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Leading a Contra Dance Role-Swapping Workshop June 22, 2017

Filed under: Arts,Dance — BrujaHa @ 10:25 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
I dance both roles buttons

 

Contra dancers, if you’ve ever been curious about dancing the other gender role, I have published a new article with co-author Erik Erhardt about how to optimally pull it off.

We of course offer tips for smooth swapping points and the like, yet our main point is the “prime directive” of keeping neighbors, shadows, and other dancers in the line comfortable with this kind of play so that acceptance will grow among participants and non-participants alike, thereby ensuring ongoing fun for all. Here’s the beginning:

Leading a Contra Dance Role-Swapping Workshop.
CDSS NEWS (Summer 2017, pp.10-11 with fuller text online)

Introduction

This article offers concrete “hows” for experiencing even more joys in contra dance. A workshop that encourages dancers to play in both dance roles is a fun opportunity that also helps evolve the skill of
your dancers. While swapping roles initially seems like an advanced skill, it is often learned quickly and improves a person’s ability to dance well in either role.

We first provide swapping principles. In the online version of this article, we provide a selection of swap
points in three scenarios, then we offer a workshop outline that you can use, based on the “Gender Shenanigans” workshop we gave at Stellar Days and Nights dance camp held in the mountains of Colorado in February 2015.

While this type of workshop works well as part of a weekend dance camp with most dancers in “traditional” dance roles, small doses have proven to be popular at local dances, too.

Swapping principles

It can be very fun to cultivate the ability to be “ambidancetrous”; that is, to be able to dance either role and even to switch roles multiple times during a given dance.

When considering role swapping, the first thought that arises might be the simple puzzle of body mechanics in the various moves. But first and foremost in community dancing is actually the need for consideration for good dance etiquette. Etiquette is the art of making someone else feel comfortable, and this includes not only obtaining consent from your partner, but also being aware of the expectations of the entire dance line.

Always dance with respect for your neighbors. It is our observation that the essence of truly excellent dancing isn’t making fancy moves, but matching the needs and energy of each person met. Just as the elderly or disabled may need shorter, gentler swings, attention and courtesy must be given to each person encountered when swapping. Be in the right place on time for the next move, and confidently project to approaching dancers, particularly beginners, which role you’re dancing. This can be done by making eye contact, clearly offering the appropriate hand, and additionally saying “I’m the gent/lady” if helpful. If you’re swapping, you shoulder extra responsibility for dance excellence. If we follow this “prime directive” of respecting the line, role swapping will continue to grow in acceptance and popularity, even among those with little desire to do it themselves. …

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Link to the full article, including a list of swappalicious moves and a three-part workshop you can try out with your own local dancers:  Leading a Contra Dance Role-Swapping Workshop

Enjoy! Please let us know your thoughts by posting in the Comments below. Also, if you try the workshop, let us know how it works out for you. It’s through many voices that a community is made.

(NOTE: The very useful “What’s Your Preference? I Dance Both Roles” buttons illustrated at the top of this page are made by Mark Galipeau for the San Francisco Bay Queer Contra Dance (now “Circle Left”), one nexus of the gender-free dance movement. For minimal cost, you can order the buttons for distribution. I’m one of many who has handed out dozens of them to all who want one.)

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2 Responses to “Leading a Contra Dance Role-Swapping Workshop”

  1. Laura Gorrin (Facebook link) Says:

    Hi Tina, we’re glad you’re helping to spread switching! You point out lots of good reasons to switch, and helpful ways to ease into it. However, your perspective is pretty different than the values we have at Circle Left. Your article positions switching as a fun alternative to dancing “traditional gender roles,” as long as you don’t mess up other dancers. For us, switching is just one of the many ways that we aim to divorce contra from binary notions of gender. Our new dancers learn from the start that gender signifiers like beards do not correlate with the role someone is dancing. We encourage our dancers to dance in ways that feel good to them, regardless of others’ perceptions of their gender. Circle Left is a space that aims to not privilege heteronormative gender assumptions, no matter if people are new/confused/straight/whatever. So for us, switching isn’t just something to throw on top of traditional contra, it’s a different way of thinking about contra. And we see that working with our new dancers, who when asked what role they want to dance, will say things like, “I’ve only been a lark so far, so maybe I’ll try raven.”

    • BrujaHa Says:

      Thanks for sharing this perspective, Laura. You folks are way further along this path than many that we wrote this for, and I truly believe that what you say here about getting past heteronormativity and binary gender roles is the future of contra.


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