Hot Modern Moves

Written in 2003, but still applicable, alas, to today's dance scene...

I was calling recently in a large city for an evening of contra dancing and a guy comes up to me afterwards with nice comments about the evening. We get to talking and he mentions in passing that I'm quite a “traditional caller.”

“Thanks,” I say, and upon reflection, I consider that perhaps this wasn’t meant as a compliment. I ask him, “But what do you mean by 'traditional?’ ”

He explains that there’s a genuineness in my calling and that I seem to respect the dances a lot. I’m happy to hear this, and I explain to him that I live New Hampshire, where there’s a long tradition of contra dancing, and I do try to respect that tradition.


“You seem to care a great deal more about community than most callers,” he continues. Hmm... this makes me a traditional caller? What do other callers do? I try to think what I might have said or done that elicited this comment. I did ask people to introduce themselves to their partners and neighbors. Perhaps that’s it.

Then comes the kicker: “And you didn't call many dances with hot modern moves.”

Hot modern moves? I have to think for a moment about this one. I do enjoy calling the older dances as part of most programs, but there were no traditional dances on the program that night. Everything I called came from the last thirty years or so, and much of it was written within the last ten years.

“Hot modern moves?” I reply. “Such as...?”

He pauses and thinks for a moment. “You know, like Petronella twirls.”

I am dumbstruck. Further conversation reveals that he has no idea that this “hot modern move” has an ancient lineage. I suppose other “hot modern moves” include Rory O'More balances, contra corners, and who knows what else that's been borrowed from the past. I don't know whether to laugh or to sigh...


David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


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