Moments of Inertia

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:

(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.)


1 comment
  1. I look at this as a lead/follow issue. The men, in general, lead figures/transitions. Leads are easiest if you have physical contact – mean allemande left, neighbors allemande right. Visual leads are okay – men allemande left, neighbors pass right to hey. Zero connection means no lead at all – men allemande, star.

    Some women get into the habit of just following – not good in combination with no lead transitions. Some dances have the women leading parts of the dance and at times I’ve found myself trying to lead them from the follow position. (It may help for a caller to alert the women when they are in the lead.)

    With respect to inertia, my experience dancing and calling is that without a lead, if a dancer does not know what to do, they stop. As a choreographer my intent is that the dancers keep moving, i.e. flow, so this is frustrating.

    Now answer this. Why does swing, right and left through work well but swing, ladies chain work poorly (maybe this is just my opinion)? The physical action should be about the same for the women. Is it the visual lead of the men stepping forward that helps get the women moving forward?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: