Notes on Choreography for Duple Minor

Improper Contra Dances

© Copyright Cary Ravitz 1998, 2003

See ravitz.us for contact information.


Introduction

These notes are about the choreography of duple minor (two couple minor sets), improper contra dances, i.e. modern contra dances. They are for potential and practicing choreographers and callers and assume that you have a working knowledge of contra dancing.

This information is based on my experiences dancing, calling, and writing dances. It is part fact and part opinion. For choreographers, I expect that you will disagree with many parts of it, but perhaps it will give you something to consider. For callers, I hope that you will learn something that will help you understand complex dances more easily and choose better dances to call.

Top


Partners, Neighbors, and Trail Buddies

Your partner is beside you, women on the right at the start of any duple minor improper contra. Your neighbors are the people in your minor set other than your partner or trail buddy.

A trail buddy, also known as a shadow, is someone that you meet (generally in your minor set) on every cycle of the dance (your partner might be considered your primary trail buddy). Every opposite sex person that is on the same side of the set as your partner is a potential trail buddy. Anyone else that you meet is a neighbor. Trail buddies appear in your minor set when you progress differently from your partner, for example ladies chain on the left diagonal. In Becket formation long lines, the person beside you that is not your partner is a trail buddy that is not in your minor set (there may be other trail buddies in the same dance).

Excluding end effects, if your partner is in a different minor set in a dance walkthrough, then in your minor set one opposite sex person is a neighbor and one is a trail buddy. Look up or down the set for your partner. The opposite sex person that is on the same side of the set as your partner is the trail buddy.

At the end of a set a partner or trail buddy may dance the part of a neighbor.

Top


Figures

The figures that make up a contra dance, such as do-si-do, swing, and circle, have several interesting characteristics. Figures may change the position of the dancers. Some do -

And some don't. For callers, these figures are very handy to repair a dance that is off the music. They can be dropped or added without messing up the dance -

Some figures are positionally equivalent to other figures. For example star right 3/4 is the same as circle left 3/4. Right and left through across is the same as 1/2 hey. Balance and roll to the next position to the right as in Petronella is the same as circle left 3/4.

Figures may change the orientation of the dancers. Some do, such as star and hey. Some don't, such as long lines forward and back, right and left through across, and circle. And some allow dancers to change their orientation, such as swing and do-si-do.

Figures provide different relationships with your partner. In some figures partners move together, for example right and left through, swing, star, circle, and long lines. In a hey they do the same motion but not together. In a ladies chain they do completely different motions. This can be used to nice effect -

Ladies or men allemande 1+1/2 in the middle (or any multiple of 1/2) has an implied movement by the dancers that are not participating in the allemande. These people should, in general, move to the side slightly to line up with the person on the other side of the set. This sets up the minor set for a swing, allemande, or wavy line (for example) and leaves the two couples aligned. It also makes the usual allemande fractions work out precisely, for example allemande 1+1/2 in the middle / allemande 3/4 on the side to long wavy lines.

The swing is an important part of any dance and it has unique characteristics. There is no specific number of rotations. It ends at a break in the music. It ends with the woman on the right, regardless of the positions at the start of the swing (for other figures the ending position depends on the starting position). And it allows transition to a variety of figures, including circle left (clockwise), star left (counter-clockwise), promenade, long lines, ladies chain, hey, right and left through, women allemande right, and men allemande left (although some work better than others).

Each figure requires a certain number of dance counts to execute. Some of these are easy, some require the dancers to slow their pace, and some are rushed, requiring the dancers to move briskly to get to the next move on time -

Top


Formations

Three common dance formations are duple minor improper - the standard improper contra, Becket formation where each minor set turns 1/4 circle from an improper contra to put partners on the same side of the set, and Sicilian circle, an improper contra with no ends.

The formation influences the dance. For example, one big advantage of Becket dances is that you can end the dance with a partner swing. Another is that the dance can progress either left or right, giving more flexibility in its construction. An improper contra could end with a partner swing but the swing would be in the middle of the set, causing problems (having only the ones swing is not an acceptable solution for me). And it could progress up rather than down but that would cause a lot of confusion.

