be in Ashville on Thursday night to go to the dance at Warren Wilson. I've danced in Indianapolis and one time in the Seattle area do I have a buck et list of con tra dances all over the country? Y eah I do. I tell my husband, "Y ou keep irritating me enough, I'm leaving and I will become an official dance gypsy," kind of like riding every wooden rollercoaster in the country, it s go to every good dance weekend that I hear abou t. :: SOUNDS LIKE THE DREAM :: T otally, yeah. Before I'm too old to do it. Including the Burning Man contra dance. :: WHEN YOU DESCRIBE CONTRA DANCING TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD OF I T. HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE IT? :: W hen I was a little girl in middle school they taught square dancing and English country dancing, the Virginia Reel kind of things S o first I start with "have you ever square danced?" because most people have a vague experience with square dancing and I say "a lot of the calls we use are square dance calls, and those are the kind of moves we make, and then you add the Virginia R eel Then I use my fingers as opposing lines, and explain that you dance with the
! "#' person you're with and those across from you and then you m ove on to the next couple until you get to the end of the line and this is where it gets difficult with my hands you turn around and go the other way. It s very difficult for me to explain. And you know the words I suppose are official for it are hard t o express so you almost have to give a visual for it. :: WOULD YOU SAY CONTRA DANCE IS MORE OF A PRACT ICE, A COMMUNITY, OR BOTH? :: I t's a community. It's the common interest, where it doesn't matter who you are, or what race you are, or what political af filiation you have, it s just a group of people who this is what they love to do and they do it with one another, and you make friends wherever you go with it :: IS THERE ANY THING ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH CONTRA THAT I HAVEN'T SPECIFICALLY ASKED ABOUT THAT Y OU WOULD LIKE TO ADD? :: N ot on a Sunday morning after I danced my feet off last night, no. :: ALRIGHT, WELL THANK YOU :: Thank you. Informant: Max Newman OKAY, SO MY PROJECT IS AN ANTHROPOLOGY THESIS IN THE STYLE OF ETHNOGRAPHY WHERE I INTERVIEW I NFORMANTS ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH CONTRA, IM LOOKING FOR DESCRIPTIONS OF WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT WORKS FROM PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY DO IT. WITH YOU SPECIFICALLY, I AM INTERESTED IN MUSIC AS WELL AS DANCE, FOR EXAMPLE WHERE DOES YOUR BAND'S MUSICAL INSPIRATI ONS COME FROM ? :: O kay yeah, that gives me a start. Speaking from the musical perspective, I grew up playing for contra dances in Fairbanks, Alaska. I came out to Boston for school, I went to Harvard for four years, and among the things I was doing there, I was organizing outings to dances and we also formed our own dance on campus, which is technically the Harvard Outing Square Dance Club :: WAS CONTRA POP ULAR AMONG FELLOW STUDENTS? :: W ell it started out as two things, first there were the outings to the local dance, and we would have between five and twenty people coming out to that. Adventurous souls. And when I was a junior, it started getting a little difficult to get to the dance so that's when I teamed up with the outing club, which had organized a dance back in the 1940s, like a lot of outing clubs did back then. :: SO WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS THAT YOU KIND OF REVITALIZED THIS OUTING CLUB T RADITION OF HAVING DANCES? :: Y eah what they used to be were technically called square dances because there was no such thing as an evening of contra dances and so that whole idea of an evening that you would call a "contra dance" started in the late sixties and early seventies particularly from this guy Dudley Laufman. There's a wonderful documentary you can wat ch, which is about him that David Milstone did, called um, "The Other Way Back" and this guy Laufman, L A U F M A N, he is really the guy to started to whole "contra dance" thing, where instead of an evening of squares became almost an entire evening of contra dances. Yeah, so he was in New Hampshire calling dances and that kind of took off in the sixties and early seventies. And the documentary does a great job of showing how it spread all across the country, even to Alaska where I'm from. :: WHEN DID T H AT DANCE BEGIN? :: U m I think it wa s started sometime in the 1980s, and the way it worked was that a lot of people would go out to the Dudley dances, where all his dances have their own particular flare. And its interesting because, well I did a research p roject just on the history of the dancing and you can kind of see how different generations showed up at certain times. So had what was like the Ralph Page generation, then the Dudley Laufman generation, and then I don't know what you call the next thing Wild Asparagus generation. So with the outing club in the forties and fifties, it was mostly square dances with some contra and that was sort of the Ralph Page sort of thing. Anyway, I got involved with the outing club, and was sort of interested in sort o f using the outing club (a big institutional body at Harvard) to start some sort of dance, and we organized, not a public dance, but a big dance that would happen maybe once a
! "#( semester where about three hundred people would show up. Like a big party. So an yway throughout all this time I was playing contra dance music, as well as Irish music some oldtime music. :: IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLD TIME MUSIC AND IRISH MUSIC? :: Y eah. Well there's a lot that can be called oldtime music you know when I think of oldtime music its American music, which tends to be thought of as Southern, which its not. So a lot of New England music, which is what is used for contra, which is historically a New England form of dance. There s a lot more influence from French Cana dian stuff, Scottish and Irish, which was originally a part of oldtime music as well but there is a difference in the instruments that are usually used. New England music is traditionally fiddle and piano where the fiddle is the melody instrument and the piano is the rhythm instrument. In oldtime music you still have the fiddle, but you also have the banjo and something like the guitar as rhythm. You know, as much as you can generalize. The Accordion is much more of a New England thing, maybe complimentar y to the banjo. :: WHEN DID PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS BECOME A PART OF OLDT IME MUSIC, OR CONTRA BANDS? :: T hat's an interesting question. You know there are a lot of bands with outlandish instruments, you know like the saxophone was really popular in the fo rt ies and fifties, which would be considered to be pretty unique these days um so yeah, you have a little more rustic flavor to the music. And there wasn't re ally any contra dancing in the S outh until 1970 so then there wasn't really a distinction betwee n oldtime music and dance music and there is a really great book about his very thing its called Old Time Music and Dance by John Beale. And it's a book about the Bloomington Indiana dance, which was started inspired by Dudley Laufman in the early seven ties and that dance was the first dance to use oldtime music for contra dancing as opposed to New England Style music. And that book particularly has a really good microcosm look at everything that's going on with how contra dancing has evolved from 1970 t o the early nineties. And one of those things is that first contra dancing spreads throughout the country around 1970 inspired by Dudley Laufman and a lot of people are using old time music, which is the traditional music of where they are in Bloomington I ndiana, there where no New England Musicians, but there were oldtime musicians and used the oldtime fiddle music rather than New England fiddle music. Then you have this wave where there are dances all over the country and a there are a few bands that are touring. And that changes things a lot. The big band, that I really think is at the center of this is Wild Asparagus that band was a real innovator in ways which definitely effected the way I live my life and the way that a lot of people dance. :: AND IS THIS JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE ONE OF THE FIRST TO TOUR, OR BECAUSE THEY HAD SOME NEW COMBINATION OF SOUNDS ? :: R ight, exactly, both of those things. First of all, they figured out that they could go tour, and originally they didn't have a fiddler, but since then they have settled on a standing fiddle player. So they did that, they traveled with a caller, which is not the most unusual then, although now it is a bit unusual. Um it s George Marshall who is always the caller with Wild Asparagus, who also plays in the band. And it s their music that I think is representative of the new New England style, which is not necessarily about being rooted in traditional New England music, but its an approach to playing for contra dancers. And that approach is to really u tilize music to connect with the dance and with the dancers and that's really a lot about pushing buttons. The terms that are used are "push the dancers buttons" and "cheap tricks" and basically they are a bunch of techniques where you think about how is your music affecting the dancers. For example, is your music really exciting and full of drama? Which you know, it doesn't have to be. Usually the sound is more quaint at local dances where people go to be social. We want the music to also be listenable a nd contemporary, drawing from influences like world music. You hear Wild Asparagus use world music, rock and roll. And a lot of that has to do with the musical innovation having to do with Celtic music in general, and that's another influence just bringing in a modern Celtic (Irish) influence. The other person who is really involved in this along with Wild Asparagus is Rodney
