What makes a good dance?
First, there's the usual:
- Partner swing. This is different than the other criteria -- the others make the dance sequence simpler, and hence better. This requirement only exists because dancers like a partner swing.
- Swings end at the end of a 16-count phrase. The main exception is the swing/swing transition, as in "CDS Reel." It's easier for dancers to hear the end of a 16-count phrase, rather than the middle. There's so many dances that do this right, why settle for one that doesn't?
- No repeated figures. This is a short-term memory aid. If the A2 ladies chain leads to a star left, and the B2 ladies chain leads to a right and left through, people are more likely to be confused. Some exceptions:
- Different context -- men allemande left versus neighbor allemande
partner swing versus neighbor swing.
- Immediate repetition -- a full ladies chain, or a sequence of balance
and petronella turns.
- The whole sequence repeats twice -- like
"Hay in the Barn."
- Any other case where the repetition helps with the storyline
of the dance, making it easier to remember rather than more
- Figures fit nicely into timing. It should be neither rushed nor have slack. Beginner dances can have slack, though often it's better if the slack
is optional -- for instance circle left followed by star left.
- No crossed phrases. (Figures end at the end of a 16-beat phrase.)
Not quite as strict as the other requirements.
- That it's not a clockwise horror. (The
- Safety issues. Mostly code for no "everyone swing partner" in the center. Everybody courtesy turning or do-si-do-ing in the center can also be an issue, but those aren't as uncontrolled.
- Transitions between figures should be clean and make sense. Avoiding going from swing to circle right, or allemande left neighbor to allemande left partner to allemande left shadow.
- All the above must apply for both genders. Make sure the role you haven't danced doesn't feature actively unpleasant transitions.
- And of course, that the dance works -- you're progressed,
having kept your partner. Unless it's supposed to be a mixer.
My own personal criteria
Now it's time to go with ideas that aren't as
clear-cut. I hope you don't agree with everything
I write below here, as then all contra repertoires
would be exactly the same. Borr-rrring.
Hypothesis 1: There are thousands of dances
out there, so why waste time with flawed dances,
when there are hundreds of dances that aren't flawed.
(An exception can be made for very easy dances, of
which there's a much smaller subset.)
Hypothesis 2: A dance should be simple. One could
make a dance arbitrarily complex, but the point of
contra dance is to lose oneself in the music, and not
have to think about the sequence. More specifically, the
dance should be the simplest expression of a particular
idea. And complexity should be justified by increasing
the emotional/kinesthetic appeal of the dance, rather
than a goal itself. (Note that
when I don't know exactly what I'm talking about, I go for
Big Words to hide it.)
This means piececount and counter intuitive sequences
are The Enemy. Also, no complex new figures should be
introduced just for the sake of the new figure. And each
figure should suggest the next figure as the natural follow-up.
Hypothesis #3: A dance should be distinctive. This is the one I'm most
uncertain about, and you'll notice this in many of the dances
I write. By distinctive I mean it should be stand out,
being notably different from other dances in a typical
program. It should not be shy about its specialness.
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