Category Archives: Contra Dance

To dance, to sing, perhaps to play music

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photo by Jeff Bary

Can you make difficult class choices? Say, from an enticing menu of contras, squares and waltz? Are you up for a strong program of Appalachian, American Southern and Irish traditions? Can you take contras morning, noon and night? If your answer is “Just try me!” then CDSS’s American Dance and Music Week, August 9-16, 2014, at Pinewoods Camp is for you, whether you do it ALL or take a more leisurely approach.

We’ll have two daily stretching sessions to keep you loose and limber, morning contras and waltz to wake you up, and afternoon squares and more challenging contras to spice up the mix. And more dancing in the evening too. Can’t dance all day? Not a problem. Bring your instruments and your voices because this week promises a full program of music classes and more, and you’ll be able to play and sing with your heart and soul. Want even more choices? How about getting messy and creative with paper, paint, glue and who-knows-what else in the daily community art class? Or sit on the porch or swim, jam or nap. Hmmm.

There will be a wealth of talent to inspire and encourage you, and there will be friends, old and new, all under the pine trees in a beautiful wooded setting near Plymouth, MA. Join Program Director Sue Rosen, and experience American Dance and Music Week.

See the class schedule, class descriptions or staff list, learn about Pinewoods Camp or about our other summer weeks. And here’s info about fees and scholarships.

This is an amazing week—vibrant and relaxing, both. Not a bad choice, huh? See you there!

Sue Rosen has been dancing all of her life and attended her first callers workshop at Campers’ Week at Pinewoods in 1989. Since then she’s become one of New England’s favorite callers and has written contras that have become part of the standard repertoire of dance callers across the country and overseas.

Pinewoods Camp, near Plymouth, MA, and home to the Country Dance and Song Society’s programs since 1933, is a beautiful setting, creating a retreat where you can immerse yourself in nature, music and dance; see a slideshow of the facility.

The Country Dance and Song Society is a traditional dance and music organization, celebrating its Centennial in 2015.

 

Lifetime Contribution Award for 2014 goes to…

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Jim Morrison

 

Jim Morrison of Charlottesville, VA, will be this year’s recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award.

Jim brought youthful enthusiasm and strong connections to emerging contra, morris and sword dance movements when he started work for CDSS in late 1970. Serving as National Director from 1975 to 1977, he then continued as part time Artistic Director after moving to Virginia. Jim & Marney MorrisonIf you have danced Jack’s Health, Young Widow, late night Kerry sets, or played Puncheon Floor or Buck Mountain, his influence was there. Jim wrote 24 Early American Country Dances (CDSS, 1976,) founded the Greenwich and Albemarle Morris Men, and has recorded five albums of traditional dance music. An early family week advocate, creator of American Week at Pinewoods, and multi-genre dance fiddler, Jim has continued throughout his half century career to teach and play for contra, square, English, morris, sword, flatfoot, and Irish set dancing all over North America. We are delighted to honor him this year. Details about the award presentation will be announced later this year.

Are You Committed to Dance Organizing?

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Gaye Fifer, dance organizer extraordinaire

Then our special Dance Organizers Course is for you. Led by Gaye Fifer and held during CDSS’s English & American Dance Week at Pinewoods (EAP), August 23-30, 2014, the course is designed for people involved in organizing their home dance community—contra, square, English, adult or family. Two one-hour sessions will be held each afternoon to discuss and strategize about issues that affect local dances. Sharing, questioning, collaborating and connecting will be our watchwords as we interview guest speakers from the EAP staff, create solutions to problems, brainstorm, practice and give feedback. We’ll create a network of support and a toolkit of ideas that each participant can take home. You’ll have fun, learn a lot and your local community will benefit. And for the rest of the day and evening, the wonderful resources of English & American Dance Week are yours.

English dance at E&A Week, Pinewoods Camp, MA

English and American Dance Week, home this summer to Dance Organizers Course (Doug Plummer)

If you know people in your community who are “up and coming” leaders, send them this message and link; the course is also useful to people wanting to start a dance. Scholarship help is still available.

MORE INFO
daily schedule
class descriptions
staff list
fees
scholarships
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our other weeks

Ready to join in the organizing? Register here.

Course leader Gaye Fifer has been calling at dance weekends for many years. Her pleasant style and graceful teaching put dancers at ease and set the stage for a great dance experience. She has also taught numerous waltz workshops at virtually every dance weekend in the East and travels whenever she gets the opportunity. Gaye has a passionate interest in organizing to support dance community leaders and organizers.

Pinewoods Camp, near Plymouth, MA, and home to the Country Dance and Song Society’s programs since 1933, is a beautiful setting, creating a retreat where you can immerse yourself in nature, music and dance; see a slideshow of the facility.

The Country Dance and Song Society is a traditional dance and music organization, celebrating its Centennial in 2015.

