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Another belated update to my reviews page.

Heart of Glass

by Cary Ravitz

Yes, it has two swings, and a star promenade. And it’s one of my favorite closers.

Why? It’s all about the piece count.

“Piece count” is a rough measure of difficulty invented by Larry Jennings. (See “Zesty Contras”.) It’s the number of independent chunks to memorize for a dance. So “balance and swing” would be one piece. Piece count can also be thought of as the number of times a regular dancer needs to think “what is the next move”?

Assigning precise piece counts is partly an art. Not all pieces are equally hard to remember. And composite piece count could be fractional.

For instance, remembering that a star left follows a ladies chain is easier than remember a new neighbor do-si-do follows a ladies chain. (So the combination of ladies chain, star left might only have a piece count of 1.5.) Or to be more subtle, remembering that a ladies chain follows a long lines is easier than remembering a long lines follows a ladies chain. (Exercise at home: Which dances have ladies chain followed by long lines?)

Piece count at least relies on:

  • Physical expectations: How the actual momentum, facing, and hand-holds make the next move obvious.
  • Muscle memory expectations: How the dance’s adherence to the rest of the common contra dance choreography environment/norms makes the next move obvious.
  • Familiarity with the specific dance: The initial high piece count of ‘333‘ has lessened after having been danced over and over and over. Meanwhile, many of today’s dancers need to think more about the individual pieces of contra corners, as that figure has dropped in popularity. (Exceptions include everyone who’s about to comment saying “but I teach that regularly.”)

By any measure, “Heart of Glass” minimizes piece count excellently. The least-obvious transition is the swing/men’s allemande left. Even that one is too common, and men already have forward momentum and free left hand out of the swing. As for the rest? If there’s a star promenade, the obvious place is after the allemande. Star promenade always goes into a butterfly whirl, out of which the hey is very natural for all. The full hey fits the full phrase of music. And the resolve of balance and swing in the B2 after a hey is the expected thing. Starting a becket dance with a circle conforms to cliches, and the pass through is needed somewhere for progression.

So people don’t often need to think about what happens next. And can just dance.

What this means is the dance pretty much runs on autopilot, which is perfect for the brain-dead end. Yet to me it feels like it has more meat than “Midwest Folklore.”

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