! "#) Miller, whose album "Airplane" is like the album for this, and its from 1985 I think, and about two years before this Miller recorded an album that was all traditional New England music, then he did this album right after that which is an approach to playing for contra dances that is very influenced by jazz and blues. Yeah, and you can really hear a difference between that first Chestnu t New Eng land album and the A irplane album. And that's really effected what I do in a lot of ways. And a lot of what Wild Asparagus was able to do has to do with traveling with a caller where they were really able to work on matching tunes with dances. :: AND I UNDERSTAND THAT AS WHAT WAS USUALLY THE CASE HISTORICALLY, BUT HAS THAT TENDENCY TO MATCH TUNES AND DANCES BECOME LESS POPULAR, OR HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN THE CASE THAT MATCHING WAS THE IDEA BEHIND CONTRA DANCES? :: Y eah I mean, a lot of older dances are danced to a specific tune, but now it s about crafting that match on the fly. So, I am in a band, and we have a particular set of tunes that we can play and this caller is calling a new dance that someone wrote and most of the dances that we dance now we re written in the past twenty or thirty years so they don't have tunes that go with them. So now, I look at the qualities that this dance has and I imagine the music that I might play and somehow try to match my music to that dance. And on top of that spon taneously we can think about how we can interact directly with the dancing. And all that is very typical of the modern New England way of playing for contra dances, which doesn't have much to do with traditional New England fiddle music but its just the Ne w E ngland style. And there are ple nty of bands out there from New England who play that way that's pretty much how all bands from New England play. Oldtime bands you know, just play their music, they don't necessarily worry about the nuances of trying to m ake for drama, which makes for an exciting pairing of the music with the dance. And that's not something intrinsic to the fiddle style, but there is a correlation there between those who play with that oldtime fiddle style and not be interested in the craf t of playing for particular dances as opposed to playing music people dance to. If that makes sense :: SORT OF, CAN YOU DESCRIBE MORE HOW THE OLDTIME FIDDLE STYLE ALLOWS FOR INTERACTION WITH DANCERS, LIKE WHAT DO BA ND MEMBERS PAY ATTENTION TO :: I n terms of oldtime music ? :: IN TERMS OF THE IDEA OF PLAYING A TUNE ON THE FLY THAT F ITS THE FEELING OF A DANCE :: R ight okay, so personally my approach is that I am a dancer. So I know what that feels like and I can relate to it. And I think that's a pretty im portant thing to well you certainly hear, this is another thing that gets correlated with southern oldtime music. Is you tend to hear a lot of stories about musicians who don't dance themselves I really feel like a lot of people think they really don 't know how to make for good dance music with out having danced. In terms of actually interacting with the dance there's a lot of the classic things you sort of learn how to do: things like look at the dance before hand, you look at the callers dance card where they describe the dance to you, and they say "well you know, there are a lot of balances if this section, then its kind of smooth later in this section" and you think about a tune that you might play or a set of tunes that, either because of the way those tunes are or in your arrangement of them and you can say "well our tune is kind of punchy in this section where you have the balances and another is smooth that we can use with the hay" a really good example of that was the Battle of the Balances D ance where the two callers were calling two different dances and we (Nor'Easter) knew that was coming up and there was going to be a bunch of balances all over the place and we knew also that we wanted to do the trick of being quiet for some of those. So w hat we did was we chose a set where you had a kind of natural break in places where the whole band could be. First of all *imitates the beat of a tune* which sounds very much like what it feels like when you are balancing. The music is reinforcing the move s that you're doing :: AND IS THAT WHAT YOU MEAN BY PUSH DANCER'S BUTTONS YOU USE THE BEAT OF THE MUSIC TO REINFORCE THE P ATTERN OF DANCER'S MOVEMENT :: R ight, you think of the role of the music being to help the dancers
! "#* dance so one of the fun experi ences with this whole Battle of the Balances thing is that feeling of okay we are balancing, and now they are balancing. So we build up in the music you know, not knowing we were going to do that until a few minutes before the dance started we chose a tune that we could quickly arrange to fit the dance. So you know first we were quiet for the right side, then next we were quiet for the left side, and the next time around we were quiet for everyone. We were really telling a story, long form, in terms whe re our music can make musical decisions. So you know, sometimes people actually no tice that, usually they don't. B ut if you do something and you do it well, people end up feeling like they had a good experience even if you can't put your finger on why. U lt imately you're trying to make for a fun experience. So that's kind of an extreme example, there are simpler things like punctuating balances, making sure there are smooth parts when there are smooth parts. Also say a dance is totally smooth, with no balanc es what so ever. You might want to choose a tune that is not totally smooth because otherwise people are going to get lost. So this is a topic that you can continue to discuss and there aren't agreed upon methods to do so of how to match music with the dan ces that are out there. Even just the approach of wanting to do that is something that's kind of a shared thing. And people have lots of different approaches. For me there's this band Nightingale, which is no longer around, they had very strict arrangement s; they weren't really in tune with adapting their music. Instead what they w ould do is say to the caller, "T his is what we are going to play because we are a famous and awesome band and you know what our music sounds like, now you choose the dances that w ill go with the m usic that we are going to play," which is totally backwards from how every other band does it. But it s really interesting because that's one extreme. But yeah, it's a real combination between what you know you're going to sound like when you start playing and adapting totally in the moment. You know watching the dancers; it has to do with a lot of things. It has to do with the tempo. Are people looking tired? Are they getting to moves on time? You take in all that information and you try t o adapt as soon as possible to make the dance work as nicely as it can and so that's basically it, however there are varying extremes of the same idea. And some people don't even pay that much attention :: YOU MEAN DANCERS NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THE CR EATIVITY OF THE MUSIC ? :: W ell, I don't know because often times I have people come up to me and say that they notice me looking at the dancers a lot. And that surprises them and then I have to say "W ell yeah of course watching the dancers, for me, is rea lly big part in playing for dancers" because I am trying to adjust my music to make sure my music is working as well as possible with the dance. And no, I don't think people pick up on how nuanced you can be about it. There are lots of things to think abou t and the real truth underneath all of that is really, whatever tune you play it will work with any dance :: BECAUSE THEY WILL ALWAYS BE ST RUCTURED WITH 64 BEAT SETS? :: E xactly, so long as you have 32 bars and you are in roughly the right tempo range, which is somewhere between 110 and 130 beats per minute then whatever you play is going to be fine. So to some extent being interested in the nuances is really what keeps it intere sting for me. But there are ple nty of great musicians that don't have that approach. In general, the New England style of music everyone thinks of it as some kind of pairing of the music with the dance in the moment :: IS THE IN THE MOMENT PAIRING APPROACH SPECIFICALLY A CONTEMPORARY PHENOMENA, OR HISTORICALLY HAS THIS BEEN HAP PENING, TO AN EXTENT, SINCE THE ONSET O F OLDTIME MUSIC TRADITIONS? :: W ell, first of all I think you should reconsider your use of the term oldtime music, because at least to me oldtime music refers to Southern music. So, you could just say traditional fid dle music, or just dance music. Just because well you'll see if people find that an unclear term or not, but oldtime music. Is something I certainly don't do :: OKAY, THANKS FOR CLEAR ING THAT UP :: Y eah it s confusing. And you know, it happens less at least with contra dance music because before people started writing a bunch of dances so much of the dance material was traditional and had tunes that
! "$+ went with it. You know, it s not like you had a choice of what music you were going to play. You knew yo u were going to play that one tune for that one dance. So that's a very modern idea. For instance square dancing, where you would just play whatever you wanted to play because in a square dance it's a little more difficult to match the moves to what you ar e going to play and the difference being that the caller is changing the order of what they're saying all the time. So it's a little bit difficult to compliment that. You would kind of just want to stay out of their way. I don't want to say that musicians have never thought of the tune dance pairing question before, but it is certainly something that is relatively distinctive about the modern era (from the 1980s until now) of playing for contra dances is that it's a really large part of what musicians think about. As opposed to a really large part of musicians being well versed in the tunes they are asked to play. Like, I couldn't play any classic tunes and get away with it. And you know, I really, I try hard to have some connection to the traditional dances and the tunes that go with them, which I think is really important. Okay so, on Saturday night we danced money musk after the whole dance ended on Saturday night. Well, there were probably about eight or ten couples and we staged an impromptu old dance an d we did the music acoustically. And the dance is called "Money Musk" and the tune is called "Money Musk". And I think there is a website called davemoneymusk, and in the last couple of years there's been a tradition called "Money Musk" Moment, where in on e particular week, everyone tries to do "Money Musk" everywhere in the country. It hasn't permeated everywhere but you can see there, where people have done it in various places and submitted videos to the site. And well, that's part of these three things that I want to do as a dance musician o r part of what s important to me, in terms of the music. The first of which is that it helps the dancing. You know, it s good to dance to. Second of which, is that is enjoyable to listen to, you know I want to make music that people like, and it s not just that it technically helps you out, but that you enjoy listening to it. And the third part of that is a little bit ambiguous. But it is important to me that the music that I make is connected with the tradition and supportive of the traditional community aspects of contra dancing. :: ACTUALLY, FOR THE NEXT FEW MOMENTS, WOULD YOU MIND TALKING ABOUT HOW THIS CONNECTION WITH TRADITION AND THIS IDEA OF SU PPORT FOR "THE DANCE COMMUNITY?" OR WHAT THAT COMMUNITY MEANS TO Y OU? WHAT A RESPECTABLE MEMBER OF THIS COMMUNITY IS LIKE? :: U h, yeah sure. It s something that I think about a lot. In some ways I think that is a little arbitrary. But in some ways there is something in the form of contra dancing that lend itself to real ly suppor t community building. So you go out there, a nd you're with your partner. And you dance with that partner, and you all dance with all these other people and you meet them and then you get a new partner and you get the experience, hopefully of havin g danced with everybody in the hall. And not only that but having done that through a group where there are moments of individuality, for instance, when you twirl and those little things, but there is also so many moments of group activity. Including the f act that everybody is doing the same thing, like everyone is swinging, that kind of thing, or in long lines, which is actually the biggest move because you are actually moving as a whole. And in some ways that's important to me as a response to feeling is olated in the modern world. You know, living our lives through F acebook. Or not having connections at all. T he fact that here you can have an actual physical connection with people and can develop relationships with them and that we come together as equals on the dance floor you know, that idea that you can have a ten year old dancing with a 60 year old, and someone in their thirties dancing with someone in their fifties. And you're all sort of dancing as equals. That's very important to me. And it s some thing that's sort of counter cultural, because in the rest of our lives someone who is a different age than us there's some sort of power relationship there, right? They are your teacher or your parent or your boss. But in contra dance I think there's a wa y of getting out from under that. Because you can interact with people you wouldn't normally interact with, particularly because of their age. And come at each other in an