Techno, Gender-free, and Bluesy Contras: Evolving Tradition?

by Abigail Hobart

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Abigail at the Downtown Amherst Contradance last fall­­ (photo courtesy the author)

What is tradition? This question is relevant to all contra dancers, whether we realize it or not. The past several decades have witnessed somewhat of a contra revival, especially among youth and students. College dances have sprung up across the US, typically at smaller liberal arts schools, such as Oberlin (Oberlin, OH) and Hampshire (Amherst, MA) colleges. The increase in college-aged dancers has brought about a shift towards more progressive leanings, newer trends in musical tastes, and sexier dancing. At the forefront of these changes are the use of gender-neutral terms in calling, the increasing number of techno contra dances, and the incorporation of “blues moves” into contra dancing, especially in the swing. The emergence of trends like these within a folk tradition like contra dance, reflect the constantly evolving demographic of participants, and changes in popular culture and political/social culture.

Gender-free contra dances have been happening since the 1970s. The push for non-gendered dances came out of the LGTBQ movement, and has grown steadily. These dances promote experimentation with using non-gendered terms, such as lead and follow, or bare arms and arm bands, in place of the more traditional terms, such as ladies and gents. This change reflects the evolution of the understanding of gender and gender roles, and is a response to the traditionally binary gendered-nature of contra dance; an attempt to break away from the gender roles that society assigns us.

In the past decade or so techno contra, or crossover contra dances, have really taken off. In 2001, Lisa Greenleaf, a Boston-area caller, first experimented with calling contra dances to prerecorded electronic music, in place of traditional, live bands. Since then, “techno” music has been increasingly incorporated into the standard dance circuit in the US. At the downtown Amherst, MA dance series, hosted most Wednesdays, there were ten techno contra dances alone in the past year! This reflects the increasing emergence of electronic, dub step, and techno music in popular musical production and consumption.

For years, swing dance accents have found their way into the stylistic choices of contra dancers. For example, during a partner swing, it’s common to see a variety of underarm turns and flourishes that come from the swing dance canon, and even the more complicated swing moves, such as sidecars (a difficult acrobatic lift move) or the pretzel (a complicated under arm flourish), can be seen occasionally on the dance floor. The boundary between the contra and swing dance communities has always been porous, so it follows that blues dancing (from the same era as Lindy Hop, but slower and smoother) moves also have slowly been incorporated into contra dance style. The blues posture is used frequently in partner swings, with typically a closer partner hold, and distinctly more intimate. The Asheville, NC contra dance scene is regarded as a hotspot of dancers emulating a sexier, blues-fusion dance style, though blues moves can be seen in contra dances all over the country.

Tradition, an odd word, seems to refer to a thing of the past; tradition is all around us though, and continues because we continue creating it. Gender-free, techno, and blues-infused contra exists because contra dance is a living, breathing tradition; these new styles and expressions are in response to the evolving needs and interests of the dance community. The way we approach these changes will reflect the community norms of contra dancers as a whole, and of smaller micro-communities throughout the contra dance network. As a community we decide what makes contra dancing itself. We decide how far we can push the tradition before it stops being contra dance. Our own needs and innovations create the tradition, and it creates us.

Abigail Hobart studies ethnomusicology, sustainability, and food systems at Hampshire College, where she also organizes a monthly contra dance series. She is an avid contra dancer and lover of the tradition, and is from the Pacific Northwest.

Guest bloggers on the CDSS page are welcome. Write to news@cdss.org for guidelines.

 

The Everyday Things—Remembering Mac

by Carol Compton

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Mac at Folklife 1992; photo by Doug Plummer

Shortly after Mac died I had an email from Caroline asking me to write a bit about him for the CDSS blog.  Despite the fact that Mac and his music have been in my life since I was, oh, maybe 3, I could not imagine what I could add to the already overwhelming collection of testaments from the people whose lives he had touched in so many ways.  Somewhat chagrined, I set the assignment aside to figure out later.

I was clearing out my car today.  After several weeks of gigs just close enough together that I never took the sound system out, or the music, or the traveling gear — let’s just say it was a project.  As I got to the bottom of the archeological dig I came across a neat brown leather case with a silver buckle that once had a shoulder strap so you could carry it like a quiver of arrows. In it is a music stand. And I knew, at least in part, what I wanted to say about the man who signed an autograph from “Uncle Bob” for me when I was about 8.

A number of years ago CDSS started a “wish-list” of things we needed that we hoped someone might have lying around, unused, that would find new life at CDSS.  One of the things we needed was a large number of music stands for all the folks participating in summer camp dance bands.  So the word went out in the newsletter that we needed music stands.  One day I’m up in the balcony at the Peterborough Town Hall, probably setting up for the Snowball.  “HEY COMPTON!!”  came exploding up from the front of the hall.  “HEY WHAT?” (Certainly not ladylike but I rather enjoyed trying to match his volume level.) “I’VE GOT SOMETHING FOR YOU,” he yells back.  Turned out he’d been gathering up music stands for months.  In one delivery we had enough stands to send to all three camps that year.

