Old Time Herald: Dare to be Square
May 19, 2004
Check out: Old-Time Square Dancing in the 21st Century: Dare to be Square!.
This article has a lot of history and some interesting analysis of current contra dancers, why they dance, and why they don't like squares.
Here's an interesting tale from New Orleans in 1804:
The contra-square controversy continued and erupted into a brawl at another public dance later that month. As reported by the New-York Herald on March 10, 1804, the dancing began with cotillions [squares], followed by a country dance [contra] for twelve couples.† The musicians were instructed to end the contra after all of the couples had been active, but six additional American couples joined the end of the line and demanded that the music continue. In the ensuing ruckus, fiddles got broken, swords were drawn, and dancers were arrested. In an effort to resolve the issue and let the dances continue, the New Orleans City Council stepped in, prohibiting citizens from carrying arms to the dances, assigning policemen to keep order, and legislating a rotation of dances: two "French contredanses[squares]," followed by one "English contredanse [contra]" limited to twelve couples, and then a waltz, to appease those of Spanish descent.
I have observed that some of the same characteristics of squares that one dancer dislikes are exactly what another dancer likes. Some dancers like the challenge and variety of figures offered by squares. This, however, does not satisfy those contra dancers who want to get into a "trance" or "the right brain ‘Zen' state that is sometimes possible in contra dancing." The challenge, sometimes bordering on confusion that these dancers dislike, is enjoyed by others who like the faster pace and spontaneity characteristic of squares.
Some contra dancers object to dancing with only seven other people in a square set, but others enjoy the "great sense of teamwork" and "synergy of eight people working together" in a square. One dancer pointed out that "...you spend enough time with the people in your square to get to know them, unlike a contra where the interaction is fleeting and superficial."
Speaking of squares and contras, the FolkMADS dance this past Saturday was called by Bill Litchman, an internationally-known traditional square dance caller. He did three squares:
- A goal posting routine (heads pass thru, separate around one, come down the middle and pass thru, split the outside two, separate around one, come down the middle and pass thru, separate around one, into the middle and pass thru, split the outside two and separate around one; swing, etc. This is a pattern that we often use in early MWSD lessons, although it's not used very frequently at regular MS and Plus dances
- Because, Just Because: A singing call (kind of rare, especially with a band that anyone can sit in on like the Albuquerque MegaBand). I don't remember the whole figure; what I do remember is that he threw in a change the second time through, which our square totally ignored (fortunately, it didn't matter; each variation had the same result).
- Forward Six, Fall Back Eight: This dance has a lot of variations, and I left as he was walking it through, but here's an online description: Forward Six, Fall Back Eight.