What is Gender Role Free Contra Dance?

Gender Role Free contra dance is welcoming to people of any gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, and encourages everyone to dance together.

Traditionally, contra dancing partner roles were identified as “Gents” and “Ladies” or “Men” and “Women”, with gender-normative associations of dancers to roles. About 30 years ago, groups of LGBTQ* dancers decided to see what it would be like to eschew these gendered identifiers and dance with whomever they wanted, without any expectation about gender roles. Various naming conventions have been attempted, and the idea of abolishing the gender-to-role associations has become increasingly popular with younger dancers. Using the terms “Larks” for those who ‘start on the left’ and “Robins” or “Ravens” for those who ‘start on the right’ has been quite popular and is becoming widely adopted. It’s easy to remember after a swing to “put the Lark on the Left and the Robin (Raven) on the Right.”

While you can “try on” either role (it is definitely not a life choice!), beginning dancers may find it less confusing to stick with one role at their first contra dance. There’s still plenty of opportunity to find enthusiastic partners. Don’t be surprised if you see some experienced dancers swapping roles with their partners during a single dance! An important element in the philosophy of gender role free dancing is to “dance with who’s coming at ya!”

There are an increasing number of Gender Role Free contra dance groups around the US, and more local dances are offering periodic evenings of gender role free dancing. Most contra dance series are very welcoming communities and dancers are welcome – even encouraged – to learn and dance both roles.