Unusual formations: La Plongeuse

There’s the regular formations, the unusual formations (4-face-4, Sicilian circle), the bizarre formations (zia, 3-face-3, tempest), and then the truly unique. Over time I’d like to look at some of the last category, and see what they reveal.

The first example is fairly normal. It’s “La Plongeuse.” For a description of the dance, see the 2007 RPDLW syllabus, page 9. (I first encountered it at this weekend.) For a video, see here and here.

First off, it’s a great dance for advanced barn/ONS dances. I’d recommend not making the sets too long, as more than 15 couples can create significant down time.

Second, it’s unphrased. The length of the various figures depends on the length of the line.

The formation is longways set, as in Galopede or the Virginia Reel. In a duple minor contra dance, there is a major set (the entire line), and minor sets (hands fours). In a longways set, there is only a major set. In a major set you can do something with only your partner, something with the entire set (circle, or forward and back), or a figure with specified couples. (Typically it’s the ones doing something, like sashay down and back, or reel the set.) Progression typically involves the top couple going to the bottom somehow.

Neighbor interactions in this format are hard. If there are neighbor interactions, they’re always the same neighbors (see Blobs or Polka Contry) This is because the progression (ones to bottom) gives a cyclic sequence, where the same neighbors are always above and below you:

(Numbers are couples in a longways major set, left-hand side being top of the set. One number represents two people.)

1st time: 123456789
2nd time: 234567891
3rd time: 345678912
4th time: 456789123
5th time: 567891234
6th time: 678912345

and so forth.

This is as opposed to a longways duple minor set, where there’s interweaving of neighbors as half the couples progress in each direction:

1st time: 123456789
2nd time: 214365879
3rd time: 241638597
4th time: 426183957
5th time: 462819375
6th time: 648291735

What I want to look at first in La Plongeuse is the dip-and-dive section. It can be thought of as a whole-set-figure, ending where it starts. Or it can be broken down piecewise:

(Couple number is their current position in the set, not their original.)

Top group of four: Top couple arches, other couple dives
Almost top group of four, with one couple out at top: 
         Bottom couple arches, other couple dives
Top two groups of four: Top couple arches, other couple dives
Almost top two groups of four, with one couple out at top: 
         Bottom couple arches, other couple dives
Top three groups of four: Top couple arches, other couple dives
Almost top three groups of four, with one couple out at top: 
         Bottom couple arches, other couple dives
Top four groups of four: Top couple arches, other couple dives
Almost top four groups of four, with one couple out at top: 
         Bottom couple arches, other couple dives
....

This is almost a duple minor version of the following simple double-progression contra:

(2) Ones arch, twos dive
(2) With N2, twos arch, ones dive

with the twist that it’s only started by the top couple. As the top couple progresses down the set, the dance snowballs as couples get tagged in. And when the top couple returns to place, the other couples still have to finish the dance to their places.

Similarly the pousette section is a snowball form of this alternating contra:

(4) Partner pousette clockwise 1/2 around N1
(4) Partner pousette counterclockwise 1/2 around N2

( This snowball concept is very traditional. Dudley Laufman sometimes advocates this way of teaching a contra. Only the very top couple need know the sequence, and others will get in when they reach them. And back in the 1800’s, you read about longways sets only started by the top couple, where the top couple chooses the figures for that particular dance.)

Depending on how you count the pieces, you could call the cast and lead as a very short contra of ones down the outside, twos lead up the center. Or you could call it a whole-set figure. At this point it’s a matter of perspective, like breaking a hey into a series of shoulder passes.


So what you’ve got a dance that has it both ways. It has a chance to do major-set figures, while simultaneously adding in a duple minor aesthetic, letting you mix with all the neighbors. The boundary between longways and duple minor is thinner than I once thought.

Downtime is roughly equal to the number of couples times the length of a single progression.  For the dip and dive, that’s roughly one second per couple. For a full-length contra, that could be many minutes. Obviously short sequences are preferred for modern crowds.

Even with that down-time, it’s a very neat concept to apply to barn dances and family dances.  There are probably more examples that I’ve missed right under my nose.

This concept even appears in 1651, like the first part of Nonesuch. (Video.) There it feels like a proto-progression, with the kinks still being felt out. So this hybrid sort of dance is something old, nothing new.

But they never had a chance to write a blog post about it.

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