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Courtesy turns

Ladies chains, right and left throughs, and promenades are all assumed to be across the set, unless otherwise noted. Also, these are all 8-beat figures, and forty years ago would be described as half-figures. (If that last sentence means nothing to you, ignore it. It's only there for those who Know Too Much.) In a similar vein, right and left through implies a courtesy turn.

Figures

For description of common figures, check Wikipedia.

Formation

All contras are duple minor unless otherwise noted. (As opposed to triple minor.)

Heys

Letters indicate the passes of the hey -- who's passing, followed by which shoulder. So in "Delphiniums and Daisies," the hey would be notated (WR,NL,MR,PL,WR,NL,MR).
(Women Right, Neighbor Left, Men Right, Partner Left, Women Right, Neighbor Left, Men Right)

Indecent formation

The most common name for a hands-four formation where, from proper formation, the ones do not cross over, but the twos do. Or from improper formation, everyone trades places with their partner.

At the ends of the entire set, couples wait out with the man on the right, woman on the left. If a couple mistakenly waits out with the man on the left, woman on the right, and then forces those coming at them to do the adjusting, then the waiting out couple will promptly get spit out again at the end. And until they encounter some assertive neighbors, they may complain how they never get back in the dance.

I may also describe the progression as indecent. In this case the starting formation can be anything. At the moment of progression, when you and your partner are facing new neighbors, then the woman is on the left and the man is on the right.

Neighbors

A notation I picked up from Bob Isaacs. Your original neighbor is N1, the next neighbor in progression is N2, your previous neighbor is N0, and so forth.

Phrasing

Eight-bar (sixteen beat) phrases are labeled the standard A1, A2, B1, B2. For dances that use longer tunes, extra letters are used -- for example a dance for a 48-bar tune would include C1 and C2.

For a dance that is different each time through the music (like "Alternating Corners"), a number before the letter is used. So the first time through the dance it's 1A1, 1A2, 1B1, 1B2. The second time through the dance it's marked 2A1, 2A2, 2B1, 2B2. And higher numbers would be added if needed. Once you run through the final version, the dance begins again at the 1A1, 1A2, 1B1, 1B2 part.

Progression

There may be an implied progression at the end of the dance, especially with improper dances. Add if needed. This progression merely means considering the next group of four as your new neighbors, and should involve rotating in place at most.

Star Promenades

Star promenades are done from one side of the set to the other, or half-way round, unless otherwise notated.

Square identification

Another notation convention I've picked up from Bob Isaacs. Your corner is C1. Your opposite is C2. Your right-hand-lady/left-hand gent is C3. So the standard grand right and left is notated (PR,C3L,C2R,C1L).

These can also apply to a four-face-four. From starting formation, swing your partner and form a square. (The square's rotated by 45 degrees, so you're not facing any walls of the room). This should identify your corners.

Timing

Timing is often omitted unless unclear, in which case the number of beats is indicated in (parentheses).


Unusual figures

Saving room in the main dance pages by including descriptions of them here.

Circulate

This is where in long waves, everyone moves to the position of the next dancer within their hands four.

Also called "rotate the wave" by Larry Jennings, circulate (technically "box circulate") is a Modern Western Square Dance figure that's been incorporated into contras via "The 24th of June" by Steve Schunr.

In contra it's typically done in groups of four in long waves. The people facing in walk straight across the set to take the position and facing of the person directly in front of them. The people facing out identify the person in their group of four they're holding hands with (typically right hands), and loop to take that person's position and facing.

As an example "Chinese New Year," starts improper in long waves, with right hand to neighbor, men facing out and women facing in. In the first circulate, women cross the set to their partner's place while men loop right to their neighbor's place, ending in long waves, right to partner. In the second circulate, men cross the set to their neighbor's place while women cross the set to their partner's place. (In this particular circulate path, men are always following their neighbor, women are always following their partner.)

There are other circulate paths. "Kitty-Corner" chooses four dancers on a diagonal. "Circulate Eight," a four-face-four by Bob Isaacs has one foursome inside another foursome. And one could imagine a contra with a diamond circulate, except that it'd be unconnected.

As for balances, Lisa Greenleaf recommends a very nice one. First to the right (rather than forward, so no shoulders get dislocated), then backwards, for momentum to propel people forwards.

I don't use the word "circulate" when teaching a dance, as it's unneeded jargon. Instead the simpler "women/men cross while men/women loop right/left" works for me.

To see circulates in action, try a video of "Chinese New Year" by myself.

Mad Robin

A figure adapted from a modern interpertation of the English Country Dance "Mad Robin," from Playford 1695. Except in contra, everyone is active. It's essentially a sideways do-si-so.

It is typically done on the side on the set. You face (and look at) the person across, and side-step completely around the person on your side. (If clockwise, it's the path of a do-si-do. If counterclockwise, a seesaw/left-shoulder do-si-do.)

As an example from improper formation, a clockwise mad robin has women sidestep (about three or four steps) to their right and men to their left, women passing in front of their neighbor. Everyone has traded places with their neighbor. Then men sidestep to their right and women to their left, men passing in front of their neighbor.

To see mad robins in action, try a video of "Mad, Mad World" by Martha Wild.

The timing on a mad robin is the same as a do-si-do, which means it's problematic. Dancers will typically do it in six beats, unless carefully instructed to do it in eight. Or until a flourish shows up like the spins in the do-si-do.

Pousette

A pousette is a figure from English Country Dance where you take two hands with another person, and as a couple orbit around the other couple. You never rotate with respect to the room. To work well, it requires good connection and frame in the arms, with both people gently pushing against each other. A full pousette would end where it started.

In English Country Dance, a full pousette takes sixteen counts, which requires careful timing and going far out of the set. In contra dance, the timing is tighter where a three-quarters pousette is about seven or eight beats long.

To see a pousette in action, try a video of "Joyride" by Erik Weberg.

A variant of this figure is the draw pousette where you rotate as a couple while you are moving.


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