Triple Minor Contras

2010: from a letter to a caller seeking advice on how to introduce her dancers to triple minor contras

There are several parts of Cracking Chestnuts, the book about older dances authored by David Smukler and me, that will help you in introducing them to your dancers. David S. has an excellent piece on "How To Call a Chestnut" and another on "Triple Minor Mathematics," both of which offer useful tips. In addition to these general remarks, we talk about particular difficult moments or special moments in each of the dances we present, and you may find that those comments help you. The book is available from the CDSS store.

The biggest challenge is, of course, the progression, getting the 2s and 3s used to the notion of switching roles each time through the dance.

On some occasions when I'm working with dancers who are unfamiliar with triple minors, I sometimes just walk people through the progression, have them take hands again in new groups of six, walk the progression, take hands in new groups, etc. , over and over, until people see how that part works, and only then actually teach the figures of the dance.

Other challenges: most contemporary contra dancers are used to a steady diet of duple improper and Becket formation dances, so the basic orientation of proper lines isn't one they'll fall into automatically. This can be difficult if, for example, they're swinging and need to finish on the proper side.

As for figures: a same sex right and left thru, a very common figure for B2 in these dances, will take some careful walking through. In northern New England we tend to do the pivoting with same sex neighbor without arms around, but having folks do an arm around turn with their neighbor once they've crossed the set can be helpful. And like a courtesy turn, the person on the left backs up and the person on the right moves forward.

Of course they don't all have partner and neighbor swings.

Finally, some of the triple minor dances are more stately, and that again conflicts with much of contemporary dancers' experience. Finding ways to get folks to move with "a wee bit of elegance," to use Ralph Page's phrase, can be a challenge.

All that said, go for it! You might pick one that moves at a gentle pace, such as British Sorrow, as a good first choice. Even simpler is Doubtful Shepherd. Sackett's Harbor is another good one and its distinctive choreography will make it stand out. It's also a good one to introduce dancers to contra corners, since the two corners are clearly visible in the minor set.

To gain confidence yourself in calling these dances, you might want to invite a small group of friends together for a practice session. The New England Chestnuts CD by Rodney and Randy Miller et. al. stands as an excellent collection of tunes for these dances, andLissa Schneckenburger has released a similar collection on CD. (Note: Lissa's album has some cuts with long introductions, so you may want to do a little audio editing if you're planning on using these with dancers rather than just for practicing.) One bonus of doing a practice session ahead of time is that you'll have a core of dancers who are familiar with the ins and outs of triple minors and they can assist others in your dance community when you go public with them.


David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


Email David