Double dances

Repeated dances fascinate me. These are two almost-identical half dance fragments duct-taped together, with only the slightest variant between them to progress. Canonical examples are “Hay in the Barn” and “Midwest Folklore.”  They all take the form of:

A1/A2: Set of figures, swing one person
B1/B2: Same set of figures, swing the other person

The set of figures must swap the couple pairs on the side of the set, between partner and neighbor. In other words, their net effect must either be:

The fragment must be open to a progression ambiguity, in order to get to new neighbors. In other words, it needs to be tweakable so that a figure could be done with either old or new neighbors. But the fragment must also have a non-progression version, so you don’t create a contra mixer.

In the case of “Hay in the Barn,” that ambiguity comes immediately before the swing, out of the hey. In the case of “Midwest Folklore,” that ambiguity comes immediately after the swing, by a figure that could be done either across, or on the left diagonal.

It’s best that the progression ambiguity doesn’t come in the middle of the set of figures, but rather falls on a phrase boundary. The problem is interference. Each figure should only lead into one specific figure. (Exception: Swings.) If not, that makes it a bigger challenge for dancers to remember.

With the repeated half dances, by putting the transition boundary at the top of the tune, you work with the dancers’ expectations. They’ve already been trained to the default of looking for new neighbors at the beginning of every sequence. (Yes, there’s many dances that progress elsewhens. But these are typically more complex and done less often.) All this helps sweep the interference issue partly under the rug.


Now, for some examples of how easy it is to create them.

Here’s a simple 32-beat fragment, where someone crosses the set:

A1 Long lines forward and back
   Men allemande left 1 & 1/2
A2 Swing someone

All I need is the progression. One easy option is swapping the long lines with a slice:

Becket

A1 Slice left
   Men allemande left 1 & 1/2
A2 Neighbor swing
B1 Long lines
   Men allemande left 1 & 1/2
B2 Partner swing

But that’s not the only choice. After a neighbor swing, you could either keep your original hands four, or define new hands four depending on which men allemande:

Improper

A1 Long lines
   (new) men allemande left 1 & 1/2
A2 Partner swing
B1 Long lines
   Men allemande left 1 & 1/2
B2 Neighbor swing.

The ending point of the B1 allemande could also be tweaked, yielding a third dance:

Improper

A1 Neighbor swing
A2 Long lines
   Men allemande left 1 & 1/2
B1 Partner swing
B2 Long lines
   Men allemande left 1 & 1/2, look for next

All three are viable. I’d lean against the first, as the two half dances are more different. (Slice vs. long lines.) This may just be an aesthetic question.


But it’s not enough that you can write the dance. Is it worth dancing?

The first problem is it’s a boring fragment. We could spice it up, at the cost of some but not all of the progression options.

A1 Men allemande left 1 & 1/2
   1/2 hey (PR,WL,NR,ML)
A2 Someone swing

or

A1 Men allemande left 1 & 1/2
   Someone star promenade 1/2, butterfly whirl
A2 Women allemande right 1
   Same someone swing

The fundamental problem is that this will be doubly rough on men’s left arms and hands. This is a weakness of double dances — they can easily be too much of one thing, whether that’s allemande strain or clockwise nausea. While it’s possible to create a dance out of two moves,

Indecent

A1 Balance ring, petronella turn, balance ring, petronella turn
A2 Balance ring, petronella turn, partner swing
B1 Balance ring, petronella turn, balance ring, petronella turn
B2 Balance ring, petronella turn, next neighbor swing

I wouldn’t want to dance this one, outside of an April Fool’s medley. (Attentive readers will also note it doesn’t progress at the top of the tune.)

There’s still a lot of double dances could be written. For instance:

Improper
A1 Neighbor gypsy and swing
A2 Ladies chain, star left 1, women loop right
B1 Partner gypsy and swing
B2 Ladies chain, star left 1

Becket
A1 Slice left, ladies chain
A2 Balance ring, roll away partner, swing neighbor
B1 Long lines, ladies chain
B2 Balance ring, roll away neighbor, swing partner

Indecent
A1 Neighbor gypsy and swing
A2 Promenade, pass through to a wave of four, swing through
B1 Partner gypsy and swing
B2 Promenade, pass through to a wave of four, swing through

Indecent
A1 Neighbor balance and swing
A2 Right and left through, balance ring, petronella turn
B1 Partner balance and swing
B2 Right and left through, balance ring, petronella turn

Further examples are left as an exercise/challenge to the blog reader.


But what if the fragment has a non-removable progression?

For instance:

Becket

A1 Circle left 3/4 to wave of four, balance, walk forward
A2 N2 neighbor balance and swing
B1 Circle left 3/4 to wave of four, balance, stand around looking 
     baffled for four counts
B2 Partner balance and swing

or

Becket

A1 Circle left 3/4, balance ring, California twirl
A2 N2 balance and swing
B1 Circle left 3/4, balance ring, California twirl
B2 Oops, facing shadow.

These dances can be fixed by the “Manga Tak” rule:

  • If facing new neighbor swing them.
  • If facing shadow, don’t swing them, instead gypsy/allemande/do-si-do and return to your partner. Swing your partner.

And once again, put the progression at the top of the music.


A third type of dance is the semi-identical half dance fragments, where you take the same figure category and use it two different ways. Typically it’s having both genders do the same thing, as in “Kiss the Groom“, “Roll Away Sue”, “Mad Mad World“, “Renewal,” “Sarah’s Journey“,  or “Bevy of Butterflies.” In this case, usually one gender crosses the set  in one half dance, and in the other half dance the other gender crosses the set.

You need to have everyone to cross the set an even number of times, elsewise couples vibrate and don’t progress. To balance the books, a long lines in one fragment needs to be replaced with a half-hey/promenade/right and left through/similar thing. Usually in these dances every move is slightly different, so this also helps with interference issues.

It’s very easy to write a double dance — in fact it’s hard to find one you can’t. The difficult part is determining the ones you shouldn’t.

(All this is but a spring-board to the topic of putting together non-identical dance fragments, but that’s for another month.)

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