Some of my better dances. With time and testing, I'll add more -- see the what's new page. Or read my other dance sequences.
The virtues of this page rests upon many thanks. (The flaws are all mine.) Thanks go to all the previous composers who helped create our tradition, and upon whose shoulders I stand. Also to Bob Isaacs, a friend and mentor with whom to discuss choreography and check my most bizarre sequences. And to the dance communities of San Diego and Philadelphia and elsewhere that have graciously endured being research subjects. And all the other callers who have helped shape my understanding of contra dance, as well as Mary Dart, who organized a lot of said discussion in her thesis.
I would also very much like to thank Lynn Ackerson and John Nance, for going over the original versions of these pages in detail, and catching many mistakes and unclear bits.
For a list of my notational peculiarities, see here.
Scatter mixers are a fairly unexplored area of choreographic space. They're worth investigating as they can't accidentally break down, because they intentionally and repeatedly do so. Individual scatter mixers have a bonus bonus -- you don't need a partner in case of gender imbalance. If you're left out one time through the dance, you just jump in again. The matching weakness is that bored couples can conveniently leave mid-dance.
Their lack of structure may make it harder for dancers to keep to the phrase. In a contra dance, the actual framework / lattice of the formation helps regulate when moves start. If it takes 8 counts to circle left, most people will know when to start the next move. The late people will see the visual clue of neighboring circles out of the side of their eyes. Any offsets in timing are quickly noticed when it's time to progress.
But in a scatter mixer, the only references for starting a move are the music and the caller. So you may find yourself single-word prompting for a much longer period of time. Or you could treat it more like a western square, prompting throughout the dance and being flexible with the phrasing and when moves begin.
One last warning. Unless you're on the safety of a raised stage, there's a good chance some assertive dancer will sweep you into the mixer melee. So watch out.Accretion Reel
A1 Balance ring  Turn away individually  Scatter promenade individually A2 Gypsy someone   Swing same B1 Scatter promenade as couples  B2 In groups of couples, circle left  Circle right
The dance I consider my best. Usable both for non-dancing crowds, and with regular contra groups.
I wrote it after attending a contra dance with a number of beginners that kept breaking down over and over and over. On the way back, I thought what would have worked (a dance that intentionally broke down each time), and came up with a dance that I kept refining and simplifying down to this. It was partly also inspired by Ted Sannella's "Ted's Solo Mixer" and the scatter mixer "Set a' Crochet."
The dance's name came from ideas of planetary system formation, where larger and larger chunks of matter spiral inwards from gravity, accreting to form planetisemals, and then planets. The analogy goes bad where everybody separates every thirty seconds, but you could just consider that a periodic supernova event.
After having danced this, the A1/A2 feels sort of like the rush of looking for a partner, though here the commitment's only for 20 seconds. Kind of reminiscent of the cabeceo of tango.
Videos: (#1) (#2)
These are dances that would not exist without another's particular dance sequence to tweak. While they're more than just replacing "The Nice Combination's" balance-and-swing with do-si-do-and-swing, they still rest squarely on specific earlier compositions.
A1 Neighbor do-si-do Neighbor swing A2 Long lines forward and back Ladies chain B1 Balance ring Men roll away neighbor (across) Partner swing (on other side) B2 Partner promenade Circle left 3/4 Pass through
Obviously, an adaptation of "Roll Eleven" by Sue Rosen and Larry Jennings. I saw "Roll Eleven" as a schizophrenic dance -- the A2 and B1 sequence was a gentle and forgiving entry into the distinctive roll-away to swing transition. But the B2 and A1 sequence had a very tight timing, making the dance not work well with beginners. After seeing one too many beginner couples crash on the circle left 3/4 -- California twirl -- circle left 1/2 transition, I ripped out the B2 and A1 and replaced them with something more forgiving.
(There's an interesting bit of folk process in the name. "Roll Eleven" was based on an earlier dance, "Number 11" by Mike Richardson. To create "Roll Eleven", the authors kept the pieces they really liked (B2 and A1), and replaced the original A2 and B1, which included a down-the-hall and a third circle left. Then I came around and destroyed the B2 and A1, removing any bit of the original "Number 11." Yet remnants of the title still live on.)