! "$" egalitarian manner. Which is something that I think is very special, that intergener ational component, and its not just all about the fact that there are different ages of people all over, they are interacting with each other, and there's other components to it as well, you know, you can have people from different groups come together. :: YEAH, IT SEEMS THAT ITS NOT ONLY LIFTS THE VAIL OF AGE, IT DOES THE SAM E FOR POLITICAL AFFILIATION :: E xactly :: TO ME ITS AS THOUGH ALL YOUR SOCIAL LABELS JUST FLOAT AWAY, IT S ABOUT MORE THAN JUST AGE YOU KNOW, EVEN THERE IS THE STRUCTURE OF LEAD AND FOLLOW, THE ROLES PLAYED SAY NOTHING ABOUT THE PERSON YOU'RE DANCING WITH :: Ye ah, and you could even get into that question of the lead and follow. Because that's the way a lot of people talk about contra, as a lead follow dance. But especially the older generations do not think of it that way. And well, I think lead follow is more gendered than lady and gent, because it implies a power dynamic. But I think that the way people are dancing now, as opposed to the way people danced thirty years ago, is more lead and follow than it used to be. :: SO IT S LIKE THE WORDS THAT WE USE (LADY/GENT) ARE MORE GENDERED, BUT THE WAY PEOPLE DANCE HAS MORE OF A LEAD FOLLOW POWER DYNAMIC? :: Y eah, I don't know. I think about it like this, "Lady" and "Gent" are gendered, bu t they don't represent a power dynamic, whereas lead follow does imply a power dynamic. And the lead follow thing is something that is coming from swing dance and blues dancing, which is having a huge influence on the way people contra dance, with all the dipping and stuff like that. And especially if you talk with people who have been dancing for a while (say 30 or 40 years ago), I think that you would find a lot of people who would disagree with the idea that contra dancing is a lead follow dance. They wo uld say there are men and women who do it, and they have distinctive roles, but it s not the case that the men are in charge and women are subsidiary I mean, even the way people twirl now is a little bit r evolutionary. In the sense that when I am dancing the lady's role I am not in control of the twirling. And you know there are much more twirls today that there used to be. It used to just be an embellishment, and now it s almost a requirement. But also this seems to be confirmed for me by a few conversat ions that I've had about this and now is that the man presents the twirl and what it used to be was giving a lot more of a conversational interaction where the woman could chose to accept or reject the presentation of a twirl. S o yeah as far as contra as a lead follow dance you'll find variety in each generation. And it sort of makes sense when you have a generation that has been either directly or indirectly influenced by swing dance and thinks of contra dance as a lead follow and then treat it that way. So it becomes a lead follow because you treat it that way. As opposed to the earlier generation, who I don't think thought of it that way. And really what the difference is that it's a called dance. It s not a lead follow, because everyone is paying atten tion to the caller. And I mean it even has to do with a change in the kinds of dances that are done. The modern approach to writing dances, and a lot of the dances that get called have more opportunities for individualism. With in the group. Especially be cause almost every dance will have a partner swing and then a neighbor swing. Which even thirty years ago was not the case. :: DO YOU THINK THAT THIS INCREASE IN THE ROOM FOR EMBELLISHMENT IS LITERALLY CHANGING THE TRADITION, OR DO YOU SEE IT AS A PASSING FAD? :: I mean, it's a living tradition you know the tradition will go where ever the people who are doing it are. So, I do think that it is changing and I am not sure that it will be represented by "this is how it used to be done" :: I GUESS A BETTER QUE STION IS, SINCE NEW DANCES ARE STARTING NEW TRENDS, DO YOU THINK THIS INCREASED LEVEL OF INDIVIDUAL INTERACTION THREATENS THE COLLECTIVITY OF THE COMMUNITY? :: I do think that the two a re in tension with each other. T hey are pu shing and pulling on each ot her, but I don't know if I would say one threatens the other, well maybe they do, at a certain point say you have ultimate individualism, then you don't have a contra dance any more. What would the
! "$# caller be doing, if you're choosing what you do all th e ti me. But myself, as a dancer, I am disturbed by the level of individualism that I see. Like a good example is when people are doing long lines or a circle, and not everyone is participating in like technically holding on to each other and I'm sure yo u've seen that, where a couple chooses to do a dip instead of participating in long lines. And I will admit that it sort of makes my blood boil because I feel like that whole thing is the point of participating in a dance. You know, if you want to go off a nd dip, you can do that, but its no longer contra dancing to me. What i s valuable are these collective things that we do together, and in long lines especially it gets a little spoiled. For me, if you don't have the physicality, holding on to the people wh ere everybody is doing it. You really get, there is a collectivism in that, that you don't get if people are off doing their own things, which may or may not have anything to do with the move that is being called. So, I guess I do see a tension there, and maybe I see a threat. I mean, the tradition might change, but that's just how it would be. I personally try to represent for the things that I like to see in the dancing. And I am also happy when callers are, and organizers are, are willing to convey real values about dancing, because I think we can have disagreements about what makes for good dancing for us individually, it s really helpful for individuals, callers, and organizers to make a case for the kind of dancing they like and to try to buy people in to that, you know. Because what you're building is a community and so it makes sense to have shared values. And one of the things to have shared values I think, is to talk about them a little bit. Um so yeah, there s a little bit on that. :: YEAH, THAT WA S SO RICH AND BEAUTIFUL, THANK YOU SO MUCH! AND I HAVE JUST ONE MORE QUESTION, I AM CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL DEFINITION OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A GOOD CONTRA DANCER IN A GOOD CONTRA DANCE LIKE WHAT ARE A FEW THINGS THAT REALLY MAKE THE EXPERIENCE STICK TOGE THER? :: F or me the number one thing for me that makes a good dancer is that they dance with who they're with and they make the best of that experience as can be, while also keeping in mind the dynamic. So for instance, say I am dancing and I really like dips and everything, and I run into someone who doesn't, it s good that I dance with them. Or even a better more minute example would be say I was dancing with someone and their swing was a little different than mine then I adapt to their swing, you k now maybe they aren't doing a "buzz step" they're doing some other thing, I am going to adapt to that. And I think that amount of accommodation for the moment that you're in, both with the individual that you're dancing with and with the group like if so mebody is late, you find ways to try to get everybody back on track. You're watching out for the people you're dancing with, and so maybe if the foursome that you're dancing with is ge tting a little bit unsteady or you're running a little late, you find th at there's a very natural way to skip ahead to the next part so that you're all there on time. So basically my definition of a good dancer is someone who makes dancing around them very easy. :: HUM, SEEMS TO ME SORT OF LIKE MIND READING, OR MORE ACTUALLY B ODY READING :: Y eah, its kind of like that. The other aspect of that is, there is a social aspect to it too, which is that we are doing this for fun and we are doing this for community, so a good dancer is really somebody who or the good dance experience that I have had are where those are the focus. Its that I get the sense when I am dancing with this person that 1) I am having fun, they are having fun and that our goal is to have fun, its not to accomplish anything fancy, but also our goal is to connect You know, we are not just physical objects encountering each other you know, this person that I am doing an a ll e mand e with is not an automaton that says I need to accomplish this move," but they are a human being that I get to interact with in that m oment, and I especially love those dances where either there is a lot of time in between dances so you can socialize, or where everybody goes out to a diner, or something like that afterward, because then you are building on the connection you have made, a nd that's what about the dance is really important, the thing that the dance enables, which is that meeting people and finding someone, making a connection the feels kind of rare. So
