The Becket formation -- partners standing next to each other on the side of the line, not across from each other -- is, according to Americans, a relatively new development in Contra dancing. We think that the Becket formation was created by Herb Gaudreau when he wrote "Becket Reel" (in 1960?). Larry Jennings wrote in Zesty Contras "Herbie named many of his dances for Massachusetts towns, of which Becket is one." In Britain they believe the Becket formation is an ancient formation that can be traced back hundreds of years.
It took me a long time to figure out what the "big deal" was about Becket formations. Why write a Becket formation dance? Becket dances are "all moving" -- everybody is always moving all of the time. Or, a caller can't mouth the words "actives ... inactives...." There are no active & inactive couples. When a caller says "Chain on the diagonal" ( a fairly common Becket move) EVERYBODY (except one couple at each end of the line) chains on the diagonal. Whatever a caller calls (Dosido, swing...), is called to all dancers. Beckets are "all moving" contras, and modern dancers love "all moving" contras.
Beckets have another fascination for dancers & dance writers: Becket formation opens up a whole new realm of contras to be written (virtually every proper or improper contra can be "fiddled" with and made into a Becket), and Becket formations contain moves that are typical to it (chain on diagonal, slide left) and that means that new moves are being brought into contras.
Beckets have (I think) two other advantages over conventional contras. It seems fairly easy, in Becket formation, to separate couples: create heys, circles, chains, where you are involved with three other people, none of whom is your partner. And then, miraculously, couples are reunited for a balance & swing. "Boomerang," "Reunion" and "Dance Gypsy," all by Gene Hubert, are three such Beckets. It all goes back to that lovely saying by Curt Sachs: "the various combinations of finding & losing of partners are inexhaustible." This seems particularly true (and pleasing) in Becket formation dances. The second advantage is that many Becket dances involve a "Shadow" or "Trail Buddy." Having a "Shadow" or "Trail Buddy" anchors a dance, and indeed, in England such people are called "your anchor person."
For a number of reasons Becket dances are slightly more difficult than regular contra dances. Chaining on the diagonal tends to disorient some people, and the fact that it is an "all-moving" dance means that everybody must be moving all of the time. Becket dances also have odd "end effects." At the top & bottom dancers must be alert. Unlike regular contras where couples are out for one whole sequence of the dance, in Becket formation dances they are often in for part of the dance -- and they need to know where to stand to be ready for the "chain on the diagonal."
In general, advanced dancers love Becket formation dances, beginners are leery of Becket formation dances.
Copyright © 2001 Henry Morgenstein