One of the joys of contra dancing is the close
with lots of other people. That kind of contact can
feel safe only if everyone understands and honors a
few basic conditions. At most dances, these are so
obvious they go unspoken.
(1) Most dancers enjoy the firm, unambigous contact
joined hands, of an arm around the back for a
promenade or courtesy turn, or the open embrace of
many variations of the swing position. Most dancers
DON'T enjoy being smothered, squeezed, or grasped in a
way that suggests a different agenda than helping each
other get through the figures with crisp timing and
lots of pizazz. Make contact in a manner that
distinctly signals your intention to support the
collective trust level. As you dance, your body
language will really clarify what your priorities are.
(2) Dancers aren't possessive about partners.
advantage of others who might be feeling insecure by
monopolizing them doesn't allow them to experience the
full richness of contra dancing as a supportive group
experience. Again, friends who come to a dance to
enjoy being with each other may have a mutual urge to
stick together which should also be respected. Even in
these cases, they may find that dancing with others
adds to, rather than subtracts from, their collective
(3) Good dancers encourage, rather than disparage,
those with less skill. They willingly choose them as
partners often enough to provide them with rewarding
previews of what they have to gain by improving.
Dancers learn by doing, and if they only get to dance
with people who are as confused as they are, they'll
stay confused a lot longer than otherwise.
The main reasons for mentioning these issues are
help new dancers feel empowered, rather than resigned,
in situations that might be less than ideal.
Hopefully, they will feel free to ask for what they'd
like (perhaps for an experienced dancer to be their
partner), and justified in declining what they
wouldn't like (such as a request to dance from someone
whose manners are sorely lacking). But it is equally
hoped this will encourage experienced dancers to see
how supporting new dancers and enhancing their own
fulfillment can actually go hand-in-hand. Why settle
for less than the best we can do for each other?
(These thoughts are courtesy of a now-defunct
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