! "$$ maybe my favorite thing about dances is everything around the dancing. Al l those things around the dancing, that which having a dance enables. You know, having a contra dance enables me to have a conversation with this person. And I feel like, as a musician I feel conflicted about the fact that I get paid. In order to partici pate in the community, and I make part of my living off of it. it would be disturbing to me if like almost all dance organizers are volunteers. And almost all dances are run because people love to do it, not because they have any interest financially d oing it. You know, there are not people out there who are contra dance promoters that work in the same way a bar might work. Where you hire a musician. I would be very disturbed if that was the case. And you know, I am holding contra dancers to a double st andard somewhat, because I do get paid to do this. If the under pinning of dances were capitalism versus communitarianism that would really, well the idea of it would make me a little sad. And that makes me really love orga n izers, because there are doing i t because they love it, or they want to build community, not because they want to maximize the amount of money that they make. :: DO YOU OR HAVE Y OU SEEN AN ACTUAL RISK OF CAPITA LISM BEING A VALUE OF CONTRA DANCE ORGANIZERS? :: W ell, thirty years ago, fort y years ago, both callers and musicians weren't paid enough to make a significant part of their living doing it, and especially sound people weren't, but now you can. Now there are callers, musicians and sound people that make a significant part of their l iving doing it, at least enough to think about how much do I get paid doing this, and you know you can chose one job over another one, because it pays more. Um well, there have been a few instances where um, organizers have approached me and talk about how well there was this one thing that recently happened, where somebody was interested in doing something along the lines of developing contra dancing as a hobby business for himself, and I feel like it is very important for them to think about treating it as a business and make money off of it. And to me it makes sense, contra dancing is popular enough that you can do something like that. But that's the thing that is really pushing at the edges of what makes contra dancing unique, as opposed to just going t o a bar, or going to a club and having a fun time. There are plenty of opportunities to do that. But um, because there are so many opportunities to do that I think it s worth thinking about what is special about the contra dance world and the community asp ect of that as opposed to the consumer. The way I see it is that there is consumerism and then there is community and sometimes consumerism is trusted in a way that makes it seem to deserve community, but I view them as ultimately not being compatible. Per sonally as a musician I feel somewhat in the middle, you know I am popular as a musician because we do a good job. So then I get to travel places and play music. So there is a consumer aspect. Because to some extent there is a product in the music that I am doing. And its hard not to at least some of the time think about that. For me, I am very careful and I think it 's important to be, about what role do I have as an individual, in terms of the choices that I make, in terms of the kind of music that I make does it serve a community? Or is it simply about making decisions from a consumerist stand point. And you know, I have to balance that personally in my own life. And I think I wrestle with it maybe more than some, but it s definitely something that impor tant for me. :: YEAH, I FEEL SIMILARLY, A SORT OF RESPONSIBILITY NOT TO TAKE CARE OF THE COMMUNITY, BUT TO RECOGNIZE THE UNIQUENESS OF CONTRA, LIKE THERE IS NO BAR OR CLUB IN THE COUNTRY THAT CAN GIVE THAT FEELING OF CONNECTION THAT I FEEL WHEN I AM CONTRA DA NCING. :: A nd to that extent it makes me feel like it is something worth defending, and figuring out what that means :: ANY IDEAS AT THE MOMENT? :: W ell, I mean the biggest thing is not working with few individuals out there who are experimenting with t reating it as a business. But yeah, there are a lot of aspects to it That's just something that I feel is important in representing as a dancer, is representing a communal approach to dancing, in addition to having fun as an individual. It s something tha t I actively talk to people about. So one of the things I do is that I am on the
! "$% committee for a youth dance weekend for a chapter in Vermont, and that weekend could be a weekend just for younger contra dancers to get together to have just a really fun tim e with each other, but what it should be is not that. Hopefully what it is a chance for the younger generation to get a chance to dancers callers and musicians to get together to see that they have a real power in the community, and their space is abo ut how they dance, how they call, what their approach to playing music is, can have a real effect on the community. You know, it s even a small enough community, when you look at people who are doing it all over the country, I mean each individual can have a big influence oh the approach that everybody does and on the values that everyone in the community has. So I think, we are so used to being receivers of information and pleasure, and entertainment for me it s important with dance weekends is to remind p eople that they are a part of creating your dance, wherever you are. And weather you think of that in an active way or not, you are. Your participation and whatever your level of consciousness is, your participation is having an effect of what kind of danc e that is. So that is one of the active ways that I try to convey my perspective and my values and its valuable to be that this isn't the kind of dance form that or a community where there is one authority telling you how to do things. I really like the f act that there is a great deal of variety in approaches. And different people have different values in terms of what contra dancing means to them, what the role of the community is, all of those things. I enjoy the fact that there is diversity there. I als o feel like that doesn't mean that I can't make the case for an approach that is inclusive and approximate what is really special to me. yeah, how bout that :: COOL. ALL THAT IS SOME WONDERFUL STUFF. UM, WAS THERE ANYTH ING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO ADD? :: N o, that's probably good for now, but I would be happy to sent you a few places where people have written some interesting stuff about this. :: YEAH, THAT SOUNDS GREAT! AND THANK YOU SO MUCH :: Thank you! I am excited to see what you will come up with. I nformant: Dana Parkinson (Email, not recorded interview) Julie, Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. It's been hard to get back on track after Snowball! You ask some pretty weighted questions! I could go into immense detail on any of these to pics. I will try and do my best in addressing each. I started dancing 3 years ago when the Great Bear Trio stayed at my Mom's house. She had already been dancing for about a year. The boys convinced me to try dancing and I caught the dance bug! I started doing dance weekends right away, and currently go to 12 dance weekends a year at least. My interest in calling sparked after about my first year of dancing. I attended a dance week at Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia where Cis Hinkle taugh a calling workshop every day. It was the burst of knowledge and experience I needed to kickstart my calling. I've been calling for about a year now, mostly at local gigs. It's very different being on stage rather than on the floor! I had a hard time gettin g over my initial stage fright and mic fright! Calling is so rewarding because you get to teach the dancers your favorite dances, communicate with the band to match them up with the music, and watch everyone have a wonderful time while you get a front row concert! As much as I adore calling, I still dance A LOT! I refuse to choose between the two, and I hope I always get the opportunity to do both. I think it's important for people to have a place to come together as a community that is not religiously af filiated, and contra is the perfect avenue for this type of gathering. The safe, warm family feeling atmosphere at local dances fills my little dancer heart with joy every time. Dance weekends offer the opportunities for travel, meeting new people from far away places
! "$& (such as the north!) and dancing to the best talent the dance world has to offer. Every dance weekend is a life changing experience. They are truly magical. Techno contra (also known as crossover contra) is a new kind of contra dance that inc orporates recorded music and the feeling of a night club in a contra dance. I believe techno contra was born out of a desire to provide dancers with a sexy nighttime dance party for energetic dancers to express their creativity in a safe environment. I can say from experience, that techno contras are much safer than the dance clubs in Ybor City, while still providing an exciting, sensual atmosphere. I enjoy calling techno contras for two main reasons. Dancers in Florida want to try it and see what all the f uss is about! It looks like fun on those YouTube videos they see and it's contra! It is a great challenge as a caller to call to often unphrased music that includes changing tempos and beats. Usually, I have to mix my own music for local techno contras, w hich adds another dimension of work for me. I need to find the right music, mix it, find dances that work with it, and make sure it all has a good "flow" and "feel". Lately I've been lucky enough to work with Chad Young, a DJ in Gainesville and Julie Valli mont (and Ed and Russell and John) at Snowball. Techno contra is creating its own niche in the dance world. It will never, by any means, "take over" traditional contra dance as far as I'm concerned, but will augment it by providing dancers with a new st yle of contra to explore. It opens doors for DJs and musicians who want to explore the night club feel of techno contra. The best DJs I know of, both contra dancers, are Julie Vallimont (of the band Nor'easter) and Jeremiah Seligman (DJ Improper). They are hands down the best talent when it comes to techno contra right now. Techno contra has definitely been ruffling the feathers of dancers all over the country who don't see a place for it or can't roll with the sexy night club feel. I believe it was born a bit of a rebellion against traditional dance, but with popularity is learning to grow alongside it. It is maturing and changing. It will lose some of its novelty and exclusiveness as it spreads, but it is just way too much fun to die out anytime soon. It s very nature does not lend itself to the same type of community building as normal contra. In lower lights, you can't always see who you're dancing with. To change partners during a meddley, you have to jump out of the set at the top or bottom. Dancing in very sensual and intimate ways is most comfortable with dancers you know well. I personally only dance techno contras with partners I know well. I think that techno contra grows best out of a pre existing dance community with a large group of young and/or energetic dancers who are very creative. Techno contras have many different moods in and of themselves. Each techno is a little different. In North Carolina, where I first experienced techno contra, the dancing was hot, steamy, sexy, intimate and roudy! When I put on a contra dance here at home, I go for a more fun, energetic vibe that is less sexy. I know my local dancers, and try to let techno contra fit their community in a personalized way. Am I alluding to the fact that the techno contra I danced in North Carolina was too roudy and club like for my local dance? Absolutely. We have a very different vibe down here. We have different dancers and different dancing. Don't get me wrong, I love them both, they are both wonderful. But I want to bring techno h ere in a way that is conducive to people having a great time that's what contra is all about. As long as everyone is having a blast, I think I've done a good job putting on a techno. I hope this answered most of your questions! Please, please feel free to send me any follow up clarifications or questions you may have. Also, I would love to be able to see your work before it is published/produced if that's ok? I am really concerned about my impact on my dance community and want to make sure I am a good em bassador for techno contra, young dancers and callers, and my local group. Here are a bunch of great resources I think you should look at: DJ Improper's Facebook page: https://www.faceb ook.com/Jeremiah.Seligman