Sicilian circles have a couple of advantages over improper contras. There are no end effects. And you can do large circles left and right. One disadvantage is that you dance with only half the people in the set.

Top


Progression

My definition of progression is that point when you leave one minor set and join another minor set, minor set being defined by position on the floor rather than people in the set. This is not the same as progressed position, which is the position that allows a progression. When you are in progressed position you can turn to face a new neighbor to progress.

    original set      6 5   4 3   2 w     (odd numbers are ones)
                      6 5   4 3   2 m

    progressed        5 6   3 4   w 2
    position          5 6   3 4   m 2

    progressed     - 5   6 3   4 w   2 -
                   - 5   6 3   4 m   2 -
    

You can progress multiple times in a dance sequence. A progression on a diagonal is equivalent to two single progressions - you dance with and then past a couple on the diagonal.

If you draw an X on the floor in the middle of each minor set, then in a single progression dance the Xs will move with each cycle.

    original set      6 5   4 3   2 w
                      6 5   4 3   2 m

    progressed     - 5   6 3   4 w   2 -
                   - 5   6 3   4 m   2 -
    

In a double progression dance, the Xs stay in the same place.

    original set      6 5   4 3   2 w
                      6 5   4 3   2 m

    progressed        - 3   6 w   4 -
                      - 3   6 m   4 -
    

In a double progression dance no one is ever out at the top at the beginning of a cycle.

Partners can progress separately. For example, women chain on the left diagonal is a double progression for the women but the men stay in the same minor set so they do not progress. This sequence may be resolved by the men doing a double progression move or the women may unprogress singly while the men progress singly. For example -

Top


Sequence of Figures

Each of the standard figures has merit for the dancers, assuming that they are not overused. So the primary focus in choosing a sequence is the transitions between figures.

Figure pairs that force hands to be separated before the first figure is finished should be avoided -

An exception to this is circle left or right / allemande right or left, perhaps because the nice feeling of continuing the rotation with a smaller radius overcomes the undesirable feeling of tearing your hand away before the figure is finished, or perhaps just because this transition is used often.

A couple of points about timing are important. Timing in the middle of a phrase is not necessarily strict. For example, with star left / star right 3/4 with a new couple, nominally each star takes eight counts, but to walk both figures at a steady speed, the first will take a bit more and the second a bit less. The dancers will work this out.

When a rushed move is followed by a balance, and the music is too fast to make it easy, the dancers will reach the balance late and the dance will lose its flow. Some examples are -

This doesn't mean that dances that use these combinations are bad, but the caller should note that the music should not be too fast for the dancers to get to the balance on time. And the rest of the dance should match.

There are a few commonly used transitions that I don't like because I don't think that they flow very well -

Others work well only with a flourish that helps the dancers to face the right direction -

Top


Common Sequences

A couple of situations show up regularly in contra dances and give rise to common sequences.

In a dance with two swings, each ending at a sixteen count phrase break, there are just two possibilities for separating the swings -

or -

Regardless of where you put the swings, the separation of the swings will be equivalent to one of the above. With the first structure, there are two intermediate figures of up to twenty-four counts each. With the second, you have forty counts available for one sequence but only six or eight counts for the other. This results in the repeated use of two standard figures - circle left 3/4 and men allemande left 1+1/2. The first leaves the men on the same side for the second swing and the second leaves the women on the same side. You can also use women allemande right 1+1/2, star right 3/4, and give and take (see Give and Take by Larry Jennings) which can be used to put the dancers on whatever side you need based on who does the taking. If you don't mind some confusion, end the swing facing out / reach back to star right 3/4 flows nicely.

The situation often arises in an improper contra that partners end a swing at the end of B1 and B2 is used to progress. If the swing is on the man's side of the set, these sequences work well -

If the swing is on the woman's side then these are good -

Top


Diagramming Dances

Diagramming a dance is useful to verify that it works, to determine where people should be at various parts of the dance, and to explain the dance to others.

