Where’s the Partner Swing?

Where’s the partner swing?

Adapted from a post to rec.folk-dancing
in 2004

A few weeks ago, when one couple at the
head of the set asked me that very question—I was happy to note that they were
smiling as they spoke—I referred them to Section III, Subsection 2, paragraph
A(5) of the Caller-Dancer Compact, which simply states that a pair of dancers
who feel that a particular dance doesn’t give them enough swings together may
remain as partners for the next dance.

Callers (contra callers as well as
modern western square dance callers) have been dealing with the overactive 10%
subgroup for a long time; this is not just a contemporary issue. (I suspect
that it’s probably the same in the international folk dance community, where
some folks who dance a lot are wanting programs with lots of more complex
Balkan dances while others are content to have more variety.)

> actives crossing over before the
caller says to do so

and others wrote to say, "What’s
the problem?"


It’s not a big problem, of course… it
simply shows that these particular dancers either have a certain set of
preconceptions or a limited familiarity with dance formations.

Doesn’t all this ultimately come back
to the caller providing leadership? The buck stops there. Callers, guided by
their own experience and vision and the expectations of the sponsor, should put
together the sort of program that they think is appropriate for that particular
occasion. Some folks inevitably won’t like it and they’re free to go elsewhere,
speak to the sponsors, start their own dance, become callers themselves, or
boycott that particular caller… it’s a free market economy.

One older dancer wrote: "I
personally prefer an evening of variety: 
proper dances, improper, squares, schottisches, circle mixers, contras,
and what have you." I heartily agree. The tentative program planned for
the monthly dance I’m calling tomorrow night includes two duple proper contras
(both older dances), five duple improper or Becket formation contras (all
recent compositions), one mixer, two squares, a three-face-three dance, two
triplets, a polka, two waltzes, and some zweifachers at the break. No triple
minor contras on this particular night, alas, but we’ll make up for that next
month… so many dances, too little time… 😉

Do I put together that same kind of
program when I’m hired at a series that prides itself on offering an evening of
zesty contemporary contras? Of course not. Will I use that program for the PTO
dance I’m calling tonight? Of course not. But at my home dance, where I’m the
caller month after month, I have the luxury of shaping the evening to fit my
own vision of what makes a good evening of dancing. Most folks who come
regularly to that event don’t assume that they know what’s next. (Besides, a
good caller can alert folks, as one dance ends, what’s next in store, to save
the time needed to get folks into the correct formation.)

There’s one point that I haven’t heard
addressed in the recent posts claiming "but the majority of dancers WANT
active swing-partner swing-neighbor everybody move dances." Of course
that’s what they want… that’s what they’ve been trained to expect! If callers
at a given series continually provide that sort of program, of course the
dancers who come to those dances will feel that way. It’s a matter of
self-selection. The series will over time shape its audience. The elementary
and middle-school school children won’t be there, dancers of all ages who react
more slowly won’t be there. In the same way, most dancers wanting an aerobic
evening of swinging and complex dances aren’t going to show up at one of Dudley
Laufman’s programs. Call it, and they will come… It’s just that the
participants at different series will be different.

By creating a program such as the one I
mentioned above, I’m making a conscious choice to attract a wide range of
dancers, folks who enjoy variety, who like having not all dances be fast and
furious and complex but like having some that fit that category. And no
surprise, that’s who we do attract, a mix of dancers young and old. As well as
newcomers, we get a large number of hard-core contra dancers who keep our dance
on their regular calendar because they can get the variety that is missing

At the same time I know that we lose
some who don’t want that kind of variety in their evening out. Fine with me;
there are lots of dances in the universe. We find newcomers joining our ranks
each night. Some go on to become contra enthusiasts; others are content to have
dancing play a more casual role in their lives.