! "$' Chad Young, DJ from Gainesville who is not a contra dancer but has DJed for other dance events (ballroom, swing, etc.) email@example.com CDSS (Country Dance and Song Society) blog talking about the history of crossover contra. Do you know about CDSS? They are the biiiig organization that helps keep traditional dance and tune all over the country alive. Amazing organization. http://blog.cdss.org/2011/06/crossover contra dancing a recent history/ My friend Ryan's amazing website/blog. This page has 3 articles on techno contra: http://www.contrasyncretist.com/1/category/techno%20contra/1.html Here is my interview with her about techno in Florida ht tp://www.contrasyncretist.com/1/category/dana%20parkinson/1.html My caller's website! www.dancewithdana.com Informant: Renee Brewer [informant's name has been changed by request] J: Hello [nam e removed] RB: Hello is this Julie, J: Yes, it is. How was your day? RB: Oh it was good, I was worried that you may have called earlier, because I had to go to school today, and now I am back, but its fine J: When are you going to school for? RB: O h. No I work at Santa Fe College, two days a week. They were doing a test today for ESOL students, so I was helping to give that test. J: O kay, so you are a teacher there? RB: Yes, there is a department called Adult Education, it was a program are you famili ar with Julie Foreman, who used to dance? J: Maybe RB: Well she was a dancer when I first came here, she also is a clogger, so you would have seen her when you go to Florida Folk Festival. J: Y eah, now that you mention clogging, the name is familiar. RB: W ell, she is in charge of that department, and I work with her. J: I nteresting. Well, I guess I could start out saying a little bit about my project I am writing about contra dancers because I think it s interesting how many people in this country an d around the world who don't know about contra dancing, considering how long it s been around. And I'm also interested in, like, why folk dancing is not as popular anymore that's j ust a question of mine. But um, I guess the way that I am researching this question is by talking to people about their introduction and experiences with contra where I am trying to approximate for each individual what is it about the people that do it or the practice it self, that is attractive to you. So, yeah, you are welcom e to start anywhere from there RB: W ell, I had no previous experience contra dancing before I came to Gainesville. I knew about Scottish dancing and English dancing, but I didn't know about contra. J: I m sorry, could I interrupt just for a second, to a sk where you were before you came to Gainesville? RB: Okay, I am from Jamaica originally. And the place that I have worked the longest, was at a school up in Massachusetts, and when I left there, I went to work in Tanzania in East Africa and when I retire d that's when I came to Gainesville, directly from Tanzania. And I looked in the newspaper because, you know, I wanted to meet some people, and I saw contra dancing, I called the number, and it was Berry who answered. And I said, "Do you take beginners?" and he said, "Oh yes, we love beginners. Just come half an hour before we begin and you will get some
! "$( training." And so I did that, and I found the people there to be very welcoming and very accommodating, everybody made mistakes, but no one made you feel stupid. And that was all I hoped. I had always liked dancing, and this was just one more thing that made it easier the fact that yo u didn't have to have a partner J: R ight, the idea that you can dance with almost anyone in the room, you don't have to come together. When you were in Jamaica and Tanzania where there other kinds of dancing that you did and enjoyed? Was there anything similar to the structured nature of contra? RB: T here was nothing like contra there. I guess the dancing there would be called Ballroom. I mean every week in Jamaica, we always had parties, and at parties in this country you know, men will go over to one side and will be drinking or just sitting and talking that's not how it is in Jamaica. When I grew up if you were invited to a party you knew you were going to be dancing, it came with the territory. And in Tanzania I worked at an international school where there were a lot of international teachers and we hung out together, went to clubs, and we went to the places where people dance a lot. So it was really nice. J: W ould you say in Tanzania, that there is less of a partner relationship between dancers? RB: Y eah, well, the dancing there, I wouldn't call it ballroom, if you didn't have a partner it was fine, people just danced th e way you all do when you go to a social. J: O kay, well do you have any idea about why, especially with contra dancers you've experienced, you are able to have a sense of welcome and accommodation? I guess I am trying to explain and understand why people feel so safe in contra dance you know to be them selv es and accept others for doing the same thing you know. I am really surprised by contra, in that there is no one ideal way of doing it, you know, people can put their own style on it. RB: U m well, I think people are attracted to this because well let's say the people who are attracted to contra dancing, are people that are pretty open for the most part, and just like to have fun. And I think the fact, as a woman, that you don't have to go with a par tner makes it much more accessible than say swing dancing where you need a partner. And I' m not sure what else, you know the music, I' m sure people go for that too. But the community on the whole, is one that seems healthy. You know, you don't get people who are drinking a lot, or smoking, and so you get music, not necessarily expert musicians, but people who love to play. J: Y eah, I can agree with you about how the musicians play into the picture because its like they are playing a concert, but the audie nce is kind of not paying attention which is something that I am trying to explain about contra dancing, that it's a kind of revolutionary form of performance. Where there's not spectacle to be had, it s all participatory. RB: M mhmm, and when the music is as exquisite as it is at a weekend, it just energizes people J: E xactly. So you were mentioning that contra is more accessible than other kinds of dance, as a woman, because of the partner aspect. Um, do you feel contra is also more accessible as a Jama ican woman? Like, even though it comes from a mostly white American past do you see it sort of resisting the past? RB: W ell I was surprised when I got there, that I was the only black person there. And over the years I continued to be for the most part, c ertainly in this community. There were a few others who started coming, but they don't continue or stick with it. And I don't know whether it's because well this could play into it, the fact that I don't have a spouse, or a partner, so this is something for me to do, whereas I guess some other people, black or white, if they have a spouse who is not particularly interested you know, they could get pulled away J: R ight, yeah that agreement between spouses seems to be important. Have you ever spoken to oth er black dancers about the experience of being a minority ? RB: No, because when you go, you know the only other place besides Gainesville, where I see some black dancers, are the dance weekends. And who has time there to talk about things to me that ar en't that important. People are there to have fun. I remember a friend form Tanzania
! "$) coming to Snow Ball. She was not a participant, she in fact was on crutches, but she came to meet me there. And um, because she is American, I said to her, "you know, wh y are there so few African Americans who dance?" for instance in Atlanta, where there are a lot of Afr ican Americans living there. S he is from the mid west, Detroit, and she thought that it had to do with the kind of music, that at one time, the black co mmunity saw it as redneck music, but she was just sort of guessing. Its music from Appalachia, music from the South, and you know the South traditionally was pretty racist. J: T otally, yeah. They were not very respectful of African Americans in their musi c. When blacks were included it wasn't as much of a choice for slaves. RB: Y eah, and the place that I heard of clogging first was in North Carolina, whe n I lived there at one time. And when I lived up N orth in Massachusetts, I never heard anybody talking about clogging. And I think it was Julie, who studied in England when she did her masters, and she introduced clogging to the area where she was. J: H m, well. Since we are on the subject of music. How do you feel about the new crossover contra or "techno" contra idea? RB: I have been to one techno dance, it was at UF. And I think it s fine. And at that dance they played just one particular tune for the whole time. And so it gets kind of boring when you go down the line repeating, like when the caller does n't know when enough is enough. And when I went to Atlanta recently they had a techno session, the r oom was very small and crowded, and I knew I couldn't stay there for those reasons. But my feeling is, that if this is what young people are feeling then le t's go for it. You don't want just a bunch of older grey haired people and think that something will survive, it just won't J: T hat's a really great perspective. I don't think anyone else I've talked to praised techno contra in the same way. I really like and appreciate the attitude of "I f they like it, let them have it" RB: A bsolutely J: do you have any personal, or not, any examples of how contra dancers support the community of each other? RB: Ye s, and I think it may happen less frequently now, but I r emember when in the past, a fellow dancer needed help doing things and packing up and several people went to help her pack up. And so I see it as being very cooperative, and I don't know if it s like that everywhere J: D o you see that level of extreme coo peration saying something about the people who are attracted to contra dancing or does it say something about the kind of practice that contra is. you know like, when one is contra dancing they have to constantly be aware of your surroundings, but it is in a safe place where you can add your individ ual self into the equation with out stepping on other people's toes. RB: It could be both the kind of person that is attracted to contra and just the kind of dance that it is. Because you are dancing with a par tner, but s ometimes with other partners I' m not sure, I haven't really thought of that. J: H ow do you feel personally about individual creativity in the midst of a contra line? Like, do you ever have a thought, or does it bother you when not everyone is holding hands in a circle or when long lines are broken and the person next to you isn't trying to bridge that gap? RB: W ell it depends of the amount of exuberance, because sometimes I see that as being disruptive, but if somebody is just putting in their own "flare" on a particular move that's okay but I don't want to but I guess there are some people who need to be very exuberant and will do things that are out of, or not on the call, then it just depends on how excessive they do whatever they are doi ng, because that can destroy the feeling of the line. You know, making a variation on a move is perfectly alright, but when you do nothing but variations all the time, I think that can get tiresome. J: D o you like to include flare or variation in you r dan ce time?