In general you need to diagram the one man (m) and woman (w), everyone else in same minor set (-), and the position of the minor set (enclosed by |). The head of the set is to the right. For example -

               Jump Start - improper contra
      |- w|
      |- m|
               neighbors balance and swing
      |w -|
      |m -|
               right and left through across
      |- m|
      |- w|
               1/2 hey
      |w -|
      |m -|
               star right 3/4
      |- -|
      |w m|
               partners swing
      |- -|
      |m w|
               circle left 3/4
      |- w|
      |- m|
               pass through up and down
      |w -|
      |m -|
               look for a new neighbor (progress) to do-si-do
    |- w|- -|
    |- m|- -|
    

The minor set of interest moved one place for a single progression. Diagramming the man's (or woman's) trail buddy (t) may be useful.

                   Whitewater - Becket
        |- -|
        |m w|
                   long lines forward and back and partners roll away
        |- -|
        |w m|
                   look for your trail buddy (progress)
      |- -|- -|
      |- w|m t|
                   long lines forward and back and trail buddies roll away
      |- -|- -|
      |w -|t m|
                   circle right 3/4
      |w -|t -|
      |- -|m -|
                   look for a new neighbor (progress)
    |- w|- t|- -|
    |- -|- m|- -|
                   neighbors swing
    |w -|t -|- -|
    |- -|m -|- -|
                   circle left 3/4
    |- -|- -|- -|
    |w -|t m|- -|
                   trail buddies allemande right 1+1/2
    |- -|- -|- -|
    |- w|m t|- -|
                   look for your partner (progress)
      |- -|- -|
      |w m|t -|
                   partners balance and swing
      |- -|- -|
      |m w|- t|
    

The minor set ended up one place to the left for a single progression, clockwise. Note that the man's trail buddy (t) is always on the same side of the set as his partner (w), so it's easy to spot a trail buddy without diagramming her.

If you have a dance with wavy lines it will be helpful to to indicate the direction that each person is facing. And if the dance becomes proper at any point it will be helpful to diagram the two man or woman so that you know what type of neighbor the ones are dancing with.

Top


What Makes a Dance Good

I've seen inspired sequences of figures that made poor dances and dances that flowed beautifully that were not fun. And I've seen almost trivial sequences of figures that made very good dances. You will have to dance a dance to see if it is good, but when writing a dance I try for certain things.

A dance should flow well. One figure should lead to the next by position, direction, and handholds.

A dance should be easy to remember. Having a good flow is the best first step to this. Repeated moves, especially from the same or similar positions will detract from it. For example if there are two partner courtesy turns on the same side of the set, the dancers will sometimes confuse where they are in the dance at the end of the courtesy turns.

A dance benefits from a theme or symmetry that holds it together as a dance rather than an unrelated sequence of figures. But if overdone this can make the dance boring.

A dance needs a hook - something to make it special. This can be a new or unusual figure, transition, or sequence of figures. It can be a transition that allows a special flourish such as swing / star left (I like to swing with left hands held and twirl the lady into the star) or do-si-do to a wave (I like to swing instead of do-si-do and twirl the lady into the wave).

The hook can be a sequence that unexpectedly works. Sutton Hey by Ken Bonner uses neighbors allemande right 3/4 / men pull by / partners box the gnat / hey. The timing is unusual - three counts for the allemande, two for the pull by, and three for the box the gnat. It works great and the hey follows nicely.

The hook can be a lose and find your partner sequence. I sometimes try to confuse the dancers in between the lose and find to make the reunion unexpected.

A confusing progression can be a nice hook. It will also make for a difficult dance.

The level of partner interaction is an important aspect of a dance. It can range from nothing to spending the entire dance with your partner. I like dances where you spend most of the dance with your partner, dances where you split time with partner, neighbors, and trail buddies, and dances where you spend most of the dance with neighbors and trail buddies and return to your partner for a balance and swing. Each of these has a place in an evening of dances.

To me, a partner swing is essential for a good dance, and a partner balance and swing or gypsy and swing is desirable. A neighbor swing is also desirable.

I think that it is nice for the dancers to change position with every figure. Do-si-do, circle or star once around, and other moves that leave the dancers' position unchanged make a dance easier but less interesting.

