Contra Dances I’ve Written
My choreography bug hit during the pandemic. When I started calling virtual contra dances in May 2020, I became a bit obsessed. I found it really interesting adjusting dances for the solo dancer or single couple environment.
Having written a couple dozen virtual dances, along with several variations of contra hall classics, the joy I’ve found in writing dances now has a home in our physical dance spaces.
These dances are for live, in-person settings. If you’d like to see my virtual dances, you can find them here.
Special thanks to Chris Page (one of the producers of Caller’s Box), who has provided valuable, and thorough, feedback on my dances below, as well as the choreographers and callers who have rigorously evaluated and tested new dances.
I wanted to create an easy, opening dance that still had something interesting to give it character.
I decided to center it around the seesaw figure (a dosido by the left shoulder).
I like pairing this with twangy tunes, as there is something country about the twang of the word “seesaw” when calling.. perhaps because it rhymes with “yeehaw?”
A1 – Neighbour Seesaw 1.5x; Pass Through Across the Set for a Neighbour Swing
A2 – Long Lines Forward, Larks Roll Your Neighbour on the way back; Larks Seesaw 1.5x
B1 – Partner Balance & Swing
B2 – Partners Promenade to the other side of the set; Circle Right Three Places; Pass Through Along the Set to New Neighbours
I was building a program for an upcoming dance, and could not for the life of me find an opening dance that had a ring balance+pass through progression, as well as Larks swinging on both sides.
Specific? Yes – and, when you have a second dance locked in that you love, it makes the figures from that first dance crucial.
Also, I find there aren’t a lot of new opening dances being written – so here it is. A brand new opener. Enjoy!
And yes – ‘git.
A1 – Neighbour Balance & Swing
A2 – Larks Allemande Left 1.5x; Partner Swing
B1 – Long Lines Forward and Back; Right & Left Through
B2 – Circle Left three places; Balance the Ring; Pass Through to New Neighbours
In experimenting with formations during the pandemic, I decided to write a four facing four; and discovered it could easily be adjusted to work in our dance halls when we safely returned.
I love the box circulate figure, and found that it was rarely implemented in four facing four dances; and especially not in simpler dances like this one.
A1 – With Your Opposite, Right Hand Balance; Box the Gnat; Pull into a Dosido with your Opposite
A2 – Long Lines Forward and on the way back, Larks roll your partner; All Eight Circle Left Halfway (4 Places)
B1 – Partner Allemande Right into Waves of Four at the Heads (Larks facing out, Robins facing in); Balance and Box Circulate (Robins Cross, Larks Loop)
B2 – Balance and Box Circulate (Larks Cross, Robins Face Oncoming Partner); Partner Swing; End the Swing Facing New Neighbours
This is a liberal in-person variation of my virtual dance, Zoom Shindig.
I constructed this dance as an exercise to take the square through, hey, and a long partner swing, to create a dance that requires little calling and therefore features the musicians as much as possible – especially in the B section.
A1 – Shift Left; Mad Robin with Partner CW (Larks in First); Larks Cross for a Neighbour Swing
A2 – Face partner across the set, give right hand to balance, for an Interrupted Square Through (pull by right, pull by left, partner right hand balance; pull by right, pull by left)
B1 – Ricochet hey (RR;PL;LR;N2L;RR;PL;L ricochet)
B2 – Partner Balance and Swing
I wrote two very liberal virtual variations of Labor of Love by Kathy Anderson, and wanted to bring the spirit of those back to the hall.
Keeping the Mad Robin but turning it to a mirror mad robin, such that it holds nice momentum into the contra corner sequence, I’ve brought it to life.
A1 – Neighbour Dosido; Neighbour Swing;
A2 – Long Lines Forward & Back; Mirror Mad Robin (Ones pass center first, up the hall – Lark CW, Robin CCW);
B1 – Ones Turn Contra Corners: Partner Right Hand Allemande halfway; Corner One Left Hand Allemande all the way around; Partner Right Hand Allemande halfway; Corner Two Left Hand Allemande all the way around
B2 – Ones in the center, Balance and Swing – End Facing Down the Hall
My Triplet Back Home
I really loved writing this triplet, and consider it to be one of my most enjoyable dances – it’s very flowy and uses the living room in different ways that most dances.
