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:
- Men wind up on original side, women cross set (“Midwest Folklore“),or
- Women wind up on original side, men cross set (“Hay in the Barn“).
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
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?
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
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.)