I prefer that dancers not stand still during a dance. Men or women allemande in the middle and actives only moves leave half the dancers standing. This won't ruin a dance if it is kept within reason, but I always look for dances that keep everyone moving all the time.

I like to see dances with no balances or reverses of direction such as long lines forward and back. I will only call these once or twice in a night, but they have a special feeling that I like.

Top


Complex/Difficult Dances

I do my best to make each dance that I write as simple as possible while encompassing the goals that I have set for it. If the goal is a strange individual progression then the dance will be difficult. If a complex sequence of moves is required to make a central figure work, I will use it. But there is no reason to add complexity except to accomplish your goals.

Here are some things that tend to make a dance difficult. No hands moves - it's a lot easier to lead lost dancers with hand holds than with hand signals and verbal instruction.

Reentry with the lady on the left - it happens regularly and confuses people regularly.

Figures that take less than eight counts - these can make the dance fun, but too many can make a mess.

Multiple individual progressions - this causes dancer disorientation and nasty end effects. In return it can result in a totally unexpected partner reunion that people will like.

Complex figures done with your partner - if there is a complex figure done with a neighbor, people that understand the figure will go down the line showing new neighbors how it works. If the figure is done with your partner, there is no mixing of knowledge.

Diagonal heys - these tend to straighten out and put the dancers out of place. For example in the sequence 1/2 hey on the left diagonal / right and left through across the dancers will generally need to look a little to the right to find the correct couple for the right and left through.

Top


New or Unusual Figures and Transitions

New or unusual figures and transitions can be good or bad. They are almost always difficult to call. You've got to convince the dancers that you know what you are doing, get them to listen, convince them that it will work, and convince them that it is worth their time to learn. Even for a simple new figure this is not easy.

The first time that I called neighbors allemande right 1+1/2 / star right the reactions were - I assume that you mean star right with a new couple and are you sure that you have the dance written down right? The transition works but you've got to convince the dancers.

Unusual transitions that I like include -

Unusual transitions that work, but I'm not particularly fond of include -

Unusual figures and transitions that I avoid just because it is hard to get the crowd to do it right include -

Top


What to Avoid

A few things should be consciously avoided when writing a dance. Dances that use a continuous clockwise rotation for more than about forty counts can make even experienced dancers very dizzy. The common sequence balance and swing / circle left 3/4 / swing is twenty-eight counts and doesn't cause problems. Add another eight count circle left at the end and things get questionable.

The dance pace should even. Mixing figures that require brisk movement in one phrase with deliberately slow movement in another breaks the flow of the dance.

Some figures are boring when repeated and some benefit from repetition. Circle lefts are very handy but I don't like to use two in one dance. One do-si-do is enough. Many dances use two ladies chains, but I'm not partial to this. One balance and swing is enough, although two swings are desirable. But I limit the swings to a total of 20 counts.

Some figures seem to demand repetition. Balance and turn as in Petronella, balance and slide as in Rory O'More, and half a square through seem to need a repetition to be complete. If you only use one it seems to be just a trick to get people where you need them, not a figure that you wanted in the dance.

Watch out for excessive trail buddy interaction. People don't choose their trail buddy and they are stuck with them for the entire dance.

Swings that end in the middle of a sixteen count phrase are not easy for dancers or callers. If the music doesn't have a clean break at the end of the swing then many dancers will not know when to stop. Consider it part of the challenge of writing a dance that this is not allowed. A popular exception to this is the sequence ones swing in the middle / neighbors swing on the side.

Avoid dances with too many figures. Each transition is a mental and physical effort. This is fun if not overdone. I like to see at least one sixteen count figure or figure pair. For example a balance and swing, hey, or two Petronella turns lets people mentally relax for the entire phrase. I also like to see four count figures kept to a minimum.

Top


Writing a Dance

I can only make suggestions on how to construct a dance. One good way is to start with a desired figure or sequence. In Roadkill I started with -

After working out how this sequence moved people, I determined where partners had to start so that they end up progressed and together for the second swing. That reduced the problem to finding a move that put partners in that position. Starting from Becket formation, long lines with a trail buddy roll away put people in the right position. This also left time for a balance and swing at the end. It all worked out easily.

