Contra dances reflect society; Contra dancing prepares you for changes within the society. Of course both are true. Ancient contra dances often had inactive couples that were truly inactive: for one half the dance, they did little but stand there. Most modern contras are "all moving" contras -- you cannot tell an inactive couple from an active couple: everybody is involved, everybody is equal -- men, women, actives, inactives.
The real change I see is men playing the woman's part, women playing the men's part. Of course this reflects the society we live in; of course this will prepare us for the society we are about to inhabit.
Let me give you the most recent, clearest example of this phenomenon. Robert Cromartie, at Gypsy meltdown, had all the women play the men's part, all the men play the woman's part. Were this an isolated incident, it would not be worthy of comment, but this was the third time in three weeks in three separate locations around the midwest that I had been asked to play the woman's role: the two other occasions were in swing workshops.
In a well known study of the meaning of posture in advertisements, Jean Kilbourne points out that women who are in an advertisement with men often have their hands in their pockets. It is the men who gesture, who point, who lead. The sign of powerlessness is hands in pocket. In his workshop instructions on how to lead the men, Robert Cromartie told all the men to, at least initially, put their right hands in their pockets: be powerless. Allow yourself to be led -- pocket that powerful right hand.
And some women had trouble leading. They must learn: society requires it of them.
What is my point? I'm glad equality is becoming so pervasive in society. I have never liked the role of "man in charge." Yes, at times I love to take charge, but in many situations I want someone else to be in charge -- and I resent the fact that traditionally women take one step to the rear and say, "Oh I can't do that." Yes you can. You can lead. You can take responsibility
I know that the fault for their timidity can be put upon the men: for ages men did not allow women to be leaders. I know, and therefore I should not blame them for the hesitation ingrained in them by us. In any case, equality is growing, and Contra Dance is in the forefront.
Of all the dancing I've ever done, Contra dancing is the most egalitarian. A man is not in charge of a dosido or right hands round or countless other moves in contra dancing. Each -- male or female -- is equally responsible for the execution of the move. If the man forgets, the woman should remind him, guide him; if the woman forgets, the man should guide. This is even true in such moves as Right & left through & ladies chain. The lady can help the man complete the move -- although the wrap around motion may make it look like the man is "in charge."
Copyright © 2001 Henry Morgenstein