Ten Reasons Not to Book Ahead
Why is the practice of “booking” a partner for the next dance
during the current dance so well established in many dance
communities, despite its many negative consequences? Perhaps it is
because many dancers are unaware of those consequences and don’t
realize that the effects of booking ahead extend beyond the person
who asks for the next dance and the person who accepts.
This list is intended to create a better awareness of what booking
ahead—both the asking and the accepting—does
to a dance community. With the continuation of contra dancing itself
possibly at stake, it is hoped that this knowledge will cause dancers
to reflect on the social consequences of their individual behavior,
and consider modifying that behavior.
Primarily, booking ahead is bad for the dance community…
Booking ahead begets more booking aheadd.
When dancers who don’t book ahead encounter a situation in
which booking ahead is common—at the end of a dance, everyone
of the opposite gender around them “already has a
partner”—they are powerfully motivated to begin booking
ahead as well. If they don’t, they are likely to have to sit
Booking ahead creates a kind of class structure in the dance community.
Those who ask ahead and get asked ahead form an in-crowd or clique;
those who don’t ask ahead and don’t tend to get asked
are forced to the margins and excluded. The resulting class
structure is contrary to the inclusive, community spirit of contra
dancing, and it becomes self-perpetuating.
Booking ahead means a group of dancers monopolizes the fun.
The social dynamics of widespread advance booking reduce the size of
the “fun pie,” while the class structure of advance
booking ensures that the advance bookers get a bigger slice of that
pie than do others.
Booking ahead turns off new dancers.
When a new dancer experiences a contra dance as a popularity
contest, he or she is far less likely to return. In many areas,
there is a direct correlation between the prevalence of advance
booking and declining dance attendance!
Booking ahead gives new dancers fewer opportunities to improve.
When booking ahead is prevalent, the less-experienced dancers—who
form a disproportionate segment of the ‘lower class’
dancers—have few opportunities to dance with the experienced
dancers who can teach them the most.
Booking ahead exacerbates the problems created by a gender imbalance.
A gender imbalance means there are always some people sitting out
involuntarily; if most of the opposite-gender folks are already
booked when the dance ends, it becomes difficult for those sitting
out to get into the next dance.
And booking ahead is also bad for you…
Those who book ahead risk offending people.
It is impossible to always remember your advance bookings. And you
know what happens when you don’t remember—you make one
person angry, and at least one other person ends up thinking you’re
a cad (or the female equivalent of a cad).
Those who book ahead restrict their social networks.
If you are always pre-selecting your partners, you are less likely
to dance with new and unfamiliar people who could be potential new
Those who book ahead close the door to the joys of chance and spontaneity.
Dancing with someone because he or she ends up in your vicinity
after the end of a dance means being open to immediacy, possibility,
and diversity of experience. It teaches you to see the positives in
every person and situation, to give up your need to always be in
Those who book ahead take themselves out of the here-and-now.
When you participate in the culture of advance booking, your mind is
engaged either with remembering who your next partner is or figuring
out who you should ask for the next dance (those who book more than
one dance ahead may be doing both!). With part of your mind so
occupied, you can’t be fully in the present, enjoying the
pleasures of the dance.
What you can do
• If there are people with whom you absolutely must dance, then ask them to be your partner before the dance begins or during the break.
• If someone asks you to for the next dance while you are dancing with him or her, simply say, “I’d love to dance with you, but I don’t book ahead.”
• Make a point of dancing with newcomers and people who sat out the last dance. Do everything you can to make a contra dance an inclusive, welcoming, cooperative, community-oriented experience for everyone.