Another way is to start with a desired progression. For the dance Whitewater, I started with this progression -

The first progression separates partners. The second progression causes confusion as people expect to find their partners but don't. And the third reunites partners. There are two other equivalent ways to look at this progression that may make it easier to work with -

or -

For the dance Interstate 75, I started with this progression -

I worked this out from Becket formation as -

The wonderful initial figure from Peter Lippincott's Snake River Reel is interesting to work with. From improper contra formation -

This figure is also used in Trip to Lambertville by Steve Zakon-Anderson and Snake Oil Reel by Roger Diggle (and perhaps others that I am not aware of). But none includes a sixteen count partner balance and swing, so I decided to look into it.

Assuming that you are starting from an improper contra formation with the figure in A1, the only phrase for a partner balance and swing is B1. (You are out of position for A2 and B2 must end in position for the next cycle.) It is nice to end the dance with the ladies set up to move forward, such as a hey or ladies chain. If the partner swing is on the man's side then the dance could end with circle left / ladies chain across. If the partner swing is on the woman's side then the dance could end with right and left through across / ladies chain across.

So that leaves A2 to get partners together. It seems best to start A2 with men allemande left. They could go 1+1/4 to their partner in six counts but that will cause timing confusion and leaves you ten counts to work with. That leaves 3/4 in four counts or 1+3/4 in eight counts, leaving them facing out at their neighbor with right hands free. You now have twelve or eight counts to get partners together. The obvious ways to get partners on the same side, ladies chain, circle 3/4, ladies allemande 1+1/2, and men allemande 1+1/2 don't fit. Ladies do-si-do 1+1/2 or gypsy left 1+1/2 work but don't sound very good to me. Also keep in mind that the women have been standing still for four counts at the start of A2 and men have had eight counts of standing still in A1.

Perhaps you can do better in Becket formation or moving the figure to a different phrase. Or you could time it so that it starts four counts before a phrase, putting the balance at the start of the phrase. I will leave this to you and hope to see a lot of variations in the future.

My solution to the problem, which I called Snake in the Hey, was to replace ladies walk to a wavy line with ladies allemande right 3/4 to a wavy line. This moves the ladies to the other side of the set so in A2 men allemande left 3/4 puts partners together with 12 counts to go. I used partners box the gnat / 1/2 hey to set them up for a balance and swing. And right and left through / ladies chain was the obvious finish. It is interesting how a small change can impact an entire sequence. This is part of what makes writing contra dances interesting.

Another solution, which I noticed a year after writing the above, is men allemande left 3/4 / 3/4 hey. This puts partners together on the woman's side. Then partners balance and swing / right and left through / ladies chain. This turned out to be Roger Diggle's The Snake River Strut.

After you have written a dance, go back and look for variations. Substitute equivalent figures, shift the timing, and see if you can fit it into Becket verses improper contra. Then choose the best version or document good alternatives.

Top


More Notes on Contra Choreography

This set of notes is an addendum to my previous set of notes. It is mostly rambling thoughts about how I view contra dances.

Top


The Structure of a Dance

The figures of a dance might be classified as -

Viewed in this way many dances look very similar. The structure of the dance implies the length of the central figure, the possibility of combining the central figure and progression, and it imparts a shape to the dance that dancers will feel. When writing a dance, I find it helpful to start with a desired structure and work within that framework. A few of the many common forms include -

improper contra

For example Woven Waves and Fractal Frolic. This structure gives widely separated swings, but limits the complexity of the central figure. Note the progression is one of the common sequences discussed earlier.

Becket

For example Fudge Swirl and Pigtown Petronella. The first section yields the common Becket starting sequence circle left 3/4 / swing.

Becket

For example The Millenium Hug and Heart of Glass. This structure allows for a neighbor swing, 16 count partner swing, and a 32 count central figure unencumbered by a progression. The first section produces another common sequence, circle left 3/4 / pass through / swing. Other options include star left 3/4, balance and roll as in Petronella, and ladies pull by by the right / neighbors allemande left 3/4 (see Halliehurst by Gene Hubert).

