My latest contra hypothesis:
A dancer at rest wants to remain at rest until acted upon by an external dancer.
Consider the following fragment after a partner swing:
B2 Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 Hands-across star left 1
It’s got nice flow, simple moves, and low piece count. So in theory it should work great.
In practice, not so much. Women will often miss their entry into the star, realizing this too late, and thus confusion ensues. (Especially if they try and catch up by running around the outside of the star.) The problem is the (relatively) far away men’s allemande gives women no forced jump-start out of their status quo field.
Now consider this, also after a partner swing:
B2 Men allemande left 1 & 1/2 Neighbor swing
Here, the women are actively swept into motion by the already-moving men — first by their approach, and then by physical contact. There’s no stationary women problem. (Aside — All these issues also apply to stationary men. I’m just trying to keep the examples consistent.)
An active dancer can act upon an inactive dancer at different levels of subtlety. Ranking some examples:
- Men allemande left, partner allemande right. Inactive dancer is forced to participate. Life is good.
- Men allemande left, 1/2 hey. Inactive dancer is forced to get out of the way. This triggers motion.
- Men allemande left, partner star promenade. Inactive dancer is not forced to participate, but can be encouraged with gestures. Memory lapses will happen.
- Men allemande left, hand-across star left. Inactive dancer has no clue they should participate, other than their memory and constant attention. Trouble ahead.
- Men allemande left, ladies chain. Moves are completely disconnected from each other. Not good.
(Assists can come from unexpected places. In “A Dance for Dan,” men can assist their neighbor into the A1 allemande, because they’re already holding the correct hands from long lines.)
Other cases of inactivity inertia include the corner crossings from “Fun Dance for Marjorie,” entering the long waves of “Trip to Peterborough,” and the A1 of “Frederick Contra.” (Balances don’t seem to count as stationary. The dancers are still active, and there’s the expectation after every balance that they’ll immediately do something.)
So dances can still function, and sometimes well, even if they have this “problem.” In “Broken Sixpence”, if the men do-si-don’t, nothing bad happens. “Snake River Reel” is easily recoverable. Even a more unforgiving sequence (like the men’s allemande/star left case) will still work.
It’ll just have more hidden complexity than you’d expect.
(I suspect English Country Dance choreography suffers from this issue a lot more than contra.)