Braindump on Contra Dancing

I've been in the contra scene since I was born; my parents met at a contra dance, and their main social community is based off of it, so it was kind of unavoidable. I'm also a person with a lot of thoughts and opinions, so here are a bunch of them in no particular order.

Dancing and Me

I've been the person driving to every contra dance I could remotely afford[1]. I've been the person who does sound and otherwise sits on the stage doing completely unrelated work. I've been the person organizing a dance at my college, and, simultaneously, the person tearing into regressive and *phobic viewpoints on facebook[2].

I no longer think that contra dancing is the greatest thing in the world. I don't see myself trying to convince a non-dancer to come to a dance, although, who knows. I've spent the last few years as the person who does sound, has a hell of a lot of social justice-related opinions on social media, and doesn't dance.

Turns out, I've missed it.

As part of coming to terms with, and trying to deal with, my depression I've been dipping my toes back into contra dancing. This has mostly looked like a dance or two a night, only with people who I'm friends with on an extra-dance basis, because I've completely forgotten the skill of asking people to dance and have for years established the precedent of "probably not dancing tonight". I've been doing more dancing at weekends, and plan on doing more in the future.

Dancing:Social and Me

When I lived in Princeton, and for a couple years when I got to Hampshire, I was in the in-crowd at dances. A regular attendee, and a regular dancer, I knew all the people, they knew me, and I was in practice with my flourishes.
I've majorly dropped off with my dancing. I'm much more cynical about flourishes than I used to be, and have way reined in my flashiness. I've said no hundreds of times when people I would actually quite like to dance with have asked me, because I've been too depressed to do a fun thing. I don't go to after-dance events — sometimes because I'm exhausted, sometimes because I can't afford it, sometimes because I don't know they're happening, sometimes because everyone's gone by the time I'm done coiling cables.

I'm gonna fuckin' change this, just you watch. Hit me up at a dance if you want to be friends. I'm friendlier than I appear.

Some Observations about the Contra Scene

Mostly negative.

  • we suck at consent
  • we suck at racism
  • we suck at gender inclusivity
  • we suck at sexuality inclusivity
  • we suck at owning up to fucking up
  • we suck at inclusivity a lot of the time
  • we suck at holding older men accountable
    • this is a subset of "we suck at [consent/gender inclusivity]"
  • we suck at living traditions
  • it's a hell of a lot of fun

we suck at consent[3]

jesus christ
obviously there's this whole situation that came out recently down south, but it's far from the only and there are tons of way more insidious ways that this is true!!

"if you say no you gotta sit out"

do i have to explain this? surely it's obvious by now come on

"banning people is so extreme"

geek social fallacy #1

"blah blah community blah blah"

seriously just read this page it's good stuff

we suck at racism

omg for fuck's sake people
what do you lose by changing the name of a figure
why do you have to make a BIG THING about whether it's actually offensive
why can't you just
be a person who wants to avoid being shitty
like, "walk around" doesn't really lose anything except for racist overtones
change the fucking name get with the "minimize harm whenever possible" program this doesn't even hurt you

also, like, get the fuck over Cecil Sharp. you can recognize that he made some important contributions to us while simultaneously HOLDING HIM ACCOUNTABLE FOR BEING A RACIST FUCK
@ cdss honestly every time i see that cecil sharp cutout I get super uncomfy, I know y'all know he actually sucked, please act like it

we suck at gender inclusivity

ah yes my personal crusade
in which I prob typecast myself as that angry trans chick
I've had some really shitty meta-conversations about gender with a lot of contra dancers, in which they (surprise surprise) centered their cis experiences and opinions on gender inclusivity above my trans ones. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

we suck at sexuality inclusivity

c o m p u l s o r y h e t e r o s e x u a l i t y

we suck at owning up to fucking up

see all of the above and every discussion about it.

we suck at inclusivity a lot of the time

idk. fireplace set. center set. the far-left set that stretches off the floor and out of the door.
but also, what I really meant by this was, we're pretty bad at inviting people to join in! I'm honestly not sure if this one's a bad thing. I'm partly just salty that I'm not a cool kid anymore lol

we suck at holding older men accountable

okay my friends are prob tired of this anecdote but I never get tired of it, it makes me SO MAD
at Youth Dance Weekend 2016 a certain floor-maintaining dancer stood up during the all-group meeting, and said something closely along the lines of, "I hear people complaining a lot about the 'creepy old man problem'. What about the 'hot young thing' problem?"
I left the meeting. People have told me that he went on to explain what he meant, that it was something something not only old men something something. Some people have told me that it was a valid point, actually, just introduced badly.

It's not an acceptable thing to say. He was hired back in 2017, and no action was publicly taken.

we suck at living traditions

W H A T P A R T O F L I V I N G T R A D I T I O N D O N ' T Y O U U N D E R S T A N D

we talk the talk about contra dancing, folk dancing in general, being a living tradition. and then people dig their heels in about "but traditions", and let me let y'all in on a secret.

it's really easy to see the real motivation there. "but gents/ladies is the traditional way of referring to the roles" "but we've always called it 'gypsy'" etc. you tell me how those read.

it's a hell of a lot of fun

nothing to say here, really. y'all know or you don't.

Techno Contras

I get it. I really do. Bass is fun, lights are fun, if you haven't been to 50 of them techno contra dances are fun.
But I'm really glad there haven't been a ton recently.

Bands, Callers, Attendance, and Fun

I'm honestly not a good community member right now. Yeah, yeah, you know that just by observing me. Same.

I feel guilty about only dancing when it's a band I really like, or a caller who I genuinely enjoy on and off the dance floor, or when enough of my friends are there. At the same time, I struggle a lot with energy for doing things, and frequently feel very shy, and am just not in a good place to dance every dance just because it's happening and I'm there.

I'm working on it. Let's dance.


  1. in my later years of highschool I participated in studies at Princeton University to fund this habit ↩︎

  2. opinions may differ on this, I'm positive there are people who think I'm insufferable and just looking to be offended ↩︎

  3. this is why my partner doesn't go to dances anymore! thanks, asshats, i liked dancing with her ↩︎

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