Top


Symmetry

Symmetry is one aspect of a dance that can make it feel like a work of art rather than an odd sequence of figures that happen to work together. And it is one of the most interesting aspects of a dance, often providing a sense of wonder that the symmetry can be fit into the rigid structure of a contra dance. It can take many forms - a figure (or sequence of figures) done with neighbor then partner, a figure done by women then men, a figure done by ones and then twos, mirror image figures, medleyed p airs of dances that trade partner and neighbor roles, and more. Symmetry is not required for a dance to be good. It is just one factor that can elevate a dance beyond ordinary. Below are some of my favorite examples from my dances.

Snake in the Hey uses a simple symmetric sequence -

Fractal Frolic and Fractal Fling use an ordinary star promenade followed by a star promenade with ladies in the middle to make an interesting symmetric figure. And this pair of dances make an example of almost identical dances that invert neighbor and partner roles. This example can be generalized - for any improper contra that progresses with ladies chain / look for a new neighbor to balance and swing, there is a symmetric Becket dance that progresses with ladies chain on the right diagonal / look for your partner to balance and swing, in which all other figures are identical except for trading the roles of partners/trail buddies and neighbors. This can be applied nicely to, for example, Gene Hubert's Shades of Shadrack and Jim Kitch's The Green Eyed Girl (with the last figure replaced by ladies chain across). Gene Hubert's The Nice Combination and The Dance Gypsy comprise a similar inverted pair.

Flip-Flop is an example of a dance that alternates ones and twos dancing the same sequence on alternating cycles of the dance. Also see Jim Kitch's Alternating Corners. You can run any non-symmetric improper contra this way. The alternate version is the same dance sequence with ones and twos swapped and up and down the hall reversed.

Roadkill and Megadance are examples of dances that use a sequence of figures twice with partner/trail buddy and neighbor roles reversed, in this format -

These dances are simple when viewed as a sequence of simple symmetric figures but complex when looking at the unusual individual progressions that follow from the structure.

The Enchanted Forrest and Wedding Dance for Debbie and John both offer symmetric, medleyable alternate versions.

Top


My Guidelines for Evaluating Dances

I use these guidelines to evaluate dances that I have written or am considering calling. They are personal, and looking at the current body of contra dances, published and called, most choreographers and callers would have serious disagreements with a number of them. I am documenting these guidelines to help you understand my dances and to encourage you to think about your own guidelines.

There must be smooth flow, by position, direction, and hand hold.

The timing must be clean - not too tight or too loose and not widely varying in different phrases, and any timing sloppiness should be within a 16 count phrase.

There must be exactly one 16 count balance and swing, gypsy and swing, or swing.

There must be a neighbor swing or a figure that is interesting enough to make up for the lack of one.

There must be a partner swing (that means everyone, not just the ones), and it must follow the neighbor swing if there is one.

Trail buddy swings are not allowed.

Swings end at the end of a 16 count phrase.

The dance must not be excessively clockwise.

Circles and stars should be a maximum of once around, allemandes maximum 1+3/4, and do-si-dos maximum 1+1/4.

The dance should be as simple as possible while encompassing the central figure.

There should be a maximum of three balances.

The basic figures, circle left, circle right, star left, star right, ladies chain across, right and left through across, etc. should not be used more than once in a dance unless all uses are part of the central figure. For example, if you use a circle left in the central figure, don't use another one as part of the progression or setup for a swing. You can violate this rule and have a dance that flows very well, swing / circle / swing / circle flows beautifully, but it is boring and dizzy.

The total number of figures should be minimal.

Time spent standing still should be minimal.

There should be minimal filler (figures that just take up time).

Any of these guidelines may be excepted if required to allow for an exceptional central figure.

Top


An Evening of Dances

A random selection of good contra dances will not, in general, make for a good evening of dancing. Here are my guidelines for programming an evening of contra dances. They are somewhat limiting, but they provide a framework that makes it easier to create a coherent program. As with many of my choreography notes, these are here to cause you to think about the subject, not document right or wrong.