And since pandemic trips were basically just a trip home.. I gave it this (cheeky) name.
This dance can progress if you have mixed group sizes – have the dancers substitute B2 with three changes (similar to a grand right & left): pull by right, pull by left, pull by right, all partners swing. 1s face down, 2s and 3s face up.
Dance as couple #2 in the triplet.
A1 – Right Hand Star with Couple #1, above; Left Hand Star with Couple #3, below
A2 – Pass right shoulder with Neighbour above for a Hey for Three along the side of the set
B1 – Lead up; Cast back to place, facing Neighbour below; Right hand balance; Box the Gnat and hold on
B2 – Pull by right; Turn in to your partner for a swing. End facing up.
Contra corners was very popular in virtual dancing, and so I ended up writing a few dances with contra corners as a feature.
However, I wanted a contra corners dance with something other than a partner swing at the end; after lots of exploration I landed on this creation with a diagonal hey.
The dance was so fun that I adapted it for the dance hall. It’s named after the hit Netflix series that has chess sets flying off the shelves.
A1 – Long Lines Forward & Back on the Left Diagonal to Progress to New Neighbours; Ones Right Hand Balance (across the set); Ones Box the Gnat
A2 – Ones Turn Contra Corners
B1 – Ones, pass partner right to start a hey on the left diagonal (with your second contra corners)
B2 – Partner Balance & Swing, end facing across the set
Ready Player One
Ready Player Two (a virtual dance) is the most complex dance I’ve written. This is a simplified version, with a progression, so it’s ready for the hall with… lots of players!
A1 – Promenade as a couple across the set, making a wide arc to the left to face new neighbours – this is your progression; Mad Robin CCW (Robins in first, Larks behind);
A2 – Left Hand Across Star all the way around; Larks drop out, Robins pull by left to face your neighbour; Neighbours allemande right 3/4 into wavy lines – Larks face out, Robins face in (facing your partner’s back)
B1 – Balance the wave forward and back; Box circulate – Robins cross while Larks loop right; Balance & box circulate – Larks cross while Robins loop
B2 – Balance & box circulate – Robins cross while Larks loop to face your oncoming partner; Partner swing.
As talk evolved about us making it to the other side of the pandemic, media started asking – will we have another “roaring twenties?”
I thought – great name for a dance! And I wanted to create a dance that was high-energy and unique, hence the interrupted circle.
A1 – Step forward into long wavy line down the middle (between two ghost neighbours, Robins left in the middle); Balance the wave; Larks step forward to the other side of the set while the Robins allemande halfway; Courtesy turn with your neighbour;
A2 – Left Hands-Across Star 2 places; Turn single over your right shoulder; Repeat
B1 – Balance the Ring, Petronella Spin; Repeat
B2 – Pousette CCW (Lark Fwd/Robin Rev) Halfway to swap places with new neighbours; keep the pousette going a bit more to your home side for a Partner Swing
Push Your Luck
This is another dance I’ve adapted from virtual dancing. I was contemplating lesser-known figures that have us move in different ways – and both the little-known wheelbarrow and the cloverleaf turn single struck me as interesting to work with.
With both of those figures together, I had no choice – the dance had to be named Push Your Luck.
A wheelbarrow is a poussette that doesn’t go around another couple; it simply stays in the original slot. Everyone stands in front of their current partner, holding two hands. One person goes forward, the other person backs up. The figure then often reverses back to place.
A cloverleaf turn single has dancers on one diagonal within a hands-four turn single one direction. The people on the other diagonal turn single in the other direction, creating a cloverleaf pattern if watched from above.
