Tips for contra dancers
What I've Learned in 40 Years of Partner Dancing and 35 Years of Teaching Dance
By Yael Schy
l. Learn How to Both Lead and Follow The famous Chinese philosopher,
Lao Tzu, said, "To lead, one must follow. " It is
only when you have experienced first hand what your partner is
feeling, that you have a better sense of how to dance with them.
Periodically changing roles makes you a better dancer. Plus, if both
men and women are equally comfortable in either role, then gender
balance becomes irrelevant.
2. Communicate With Your Partner Remember to make eye contact.
Dancing is supposed to be social. Don't assume what your partner
wants. Just because you like to twirl or do dips, doesn't mean that
your partner does. When in doubt, ask! And don't crank your partner
around! Simply raise your hand and let the follower turn on his/her
3. Listen to the Music In any type of dancing, it's important to
be in sync with the music. Don't forget to be on time! If you're so
consumed with squeezing in fancy twirls or dips, then you're going to
be late for the next phrase of music. The whole point of dancing in a
set is for everyone to move together and to keep it flowing. (Imagine
a camera on the ceiling, as in a Busby Berkeley musical, and think of
how much nicer it looks with everyone in sync!)
4. Don't Book Ahead! When you book ahead, you destroy the social
nature of contra dancing. It means that those who don't believe in
booking have a very hard time getting partners, especially if they
sit out a dance. Trust that there will be someone to dance with after
thanking your partner (see 9), and don't forget the people
sitting out who may want to dance the next dance. If necessary, it's
okay to occasionally sit out a dance (see 5).
5. You Don't Have to Dance Every Dance! Try sitting out occasionally and
socializing. This has several benefits: you will give your body a
rest; you'll get to know your fellow dancers (of both genders
better; you can more fully listen to the music; and you can help even
out a gender imbalance.
6. Appreciate the Musicians and Caller We are so incredibly
fortunate to have such talented musicians who play for our dances and
dedicated callers to lead us. Don't take them for granted! Be sure to
take time to thank them after the dance. Don't forget to ask the
caller to waltz or hambo. (They like to dance too!) And don't forget
to purchase the band's CDs and attend their concerts, thereby
supporting the traditional music community
7. Avoid the "Center Set Syndrome" Not everyone can
dance in the center set—someone has to dance on the sides! If
all of the experienced dancers rush to the middle, leaving newer
dancers to fend for themselves, then we are doing a great disservice
to the community and to the quality of the dance experience.
8. Be Gentle This is particularly important as the contra dance
community ages, and many of us have sustained serious injuries from
careless dance partners. Remember that the human body has its limits.
If you want to test your strength, try martial arts, not dancing!
9. Take Time To Thank Your Partner When the dance ends, don't
immediately rush off to find a new partner. Take time to thank your
partner, and then look for someone who needs a partner for the
next dance. (see 4.)
10. Try Cross Training Don't be a "Contra Dance Snob!"
There are many other wonderful kinds of dancing, including squares,
freestyle clogging, waltz, swing, Cajun/Zydeco, tango. Scandinavian
dancing and much more. Recent research has shown that too much of one
type of physical activity can increase your chance of injury, by
overusing the same muscles. (For example, many contra dancers
experience problems with their right knee or hip from the repeated
buzz turn swing.) Trying other types of dancing is not only better
for your body, but will make you an all around better dancer.
11. Build Community Contra Dancing is a social dance. The point is
to create a sense of community, not to show what a great dancer you
are. That means being welcoming to beginners, showing concern for
other dancers, and helping out with community tasks.
12. Have fun! Don't forget that dancing is supposed to be fun!
Don't take yourself or others too seriously, be forgiving of mistakes
(yours and others'), and don't forget to smile!
Yael Schy can be reached at www.dramaticstrides.com