! "$* RB: N ot often, and its not because I don't like to. But you know when they are doing the Petranill a twirl, I often will do instead of the clap I sort of wiggle. So yea little twists on a move, I think that's fine, but if I did something disruptive something that made other people late that is the disruptive element. J: O kay, so could you describe what about the contra environment, for you, makes it feel safe to be yourself. Do you in fact feel that contra is a place where you can comfortably be y ourself? RB: I think the fact that they encourage you to change partners and dance with different people. You know, callers will say from time to time, "Find yourself a new partner," and I don't know where else that happens you know. In any other kind of d ancing its not stated that it is expected to be done. And so the people who dance with no one other than the people they come with, they sort of stand out as different. And no one criticizes them either, but it is noticed. J: O kay well, that seems to be a ll the specific questions that I have on my end. Is there any aspect of contra that I haven't asked about that is you feel is important or worth sharing? RB: W ell, I don't usually go to the parties after, but you know how in Gainesville they have a party after each dance. I think that's really the thing that helps people to bond. Because when you're dancing you can't really talk with people, so when there s a party I think that helps the community get closer. But I usually don't go so there are a lot of pe ople who I know their faces, but not their names. J: Is there a reason why you don't go to the parties? RB: A fter the Saturday dance its usually too late in the evening for me, because I go to church on Sunday. And sometimes I just want to go home. J: S o yeah, that does seem like one element of the community that keeps dancers together, the after parties. RB: mmhm. And I don't know if a lot of young people go to the after parties Informant: Leslie Green J: So, I guess I'll start by asking your permis sion to record this conversation L: um, Yes. J: A nd at the end of the interview, depending on how you feel, you can let me know if I can use your name connected to your statements L: Alright, J: So I guess I'll start by talking a little bit about my proje ct, the crux of which is I m trying to get an idea about why people who like contra dancing like it so much, and I am trying to make a statement about how this practice is a really great community building tool, because it give people the actual feeling of coming together in the moment, but I have kind of come into some difficulties writing this paper like ultimately praising contra because it d oes come from a "traditional" "A merican" "folk" and a lot of times racist past that people are trying to move away from so yea, your experience as an African American female i s fascinating to me. And yeah, i f you want to start with your introduction to contra and just go on from there speaking freely about what it means to you and your identity. L: O kay, hm. We ll, my introduction to contra, I do remember that. I was single. And Well, I have always danced or was a dancer of some sort until I was about 4 or 5. And I always loved dancing, My mom wanted me to join performing arts high school in New York and I real ized if I did, it would become work. And I have always enjoyed movement, so I didn't want that to become something I depended on for money. So, I was looking in the paper, The St. Pete Times, and they had this really nice spread about contra dancing. It wa s several pages, and they had some really cool pictures. And the thing that caught my eye was that you don't need a partner. And it s like, there are times when I want to do something, but I may not be able to do it, if the white folks
! "%+ don't want me to do it. So my challenge was, "Well, I'm going" and since you don't have to have a partner, or at least the whole premise is you can ask anyone to dance and they have to dance with you, which is rea lly different than any type of couples dancing. You know, and there s always that residual stuff from high school, and who is the cutest or who is the slenderest, and so I went. And the other thing that I liked about it was the they were going to show you the basic steps, so you didn't have to go to a whole class or weeks and weeks of training, it was all pretty basic. And you would have that opportunity to practice. I felt pretty secure in my ability to do it because I am pretty comfortable with my body as far as getting the dance, so I said, "A lright, I'll go." And that was my introduction. And I felt comfortable and competent you know effective in the task so I kept going. I think well from what I know of contra dancing this is kind of a revival. The origins of it may have been racist, but in short hand "the hipp ies picked this up." And the hippies are all accepting and all inclusive, and that's a part of the culture of what this contra dance is that anybody can dance, anybody can be accepted here, anybody can be welcomed here, which includes other nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, and that's what I experienced. Anybody I wanted to, I danced with, and anybody I asked danced with me. J: H ave you noticed any sort of change from what the hippie mentality used to be? Either that contra has become more accepting, or less? L: H m, that's a pretty broad questions so let me split it up and answer parts of it There still are not a lot of black people who do this, at least in the places that I have danced, I mig ht seen just one or two other p eople who are African Ameri can, I see a lot of other nationalities, but they are still vastly in the minority and so that hasn't changed. And part of what I started to notice was another type of prejudice which had to do, in part, with size the last great prejudice and to some extent with age. And so you could dance with certain people, you can ask anyone to dance, and I consider myself a very good dancer, and a very good follower and I love that experience of the play between the follower and the lead, where you are talking t o each other but not talking. And I'll see somebody whose a really fabulous dancer, and I'll want to dance with them, because I want to play, and what I'll get they'll dance with me but it won't be fun. J: M eaning they won't play? L: Y eah, exactly. And of course, not being as assertive as I'd like to be, I want to say, "you know I saw you do all this other stuff with other people and I'm wondering what happened and why you didn't want to do it with me." also I have gone to dances where people assumed I didn't know what I was doing, and they can be patronizing. And I don't know if that's because I was black, or new. You know, some people were trying to be nice and saying "W elcome naive black person, let me take you under my wing and show you the ropes" and when I out dance them I just kind of giggle and move on to the next victim and so that's one change in my awareness. Where acceptance in general is the letter of the law. But you'll see in terms of age there are a lot of older guys who want to danc e with younger people. And you kno w, in order to keep this going we have to bring in new fresh people. And I seem to notice certain men, no matter how lazy of dancers they are they know that it's the rule that anyone you ask will dance with you, and then t hey constantly want to dance with these "cute little young things" so once again, the age piece and the weight piece comes in where, you know, it s one of the last prejudices, since some guys just don't want to dance with a big girl. And so that I guess, would be a change based on my personal experience. J: R ight, w h ich is pretty much all I can ask about, your personal experience. When you are seeking someone out to play with, is there a conversation you have with them before you start dancing where its l ike, "H ey, I like playing. Do you like playing?" or is it more of an intuitive thing where you start dancing and then realize whether or not that's going to happen. L: T he second. Because the only thing about getting a partner, you ask while you're on the floor. So it may be someone that I have already encountered in passing and had fun with them, or they
! "%" seem to be dancing at my level, or there was something engaging about the experience that makes me think, "this person might be fun to do a whole dance w ith." So I won't have a conversation, it has to do with what I have previously encountered of them in the line, and I am curious and want to try more of that and you know, I guess I could just put out there what I want, but that's hard because if you say to someone "I want to play," what does that mean? You know, it's a vague term. And so there are dancers that you could consider playful, or play in the way that you want to play. Now there are a couple of guys who like to dance and they think they are go ing to, they have expectations of how that play will go, and I may or may not enjoy that and I may or may not dance with them again. So yeah, it s usually a non verbal thing for me. J: O kay so you mentioned earlier about how you feel like you are a good da ncer, because you have this ability to listen where to play both lead and follow would that be the only quality that you would use to describe "good contra dancing" or "good" contra dancers? L: W ell I guess I go back to the playing aspect, where part o f me enjoying the dance is really savoring the music and hearing a group that really knows how to drive a dance hall you know there are some who just play, and then there are others who know how to build on it. Which allows you to improvise. So if you ar e standing at the end of the line waiting for something to happen you can go dance with someone waiting in another line for those 8 counts, or do you come up with your own set of steps, or play with your partner just a bit so you can return back and dance with the people who are coming those sort of things. So I guess it would be part of the manipulation, and the steps are, well I consider them pretty basic, and unfortunately kind of repetitive at times, unless you have a really creative caller. So that w hen you get this well you know, you've been to a dance where no one is listening to the caller, just like "O h yeah, we'll figure it out" so I think its more about in the moment, what I am picking up from the music and the energy of the people that I a m dancing around. And how exciting it is. And so yeah, part of it is about being able to lead and follow, because it gives me a well sometime the dances are kind of simple, and at least if I am practicing my leading it gives me something more stimulating to do that just okay forward and back, da da. And you know, if I' m not playing then I start to get cranky J: H ave you ever thought about or been curious about why ethnic minorities remain in the minority in such a self proclaimed accepting environment. O r like why others wouldn't be interested in giving it a try? L: I suspect there is something cultural about itm that I'm missing. For me, I was raised in a biracial family. I went to private schools that were predominantly white or of the majority race. So I really have to learn how to assimilate, and I as able to do that. You hear me on the phon e and I probably don't sound bla ck. So my comfort level is with both, and possibly even more so with whites. So I consider myself in that racial minority that is ve ry comfortable with the majori ty of society, so I can dance. S ome, like when I look at my girlfriends go clubbing, I'm not even there Okay, I'm not putting on four inch h eels, I'm not putting on a skin tight skirt, I'm not putting on make up. It s somethi ng that I just don't want to do. I did it when I was younger when it was just like disco, but the whole going into dark places and posturing or posing that way doesn't work for me. So I think culturally speaking, when my African American friends go out the re are different things that are acceptable to do. Um you don't change partners, you know what I mean, in social couples dancing you just don't change partners, and the same with other kinds of (I' m not going to say white folk dancing) but like in swing da ncing some people are willi ng to trade, but not everyone. S alsa is the same thing, and somewhat even harder. When I was doing salsa, I brought the contra dance mentality, you know thinking that I am learning the dance so that I can dance with anybody where I learn them, learn how to follow while adding my own little thing to it. And in my experience as you were sensitive or smart enough to say my perception of practicing salsa in a club I would approach a couple of other guys to dance, and a couple of t hem, well I was