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3) (#4) (#5) (#6)
A1 Partner promenade, shift right to N2  Ladies chain  A2 Women allemande right 1 & 1/2 while men orbit counterclockwise 1/2  Neighbor N2 swing B1 Gents chain  Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 while women orbit clockwise 1/2  B2 Partner gypsy Partner swing
The original version of this dance had a left diagonal right and left through in the A1, making it double progression. I tested the revised version on 7/22/2012.
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3)A Bevy of Butterflies
A1 (new) Men allemande left 1 & 1/2  Partner star promenade Counterclockwise (normal) butterfly whirl A2 Women gypsy right 1 Partner swing B1 Right and left through Women allemande right 1 & 1/2 B2 Neighbor star promenade  Clockwise butterfly whirl   Neighbor swing
My first popular dance, and one of my co-authored dances.
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3) (#4) (#5) (#6) (#7)Chain the Corner
A1 Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 Neighbor swing A2 Circle left 1 Neighbor N1 pull by right Neighbor N2 courtesy turn  B1 Ladies chain to partner 1/2 hey (WR,N2L,MR) B2 Partner balance Partner swing
The indecent progression creates a longer courtesy turn in the A2.
This was the dance that developed from "Ladies Chain Circle Mixer." The untested complex extension of this is "Chain the Triangle." See also "A Grand Day Out" for another take on this idea.
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3)Chinese New Year
A1 Balance long waves Box circulate  Balance long waves Box circulate  A2 Balance long waves Box circulate  Partner swing B1 Circle left 3/4 Neighbor swing B2 Long lines forward and back Square through (right-hand balance partner, pull right by partner, left by neighbor) to long waves 
Written for Joyce Fortune of the Bay Area, won at the auction of the 2010 Spring Fever dance camp at Monte Toyon, CA. She requested a dance with long lines, some balances, and a swing/circle/swing transition. (A surprisingly tough set of requirements to fulfill.) This sequence was the option she liked best.
Published in the 2013 Spring CDSS Newsletter.
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3) (#4) (#5) (#6) (#7) (#8) (#9)Double Cat Bounce
A1 Neighbor balance Neighbor swing A2 1/2 hey with ricochet (ML,PR,W ricochet)  Partner swing  B1 Ladies chain 1/2 hey with ricochet (WR,PL,M ricochet)  B2 Circle right 3/4 Neighbor allemande left 1 & 1/2
While inspired by the signature transition of Nathaniel Jack's "Dead Cat Bounce," it felt more like a starting point than a simple re-editing.
The starting figure for the A1 is a bit problematic. I stole the mirror image of B2 from "Delphiniums and Daisies," assuming the timing would work out fine. The trouble is that in "Delphiniums and Daisies," the B2 is proceeded by a swing, so it'll start a bit late. In "Double Cat Bounce," the B2 is preceeded by a 3-pass ricochet hey, so it'll start a bit early. The upshot is that dancers will likely finish the B2 about one or two beats early. You can either let them add a free spin at the end of the dance to use up time, or convert the A1 into a neighbor gypsy and swing, allowing a blurrier transition. In the end it depends upon the music.
And speaking of music, I've noticed that slower tempos tend to exacerbate this problem, leaving dancers with more idle time at the end of the B2.
Videos: (#1) (#2)Heart of Joy
A1 Neighbor gypsy right 1/2 Single file promenade clockwise 1/2 (facing neighbor)  Neighbor swing A2 Long lines forward and back Women allemande right 1 & 1/2  B1 Partner gypsy right 1/2 Single file promenade clockwise 1/2 (facing partner)  Partner swing B2 Ladies chain Star left 1
An auction dance written for Heather Visscher. She really liked the A2 move from "A Rare Bird" by Bob Isaacs.