Let's start with swings - I would suggest that half of the dances in an evening have a sixteen count neighbor swing, balance and swing, or gypsy and swing, and all of these have an eight count partner swing. The other half of the dances should have a sixteen count partner swing, balance and swing, or gypsy and swing, and half of these have an eight count neighbor swing. The exact numbers are not critical, but it is easy to get far off of them if you are not careful.

Single swing dances have much more time for interesting sequences and progressions than two swing dances. And since dances without partner swings are not well received, it is easy to fill an evening with dances that have no neighbor swings. My limit is one fourth of the dances. If you want more interesting sequences for the other dances, search out creative two swing dances.

Then consider repetition of figures and sequences. The most common figures, allemande left or right, circle left, and star left or right, are used often in any evening of dances. But you can minimize the abuse of these figures. First, avoid dances that use these figures more than once. Then find dances that do not use specific figures, for example one dance might have no circle lefts and one might have no allemandes. You should then be able to put together an evening with, on average, less than one of each of these figures per dance.

Common sequences can dominate an evening of dances if you do not watch out for them. Look for men allemande left 1+1/2 / swing, circle left 3/4 / swing, right and left through / ladies chain across, and ladies chain / star left, for example.

Because improper contras generally progress in B2, and often after a partner swing in B1, the progressions can be repetitive. Becket dances can relieve this by putting the progression within the central figure, giving it more time and encouraging unusual sequences.

With two swing dances, long, interesting sequences can push the two swings together, resulting in the common sequences men allemande left 1+1/2 / swing or circle left 3/4 / swing. Look for dances where the swing is part of the interesting sequence.

For variety, consider dances that have unusual figures or sequences that may be danced only once in an evening. Rotate the waves, zig-zag, star promenade, and two or four leaf clover are relatively rare figures (in my experience) and will make a dance feel completely different than other dances of the evening.

Medleys are another way to add variety to an evening. I think it is important to have a connection between the dances of a medley, either a symmetry or a common sequence. Choose dances that connect properly with each other at the change. You can shift the change into the dance - it doesn't have to be at the start of A1. Or modify the start or end of one of the dances for the transition. Make sure that you don't switch the direction of progression by, for example, changing from a clockwise Becket dance to a counter-clockwise Becket dance without including a compensating transition.

I avoid dizzy dances. At a glance, avoid multiple circle lefts and multiple allemande rights. And if you must do one, keep it short and surround it with dances that are not dizzy.

Some dances, to me, stand out as far better than typical contra dances, and these should be used regularly. But you cannot, in general, do a whole evening of them because it would violate my other rules. Still, don't let the rules force you into an evening of average dances.

No walk through dances are great, especially after the dancers have been standing still for a while (after a break or announcements). But not at the expense of having the dance break down, so choose the dances carefully. The first dance after the break should be easy and if possible, danced with no walk through. Get people dancing as quickly as you can.

And finally, I put special requirements on the last dance of the evening - it should have a 16 count partner swing, balance and swing, or gypsy and swing, an 8 count neighbor swing, it should be reasonably easy, and it should be fun.

Top


Ending a Dance

I think that every dance should end with partners together, preferably in a swing. Practically, this makes it easy and quick to acknowledge your partner before finding a partner for the next dance. Aesthetically, it just feels right.

Many dances end each cycle with a partner swing. In this case the dancers need to know when the dance is about to end so that they can end the swing appropriately rather than starting into the next figure. Many bands will make this obvious, but some will not, and some will play fake endings for dramatic effect. So give the dancers a cue, for example "last time" just before the last cycle or "that's all" before the last swing ends.

For dances that have partners together at the end of B1, you can call a partner balance and swing to end. If there is no partner balance and swing in the dance, this is my preferred ending. If B1 is a partner balance and swing, and you don't like to do two in a row, you can often use the first figure of B2 to help. For example, if the next figure is right and left through, use pass through across and swing. If the next figure is circle left, use circle left once around and swing.

If B1 ends with neighbors together, write out a short final sequence for your dance card. You can use the first half of B2 to get partners together for a swing or the second half of B1 to set up a partner balance and swing. Men allemande left 1+1/2, ladies allemande right 1+1/2, or circle left 3/4 will work.

Top