! "%# kind of treated like a slut. Like, "Y ou are being very forward, so therefore I can fondle you," and I was stuck dancing with people who weren't that good. And the same so rt of thing is swing and even zy deco and the uniqueness of contra tha t makes it more open or accepting, still may not speak to the ethnic minorities that want to socialize, because it's a kind of socialization that is not common to the traditional form of socializing African Americans are used to. J: I' m really glad that y ou brought up the contrast to the night club mentality, because I haven't really thought about its from the idea of going into dark places and posturing. Li ke I found a problem with night club atmospheres because of the way it expects people to perform spec ific gender roles. So the "dark places" and "postur ing" bit puts it into perspectiv e L: Y eah, the clothing. Look at what we wear when we contra dance. Y ou even have men wearing skirts because its cooler. And we expect to get hot and sweaty, I know there a re some weirdo s who complain, but its like, "Y ou came to Florida, which is hell on earth because it s so hot. And now you are exerting yourself, and now you are surprised that you're hot Do you need help? At what point did you loose touch with reality? At the way people dress is about how we know we are going to be sweating, and we will be comfortable And have you seen some of the things peop le put on to go into a club? I t 's like Oh My God! T ight pants and tight tops J: O kay, um, so since we can ag ree that contra dancing is a positive act that gives people the feeling of coming together, and its claims to do this thing, but it doesn't do it in a way that completely communicative to the surrounding populous of people, do you see any sort of responsib ility as a contra dancer to widen the Diaspora of dancers? Like do you think it s important to make it more accessible or it s cool if other people discover it, but if not its just whatever? L: I guess I do both, I do tell friends about it, and I have bro ught friends. And I have brought some of my black f riends, and they'll just say, "W ell its not for me." And there s a certain hokey ness to it you know. There s people up there with hair on their faces playing guitars and stuff and fiddles and it might eve n scare some people. You know, "I s there going to be a lynching during this break?" You know it s hard to know how its perceived. So the thing that I do with people is I say they can come and get to learn and I tell people that it s not like high school. Um do I acti vely recruit black people? No. H ave I invi t ed some of my girlfriends and they have voiced interest, but still haven't tried it? Yes. Have I ever talking to black males about going? No. and actually what I really, and I keep putting this off, i s I'm trying to get more gay people to come too. Its like I don't know why I don't invite them to come as well. Because I'll dance with anyone and they'll dance who they want to. And so yeah, that's another minority, and it s even an ethnic minority if yo u look at it in terms of commonly shared experience, its just not geographical J: H mm. Lets see, if you had to define contra dancing would you define it as a practice or as a community, or some phenomenon of both at the same time? L: H mm, as a practice or a community? I think its both part of the practice is being in community. You know you are learning a dance, but it s not about just learning the dan ce or being good at the dance. T hat's optional, I want to be as good at the dance as possible so I can imp rovise and play off, but in that I also have to be aware of who I am dancing with, the other couple I'm dancing with, and even the other people I am dancing with. You know when you go up and down the line you get to say hello to everybody. I have to force myself, because I used to never do this. My goal was to go in there and dance every freaking dance no matter what. And I realized I was missing out on sitting on the side and catching up with people, which is the community part. You know, we came together for this reason while some of the bonuses are that you can get to know this other person, find out a little bit about their life and maybe they're someone you like to travel with and do some weekends together. I so I really think it's a combination of bot h and more, I just don't know and of course people fall in love. Y ou know one of the coolest things is to find a partner who is also a life partner who you can dance with. And that can be really interesting,
! "%$ either a plus or a minus, like they could be a great dancer, but suck as a person. And waltzing, supposedly you are supposed to waltz with your life partner, and say they aren't good a waltzing, so how do you deal with that? You find someone else to dance with. And there is an interesting rigidity abo ut the waltzing compared to the other dance, with that bit of tradition that the first and last waltz is reserved for your life partner, or date or whatever. And when you're lucky enough, the band has the presence of mind to play more than one waltz J: D o you know anyone personally who has found love in the contra dance floor? L: O h yeah, several people. J: I t seems like a pretty amazing thing, if it can bring people's level of trus t down to the immediate level. I t just seems like to dance builds a great o pportunity for connection and there s no reason to think that romantic love is not included. L: E xactly N ow, does it always last? Uh, no, but it s that you have this huge thing in common that you do a couple times a month, and it really does inform some p eople' s lives. When I was with my guy we use to go to a weekend every month or every other month, as well as danci ng three times a month down in T ampa and sometimes a couple of times a month in Gainesville. And the romantic thing is that you have this thi ng you like to do, that's physically active, which is a big part of the appeal for me, it's a place where I don't have to sit and behave like an adult. Contra dancing is an outlet where you can be a kid, and if yo u can find a playmate that's fabulous, and if you can find a playmate to share some of your life with, well you win. And another interesting part, I was with someone for ten years and just recently ended the relationship. But when you're dating contra dancers there are times when you are in a set o f four and the two men are people you've been with, which can be awkward. And that's a big thing, where even if we break up there has to be a kind of understanding that I am not leaving the dance community. And that's what I am doing now, finding a way to stay in the community, with out being so uncomfortable seeing my ex that I drop out. J: Yeah sounds like a huge risk. L: Y eah it is, but its one people are willing to take. For instance I know t his one woman who met a man in N orth Carolina who came down he re to be with her, and then they broke up. And she actually tried to have a restraining order issued where he couldn 't be in the same line as her. A nd it may sound ridiculous, but I understand it because its hard when you seen them coming down the line, an d there is animosity, confusion or hurt and suddenly you've go to balance and swing this son of a b itch it can be unsettling and very awkward. J: Do you know if that restraining order respected or accepted by the law? L: No. F rom what I heard she tried t o do it and they were like "come one lady, just don't go there." And you know the idea of a restraining order is that this person is threatening me or violating my sense of safety and that wasn't happening. J: R ight, since it s an event outside your home that one chooses to attend L: Y eah, exactly, and all that is kind of related to my work with domestic violence, where it s like we make it so this person cannot come with in a hundred yards of you. And y ou cannot have any contact with the person you have the restraining order on... And it can't be enforced if people are changing their minds all the time. If you aren't going to enforce it, we can't enforce it. And the thing is that there is no way they can control where he is compared to where she is. It' s just not practical it is that if she feels threatened, then you don't go. J: Y eah, I guess it s about respect L: I t just wasn't enforceable, bottom line. J: Um, Do you enjoy techno contra? L: Y eah well, I have hopes for it. I saw a video several yea rs ago of a techno contra dance, where it was dark, and they weren't calling. Its like, the walked you thro ugh it and then the music started pounding. So, the idea is it s not that complicated of a dance, and the cool thing to me was
! "%% that everybody was imp rovising. So once you've got the basic steps, people are trying out different things and folks will rub up towards each other, and wearing flashing /y stuff that was really cool. We have been atte mpting it up in Tampa, and it hasn't done that. They have pretty good mixes of the music, but they insist on calling. So you can't really improvise if you have to pay attention to the caller. You know what I mean? If they are trying to yell over the music, the music is going to be soft, so you aren't going to fee l it in your gut, and they are trying to tell you what to do. That's what I like about contra dancing, after well if you're at a dance weekend that caller starts calling but they'll stop and go away, or sit down, because the dancers should know it by th en and that's when I think you get the really crazy contra moves to some old David Bowie, or Run DMC where, you know, you've got a completely different flare you can use for that. But if you've got a caller, there s this whole different person, so you can' t put all your energy into going with the music. So, I like the concept, but I haven't experienced what I saw in that video, and I don't know if I ever will you know I still go to a couple of them, but its always that the lights are on and I don't know J: D o you know where that video was filmed? L: uh, In America? hhaha. I don't know if I want to say W arren Wilson J: I would be inclined to say that it probably was there because I thought that's where the whole idea of crossover contra, mashing up the old steps with new music came from. L: A h, okay. Well it was very different. And I recognized one or two people in there, and they're from Port Charlotte. So I don't know if that was them, but anyway, t hat was slamming, and we haven't been able to replica te that. J: Do you think that it would have anything to do with the age of dancers in Florida? L: hhaha, well here s the thing. I think it has to do with age in two ways. One is there is a stamina thing involved. Okay, they just play the music and it does n't end, until you're out. And the other thing is that the elders a re very interested in bringing i n younger people to keep the dance culture alive, and not a lot of younger people are willing to dance with older people. Especially since there is a certai n level of sensuality in the techno, at least in the one I saw that looked fun. But what I am willing to do w ith somebody no matter what age may not be what a young guy wants to do what he meets me on the dance floor. I don't look my age. And even the ol d guys will go out there and the girls will play with them, but sometimes you get those young guys who are more adventuresome and are willing to truly dance with anybody so yeah, age does influence it. It has to do with keeping up, but the other part is that it s going to be a different style. The video that I saw was a style of dance that was not traditional. The steps were there, but you know the balance and swings looked more like a slow drag. And um, people were coming up with different steps to do wi th their partners that tipped the integrity of the dance, but were n ot what you would see on a well lit floor. And most of the g uys didn't have their shirts on even the outfits were more "clubby" J: S o do you see techno contra as a pos itive thing, or do yo u see that the way it s done threatens the transmission of historic knowledge or the past? L: O h, um, I don't see it as a threatening thing, because I don't see it taking over contra. I see it as a variation of contra where you'd just have some techno dan c es along with the traditional I wouldn't see it as a completely separate thing. I could be wrong, that's just my take on it. And you know, I think there are things in the traditional way of contra that you don't get in the techno contra. And you know my t hing is you can do a simple dance so people have time to play figure it out and add their own stuff in to it, that's going to be boring in a traditional dance. That's one of my frustrations with this, is sometimes that we are so busy catering to new dancer s that the experienced dancers get short changed unless they go to a weekend. And even then there is no guarantee depending on the caller. When I go to a weekend, I want hard dances. I want to have to concentrate. But if I am doing techno I want something like a basic dance that I can play with, it s