Video: (#1)On the Prowl
A1 (3) 1/2 clockwise mad robin  (2) Single file promenade clockwise 1/4  (3) Partner gypsy  (8) Partner swing A2 (3) 1/2 clockwise mad robin  (2) Single file promenade clockwise 1/4  (3) Neighbor gypsy  (8) Neighbor swing B1 Long lines forward and back Ladies chain B2 Hey with ricochet (WR,NL,MR,PL,WR,NL,Men ricochet) 
Written for my best friend and then-fiance (now wife), Melinda Layden. The title is a reference to her.
The pieces of A1 are meant to be one larger figure, where you're looking at your partner as you approach for the swing.
Teaching the A1 is tricky. I've said that you look at your partner, and men eventually swing their partner on the other side. The single file promenade I also teach as 'men cross while women back up on the side'. Demos can also help.Patience
A1 Long lines forward and back   Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 A2 Partner something and swing  B1 Partner promenade Women allemande right 1 & 1/2 B2 Neighbor whatever and swing 
I'd learned about the partner choice/neighbor choice swing concept from Bob Isaacs, which is when the caller leaves it up to the dancers on how to negotiate a 16-count swing. For a neighbor choice swing, it helps to have significant pre-swing neighbor interaction to size each other up. This dance lacks that, though you do spend 24 seconds in the same minor set before swinging. The optional roll-away gives more neighbor interaction.
This particular sequence was written for an April Fool's dance, where I wanted a double choice swing dance simple enough to fit in the first slot. This sequence may already exist, but I haven't run across it during a casual literature check. And most long-swing beginner dances follow the form of:
A1 Neighbor swing A2 Someone cross the set B1 Partner swing B2 Progress
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3) (#4)Rollin' Outta Barstow
A1 Neighbor gypsy Neighbor swing A2 3/4 hey with ricochet (ML,PR,WL,NR,M ricochet)  Men roll away neighbor  B1 Clockwise mad robin, men in front to start  Men cross set, passing right  Partner swing B2 Ladies chain Star left 1
Written for Steve Hoskinson (of Barstow, CA), winner of the auction dance raffle at Harvest Moon, Santa Barbara, 2013.
Videos: (#1) (#2)Soaring
A1 (8) Long lines forward and back (8) Ladies chain A2 (6) Women allemande right 1 while men orbit counterclockwise 1/2  (4) Partner courtesy turn  (6) Promenade B1 (2) Shift right to face N2  (6) Hands-across star left 3/4  (8) Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 B2 Partner gypsy Partner swing
It's possible to include a neighbor swing -- just convert the A1 into circle left 3/4, neighbor swing. But then the transition into the women allemande/orbit will require finessing -- men need to assist their neighbor into the middle, and use that same assist to shift backwards and to the right.
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3)Square Deal
A1 Circle left 3/4 Neighbor N1 swing A2 Right diagonal ladies chain to shadow  Star left 1 B1 Square through (right-hand balance partner, pull right by partner, left by neighbor N2, repeat all that) B2 Partner balance Partner swing
This is the end result of thinking about a number of other partner square-through on the side dances. The original, "The Third Time's the Charm" by Roger Diggle, had some parts where I wasn't happy with the timing or the crowding in the center. Then I found a very nice fix-up, "Free the French Four," also by Roger Diggle.
It's a great dance, but I kept thinking about ways to include a neighbor swing. Erik Weberg wrote one called "Stir Crazy." "Square Deal" is my attempt at the same theme.
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3) (#4) (#5) (#6)A Sure Thing
A1 Partner 1/2 clockwise pousette   Neighbor swing A2 Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 1/2 hey (PR,WL,NR,ML) B1 Partner gypsy  Partner swing B2 Ladies chain Circle right
For the partner version of this, see "Trust."
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3) (#4) (#5) (#6) (#7) (#8) (#9)True Grit
A1 Women allemande right 1 & 1/2  Partner swing A2 Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 Neighbor swing B1 Long lines forward and back Star right 1  B2 Right and left through Star left 1
This takes the common transition of right and left through/star left, and combining it with the star right/right and left through transition of "Rod's Grits." So far I've only found one other dance to do both -- "Allie Oop's Special Day" by Ken Gall.
