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Ohio River Contra

by Jerry Helt

There's more than one contra dance tradition. Learning from them gives a fresh perspective from outside our fishbowl built from our own choreographic habits as we keep swimming around in endless circles.

One source of "them" are club square dancers, or Modern Western Square Dancers, a tradition that diverged from ours in the 1950's and 1960's. Not many of them do contras, as they disfavor contras as much as we disfavor squares. But there are isolated islands of club contra dancers, as well as ContraLab, with their own repertoire. The choreography is closer to the traditional repertoire, with the inclusion of a few modern square dance moves like flutterwheel or spin the top. And fewer swings. Or even the occasional oddball like heel-and-toe polka on the side.

Ohio River Contra's a nice example of this mindset. It's unequal, but fairly active, and uses corners and groups of three people. There's some interesting symmetry. And it keeps things quite simple.

The problem is that there's no swing. They have no need for a partner swing, as there you're much more likely to dance with the same partner for every dance, so you can connect with your partner over many years, rather than compressing it into the span of nine minutes.

That doesn't work for our tradition. "Give and Take" suggests taking the original B2 of the slow square through four hands (four changes of rights and lefts in ECD-speak) and replacing it with circle left and ones swing. This'd be great if it weren't circle left #3.

I recommend the following circle-free alternates:

Easier variant, suitable for first or second dance of the night:

B1 (end by bending the lines into lines facing across)
B2 Long lines forward and back
   Ones swing

More interesting variant:

B1 (end by having the lines cast, ones go forward as
    twos back up)
B2 Ones gypsy and swing; or ones do-si-do and swing;
     or ones balance and swing; or ones swing and swing.

Instructions for the dance can be found in the book "Give and Take."
Curious about club contras? There's not much on the web, but you can look here or there for a start.
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