! "%& got some room for fooling around and stuff so I knew I was going somewhere with that, but I'm lost now. J: I think you were dancing around what is potentially lost in techno contra L: Y eah, it s just differe nt. And I never see it as taking over contra, I think each has their place, and there is no reason to exclude one over the other. I hope that that doesn't happen, because there are benefits. You know, I love the idea of boogying with contra steps to mo re c on temporary music, but there s a certain lyricism to having live music and live performers like I said, there s a different way to do balance and swing what I saw was in what I knew what the balance and swing space, but what they were doing was heck n o, you're not going to do that in a traditional dance J: I have really enjoyed listening to what you have to say about what you think about this stuff. I don't have any more specific questions, um, if there's anything else you want to add, that you think i s important L: H m, something else. Well I guess a cultural thing would be the sharing. Where we are now, it s like a potluck, where everybody brings something. You know, you bring snacks, and it's a small thing, but you know some people cook, there used to be this baker who would bring these boutique cupcakes and so it reminded me of what I call "rent parties." And I never ha d any, but when I was a kid in H arlem, what some people would do was have a rent party and throw together a group and throw on som e records and everyone brings a little somethin somethin' and you put money in the pot to help them with the rent. And there s kind of that same quality of sharing that can come you know sometimes at a weekend there's a potluck dinner, and sometimes ther e is a clothing swap you know where you're kind of helping each other out not just showing up to pose and be pretty. Not that there is no posing and being pretty, but there is that mutual aid society piece. J: yeah, it s, um about participation. Not ju st observing. L: yeah, and it s about sharing. You know where someone makes their favorite raisin and carrot salad and brings it. Or like at snowball, periodically we have a clothing swap you know, no one is making any money, but people bring things, and leave things and take things. And some people are greedier than others, but there i s that optimism I think that, "T his is how we do it" as opposed to, "H ow can we control the greed heads? Who are going to probably take the stuff and sell it" it s basica lly a free flow of stuff, whether it is food, or dresses or skirts, and the live music, I think that is a really big deal J: B ecause its like a concert, but its not L: I t is, and I worry sometimes, because you get these fabulous musicians, and then y ou're running around and jumping on the floor, you aren't sitting down and listening to them. But for me, I can appreciate it because I am moving. When I go to concerts, unless is a pretty cacophonous one, I get sleepy, because I have to sit still. If I am up and moving I am connecting with the music in a number of ways, if that music is live, I am connecting with it, running up to the front of the stage and telling them I like this tune like if you are out at the top, you kind dance in front of them and s how them how much you like their stuff, so really there is I think an extra special piece to it being live music. yeah. J: well, cool. L: yeah this has been very interesting, I process in the moment, I have been discovering this about myself. So while I am telling you about contra dancing I am sort of telling my self about my experience with contra dancing J: S eems fun, that we were able to learn from each other. L: H myeah, I remember this one woman who is African American that comes, and she s actual ly very self conscious about it. She feels that sometimes she doesn't get to dance with the people she wants to dance with because she's black. And I just look at them and say, "I don't know what to
! "%' tell you, just go on out there and ask em." and that i s the one thing that I adhere to: I'll ask anybody. And I think part of her reticence about being self conscious of being different, and I think that sometimes impacts her e xperience of the dance. Like, "T his guy is racist, he won't dance with me," and its like "H e could be racist, but he danced with me J: yeah, race is a touchy subject.. L: Oh yeah, and I should tell you. I was in a bi racial couple; my p artner of ten years was white. S o, we went to Austin for the Fire Ant Frolic, I think. And Wild Asparagus was there, it was my birthday I am focused, I know why I am going, I know why I am here. And people kept greeting me, just "Oh, we are so glad to see you" and in contra dancing you just assume you know someone from another dance, because you recognize their face, or it seems like they recognize you and one of the things about being African American in that community is that there aren't that many of us. So we are going to stand out not that I feel obligated to represent my race, but I am going to assume you're coming down the line and you're seeing something different. I am going to stand out. And I just thought these people are saying hi to me, I must know the m from this that or the other. A nd finally some one said aside to my partner, "Y o u know we are just really glad t o see you." And my partner said "what are you talking about?" and they said it was about "having an African American at the dance" and sure enough, I was the only one there. I was the chocolate chip in that cookie. And he a sked me "W ell, why don't you do more to invite people?" and her response was that "Well, I wouldn't know how to do that." And it just kind of left us scratching our heads you know, you do outreach. You do it in schools, stuff like that, you have people i nvite people, and have them come with other black people so they don't feel like the only chocolate chip in th e cooking. And I'm good at that I can be the only one, kind of like highlighter. And a lot of people don't want to be the only one. Its uncomforta ble, they feel like a sore thumb, and I can totally get that, but it was just interesting to hear this woman have tried things by going to the board and wha t not, and I had to tell her, "A lot of black people aren't going to want to come to this. I am a li ttle weird." if you look at the black people who are in it, they look more assimilated. In fact, I don't thi nk I have seen a black couple. E very black person I have see, has been with a white person. J: S ame for me L: A n d the majority of bi racial couple s that I have seen a re black males with white women, which is a whole other story for a different paper so that's kind of the way I see it and oh, I was at a dance in Atlanta, and I asked a guy to dance, and I swear to god, Julie, I like scared him, I t hink. I do a lot of kin ds of dance, I swing dance, I zyde co, I waltz, I do a lot of types of dance and he was teaching the swing dance and when I asked him he gasped and said, "oh, my wife" and I was like, "look, okay this guy's got issues." And there are some of us who are in that group because we don't do well with other black people. We do better with white people. So sometimes you'll see two or three black people at a thing and they won't ever talk to each other. there is a certain reticence there. J : like a nervousness? L: yeah, like not wanting to deal with other black people I don't know what it is, but it was really weird to have this guy just become speechless. Where I am like, "dude, you aren't all that. I just want to dance" L: and another t hing about the music, is that if you listen to the old time bands, they're corney. And if you have ever heard Wild Asparagus, they really bring a kind of funkiness to it they were the first band I heard who really brought the funk. They've got kind of a middle eastern thing going on, George Marshall uses the boron drum, and if I hear a drum I'm in heaven you know call me African American or whatever. Its not that kind of old time y "dee, dalee, dee, dalee, dee" theres a percussiveness or something, I do n't know how to explain it, but that's where
! "%( I really got caught up in it because it wasn't just this country music or just folky music. Its folky music with things like didgeridoos, and Great Bear Trio has the electric guitar and piano, a few weeks ago we had a band with a guy who played the tablas that were really well mic ed. So yeah, that's a whole other area and I have a theory, I am a behavioral therapist, and if I had to have a theory about contra dancing, its that when you start young people contra dancing, where like they are actually raised in it, they seem to have a broader sense of the world. They're more poised with different types of peo ple, including older people um I don't know how to say it, but that interests me. and I have talke d to other people about it, you know we've got the "hippie dippies" who wrap their kids in the celtic thing on their chest and dance with them, and then we'll see them start walking, and we'll see them growing up dancing. I have seen a few kids like that, and they recognize you, say hi to you and have a conversation with you, they aren't monosyllabic or anything like that, and they are less attached to things and they become open to dancing with adults, not a lot of kids, but its becoming more and more I think.
! "%) REFERENCES Bronner, Simon J. 2011 Explaining Tradition University Press Kentucky Carrithers, Michael 1990 Is Anthropology Art or Science? Current Anthropology 31 ( 3 ): 263 282 Clark, Maribeth 2002 The Quadrille as Embodied Musical Exper ience in 19 th Century Paris. The Journal of Musicology 19 ( 3 ): 503 526 Dewey, John 193 9 Freedom and Culture G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, NY. Embree, Lester 2011 Collect ed Papers V. Phenomenology and the Social Sciences Springer Dordrecht Heidelberg London New York Fetterman, David 2010 Ethnography: step by step 3 rd edition. SAGE publications, California. Gunzenhauser, Margot 1996 The Square Dance and Contra Dance Handbook McFarland & Co, Jefferson, North Carolina Hersker, Alen L., William Lea p 2008 Representation, Subjectivity, and Eth ics in Urban Gay Ethnography. City & Society 8 ( 1 ): 142 147 Holden, Rickey 1956 The Contra Dance Book: Over 100 Contra and Progressive Circle Dances with Variations and Historical Notes together with Suggest ions for Calling and Teaching Them. Indiana University Press Malinowski, Bronislaw 1944 Freedom and Civilization. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. McAnerny, Lydia 2000 A Dream Come True: How the Tapestry Folkdance Center came to be Country Dance and Song Society News #154
! "%* Ne vell, Richard 1977 A Time To Dance: American Country Dancing from Hornpipes to Hot Hash St. Martin's Press, New York Ornter, Sherry 2006 Subjectivity and Cultural Critique University of California, Los Angeles Parfitt Clare 2002 The Contredanse, The Quadrille, and The Cancan: Dancing Around Democracy in Post Revolutionary Paris. Paper presented at the 2002 Established Scholar's Conference, London. Parkes, Tony 2010 Contra Dance Calling: A Basic Text 2 nd Edition. Hand s Four Productions Massachusetts. Sawyer, R. Keith 1997 Creativity in Performance : Publications in creativity research Contemporary Studies in Communication, Culture & Information Ablex, New York. Sheets, Maxine 1966 The Phenomenology of Dance University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.