Video: (#1)Twirly Corners
1A1 Slice left, while men rollaway partner  Top two people (M1+W2) do-si-do 1A2 Same two people turn contra corners 1B1 Same two people balance Same two people swing 1B2 Partner balance Partner swing 2A1 Slice left, while men roll away partner Bottom two people (W1+M2) do-si-do 2A2 Same two people turn contra corners 2B1 Same two people balance Same two people swing 2B2 Partner balance Partner swing
Contra corners has you interacting with two out of three sets of people: (Partner/shadows, Opposite-role neighbors, and same-role neighbors). In this one, the center person you allemande right with is your opposite-role neighbor, and the others are your same-role neighbor. So it's all done with neighbors.
This dance wound up being a simplification of "Uncommon Corners" by Don Flaherty. In that dance, after the neighbor swing, he used shadow interaction to resolve with a partner swing. In the above dance, I slipped in the roll away for the same effect.
Written for local dancer Debby Baldwin, who really likes contra corners.
I prefer simpler dances to more complex dances, as contra is about being in the moment, not about a mental exercise. But sometimes I come up with a complex idea that can't be expressed simply yet still might deserve treatment. Hence, this section.
A1 Circle left 3/4  Neighbor swing A2 Balance ring Petronella turn Balance ring Petronella turn B1 Hands-across star left 3/4 Men walk forward to next star while women allemande left 1/4   Hands-across star left 1 B2 Partner balance Partner swing
The star-to-star transition is like "Susie's Reel" by David Kaynor, but unlike "Susie's Reel," you don't go into the multi-set interlocking action directly out of a swing. This makes it much more forgiving.
Note the co-authorship of this dance.
Videos: (#1) (#2) (#3)Serendipity
A1 Women allemande right 1 & 1/2 Neighbor swing A2 Circle left 3/4 Partner allemande right 1 & 1/2 to long waves (men face in) B1 (4) Balance long waves (3) Box circulate  (1) Neighbor allemande right 1/4 to short waves of four (women in center) (4) Balance short waves (3) All drop hands, walk forward to next wave (1) New neighbor allemande right 1/4 to long waves (men face in) B2 Balance long waves Box circulate  Partner swing
Named because this sequence started life as a four-face four, turned into a square, mutated into a keeper square, and briefly flirted with becoming a grid square, until I realized I had a "simple" contra.
While this dance has gotten good feedback, be warned it is rather clockwise. I've since tested (1/1/2016) a rewrite of the A1/A2 to fix this problem:Serendipity 2
A1 Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 Neighbor swing A2 Ladies chain to partner Partner promenade across, let go of left hand, women turn around 180 degrees to form long waves, men facing in  B1 As in the original B2 As in the original
Videos (of original): (#1) (#2) (#3) (#4) (#5) (#6) (#7) (#8) (#9)
There's a lot of unexplored choreographic space with four-face-fours, as you've got twice as many people to work with. You can put in just about any 32-beat-or-less square dance figure in it. And that's just a subset of what you can do.
A1 Balance ring  Petronella turn Corner swing (C1) A2 Balance ring  Petronella turn Next corner swing (C2) B1 Ladies grand chain Partner promenade halfway  B2 Partner balance Partner swing 
Men face their original direction after each swing.
Written as an experiment to convert moves for four people into moves for eight. With the exception of the grand chain and the ring balances, nothing here is really for all eight. But it feels like it is.
Half the time you swing both neighbors, the other half you swing one neighbor and your trail buddy from your line of four. The second half of the dance is exclusively with your partner.
Videos: (#1) (#2)
A forgotten dance form with many difficulties, most significantly that modern dancers have no experience with them. It's something I'm poking around with. For progressions and technical notes, see this link. Those notes only describe single-progression triple minors, however.Whirlpool
A1 Balance ring  Petronella turn Balance ring Petronella turn A2 Balance ring Petronella turn  Men star left  B1 Grand right and left (PR,L,R,PL,R,L)  B2 Partner gypsy Partner swing; face next 
There's no need to mention who are twos and threes. Just call them "side couples".
After testing "Because It Was There," I realized a grand right and left was a good thing to put in a regular-length contra. This was the result, which worked surprisingly well. It's also helped by a low piece count.
Back to the main page.