For all the wonderful music, for all the years of service to country and classroom, for whatever good times and difficult ones, I look at the outpouring of stories and emotions of the last few weeks and wonder if the greatest gift he’s left us is not about the big gesture or some grand and glorious tunes — it’s the knack Kwack had for doing small things that had an enormous impact.

For him, collecting stands, or starting a piano tuning or scholarship fund, or telling the guys to shape up and give the gals in weight room some respect, or getting to know the person who served him his coffee, or giving some kid a second chance — these were not “big” things, just part of life.  But those of us on the receiving end know better. These “everyday” things are the ones we hold onto and treasure.  (Okay, these and some of his jokes…) 

Somehow, the music stand in the leather case never made it out of my car and into the CDSS collection. It lives in the back of the car waiting for the moment when someone says “I need.” And when I hand it to that person and they admire the cool leather case, I tell them about the man who passed it on so someone else could play the music. Thanks, Bob.

Bob McQuillen died on February 4, 2014. An afternoon memorial service will be held on May 3, in Peterborough, NH, following by an evening dance; see https://www.facebook.com/groups/238978876284424/for more info.

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photo of Carol Compton by C. J. Leake

Handing on the Tradition

by Zoë Madonna

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Outside the dance hall (Photo by Zoë Madonna )

The 2014 Ralph Page Legacy Weekend’s Saturday dance was buried in eight inches of wet, heavy snow that started falling at about ten in the morning and did not stop till late evening. Fortunately, the gym of the Memorial Union Building at the University of New Hampshire was heated enough to keep everyone comfortable. The kind of vigorous dancing that makes dancers sweat through their shirts was nowhere to be found at Ralph Page; even after three hours of dancing, I was hardly tired. The tunes were played at a moderate pace, some dances didn’t have partner swings, and one of the staff callers tells me he’s never used a calling card in his life.

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The past into the future (Photo by Zoë Madonna)

The Ralph Page weekend is more of a celebration of social dancing history and tradition than it is a modern “dance weekend.” A loop of David Millstone’s documentaries on Dudley Laufman and the history of contra in New England played in one room, where dancers could rest their feet. Memory books about now-deceased Ralph Page mainstays were laid out on a table. Workshops and dance sessions were themed around the past; a retrospective of mentors (Bob McQuillen, Larry Jennings, Ralph Sweet, Marianne Taylor), a program themed around one of Ralph Page’s Tuesday night dances at the Boston YWCA, and a session of “contras and squares that folks think ‘Dudley doesn’t know.’” “Dudley” is Dudley Laufman, who made immeasurable contributions to getting youth involved in contra dancing in the 1960s. He still plays fiddle and accordion, calling while he plays.

I was there because I’d gotten a calling scholarship, so I was in attendance at Dudley’s workshop on the “dos and don’ts of calling.” He hadn’t come with any dos and don’ts past “don’t ask at the beginning how many people are there for their first time” and “don’t let the band boss you around,” but the other attendees had plenty of questions for him and he had plenty of stories to tell, like the time he and his wife Jacqueline played a gig on a Boston Harbor yacht for a convention of insurance salesmen, during which they had to wear full colonial dress and were  not allowed to speak to their fellow performers or the audience. Dudley is in his 80s and had heart surgery recently, but that isn’t stopping him from calling barn dances. These days, a Dudley set usually consists of a few chestnut contras, some circle dances, a New England style square, and a Sicilian circle or two. Moves that have become commonplace in modern contra, such as the hey for four and gypsy, cannot be found in Dudley’s sets.

Dudley also had plenty of questions for me, whipping around with surprising speed for someone his age every time he remembered something he wanted to ask. “If a bus full of Girl Scouts, no, if a bus full of people with Down’s Syndrome pulls up and everyone comes in, what are you going to call?” I puzzled that question over for a minute before saying I’d call the simplest circle mixer I know. “Would you have them change partners?” asked another caller. I didn’t know what to answer. I still have a long way to go.

The defining moment of Ralph Page for me happened during lunch on the final day. As I was walking through the cafeteria, the jam session that had been playing struck up Money Musk. Two couples set up at one end of the cafeteria aisle and called for a third; I grabbed a partner and we three couples started dancing. No calls were needed. We all knew this dance. By the time my partner and I were waiting at the top, the line was at least twelve couples long. By the time the dance ended, there were at least twenty couples on the line: a good quarter of the people at the weekend, dancing Money Musk in a cafeteria for fifteen minutes with unabashed joy.

The Ralph Page Legacy Weekend was created in 1988 to recognize the contributions that caller Ralph Page (1903-1985) made to contra and New England folk dancing. It’s held the weekend before the third Monday in January (MLK, Jr. Day), at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH and sponsored by the New England Folk Festival Association.

A singer, dancer, musician—and Oberlin junior―Zoë Madonna is interning with CDSS this month.