A1 – Wheelbarrow with your Partner (Lark Forward, Robin Back, then reverse back to place); Circle Left 3 places
A2 – You’ll be on the side with your Partner – Right Shoulder Round into a Swing
B1 – Wheelbarrow with your Neighbor (Lark Forward, Robin Back, then reverse); Larks continue that momentum to bring the Robin to your side for a Swing
B2 – Pass Through Across the Set; Cloverleaf Turn Single (Larks Left/CCW, Robins Right/CW); Pass Through Along the Set; Cloverleaf Turn Single (Larks Left/CCW, Robins Right/CW)
This was my favourite dance I wrote during the pandemic, and I absolutely had to come up with a version for live, in person dancing!
The inspiration came from dancing another dance incorrectly (I missed the walkthrough), loving what I thought was the A section, and later realizing that what I danced didn’t exist! So, I had to bring it to life. I modified the B section and presto, another dance was born.
The pandemic-inspired act of regrowing scallions in one’s kitchen became fashionable — so much so that the New York Times dubbed the frugal lifestyle changes “Scallion Nation.” It became a meme, and now it’s a dance, too.
A1 – Partner right hand balance; Square Through (PR;NL); Partner right hand balance; Box the gnat
A2 – Square Through (PR;NL); Partner swing
B1 – Long Lines Forward & Back on the Left Diagonal to Progress to New Neighbours; Robins Chain
B2 – Circle right three places; Pass Through; Cloverleaf Turn Single (Larks Right/CW, Robins Left/CCW)
I really liked a sequence of figures from Don Veino’s Pumpkin Spice Madness (the mad robin, Larks cross, partner swing.) After trying to adjust it, I ended up with a whole different dance, and in Becket formation, at that – with only the signature move intact. It seems to flow well in living rooms.
A1 – Shift Left; Circle left 3 places; Neighbour Swing
A2 – Balance the ring; As in the dance Petronella, slide or spin to the right; Balance the ring; Petronella
B1 – Neighbour Dosido; Mad Robin Clockwise (Larks in first, Robins behind);
B2 – Larks cross by right; Partner swing
Variations of Concern
I’ll confess, I wrote “Going Concern” just so I could play on words that these are “Variations of Concern.” Like any good Canadian – I’m sorry.
In this four facing four, the couple swaps left vs. right side of the same virtual set, always facing up the hall.
When doing a walkthrough, I found that it’s helpful to identify the wall the dancers are originally facing at the beginning of the dance, and use that for orientation in the B1 (Larks face that wall, Robins have their back to it.)
A1 – All Eight Circle Left Halfway (4 Places); Long Lines Forward and Back
A2 – Inside 4 Right Hand Balance, Square Through 2 while Outside Right Hand Balance with your Opposite, Pull By, Face In (Across to Same Opposite); Inside 4 Right Hand Balance, Square Through 2 while Outside Left Hand Balance with your Opposite, Pull By, Turn ¼ to Face Your Oncoming Partner
B1 – Partner Allemande Right 1¼ into Waves of Four at the Heads (Larks face in, Robins face out); Balance and Box Circulate (Larks Cross, Robins Loop)
B2 – Balance and Box Circulate (Robins Cross, Larks Face Oncoming Partner); Partner Swing
Alternate A2: Inside 4 Right Hand Balance, Square Through 2; Right Hand Balance, Square Through 2; while Outside couples balance and swing, end the swing with Larks rolling away the Robin to face your oncoming partner
When Rory Met Sally
This was another dance where I started by trying to adjust other dances, and ended up with one of my own.
My goal was a dance with Rory O’More that had a different set of figures (originally well suited for virtual dancing.)
Note that this is a busy dance with lots of figures, but no neighbour swing. If you have a group that will eat you alive for not including a neighbour swing, pass this one on by!
A1 – Shift Left; Circle left 3 places; Neighbor do-si-do 1 & 1/4; form wave of four (Neighbor R, Robins L)
A2 – Balance the wave; Slide right (past Neighbor – Neighbor L, Larks R); Balance wave of four; Slide left (past Neighbor)
B1 – Robins allemande left 1 & 1/4; Partner swing
B2 – Larks Pass Left to Start a Full Hey