A simple pact of silence

One of my contra friends (I think Maia?) recently posted swearing a pact that they would do one very simple thing to do their part to increase the joy and understanding on their dance floors: Stop talking during walk-throughs.

I am a person who talks _incessantly_. I am also a pretty good teacher, and competent (sometimes extremely so!) at teaching most of the dance forms I find myself doing. However, I think that this suggestion is a damn good one, and I'm officially throwing in my lot. I, Katarina Whimsy, in pursuit of a Better Dance Floor and More Accessibility For Beginners do solemnly swear that I will shut my damn mouth when the caller or MC or teacher is talking through the dance the first time. Even if I think I can teach it better. Even if I think they're missing something important. Even if someone really charming is my partner and we're fourth couple and I'd rather be flirtingtalking to them than paying attention because I know I can pick it up once the music starts.

Should you catch me not, feel free to give me a pinch. And absolutely, I will continue to teach beginners as I dance with them, in the spaces between rounds of the dance, and fast gestures and frantic words called while we move. But while the Person In Charge is talking, I am going to _shut up_ and let them talk. They've got a plan going on here, let's let them actually do it.

So signed, so true.


Bluesy Tuesy Review (June 2nd)

Last night I went to Bluesy Tuesy, one of the local blues dances! This was about my third time ever making it to that event, and only the first time I actually made it at the starting time, instead of wandering in half an hour before close to wave at friends and kidnap the DJ.

I was in exactly the right headspace for Blues last night --kinda depressed, kinda broken, and in desperate need of something a little dark and sexy to help prop me up and face the rest of the world. I meant to get there in time for the lesson, but decided that it was more important for me to eat something before going dancing, and so strolled in about ten minutes before the open dancing started.

And it was...really good, actually. Blues can be a bit of a craps shoot, in that any dance form predicated on not leaving-space-for-Jesus can easily turn into a nightmare for my prickly "you do not have the right to my body" brain. Because for all that I am friendly, and cuddly, and even sexual with my friends, it's just that: friends. There's a lot of ways in which I do not like being touched by strangers or people I don't know well, and I am strong and loud and self-assured and will *not* let you touch me in those ways.

But it turned out to be a completely unfounded fear. Every dance I had started out with plenty of space between me and my partner, whether I was leading or following, and in only very few cases did I have to do any subtle pushing away. No one tried to force me closer, and at the break, they actually announced that the dance floor was a safe space and if anyone was feeling uncomfortable, they should _please_ go talk to the hosts, who would speak with the perpetrator and remind them of the social norms.

(This is not to say I did not have any sexy close blues dances. There are definitely people with whom I'm willing to sidle up against and press my crotch to their leg and vice-versa as we dance. But they're usually people I've known a while, who I've observed dancing and learned their foibles, and who I trust implicitly to keep the sexy to the dance floor.)

So I had a wonderful time, and was able to do a lot of really good leading and following without anyone feeling uncomfortable about it. Being as I don't do blues much, nearly everyone I danced with was a stranger (though there were a handful of "oh yeah, I've seen you around the dance scene...", and like I said, at least a few friends.), which made it even more impressive that no one tried to push boundaries in any unpleasant way.

Summation? 10 out of 10, would dance again. Maybe next week after my house meeting, if there's time. One of the nice things about Bluesy is that it's a _long_ night --the dancing officially runs from 8:30 to 11:00, but often goes for a half hour beyond that if the DJ is feeling keen and the floor is still hopping. So there should be plenty of time for me to stop by and dance


A week in the life...

Hi there! My name is Kat, and I really like dancing. It's pretty much my favourite thing in the world, and I do some sort of it four or five times a week, every week. Sometimes I squeeze in the other good things I like --mathematics, teaching, writing, circus arts1-- but mostly, my main form of social interaction and joy acquisition is to go dancing.

Most of the dance forms I do welcome beginners. If you're interested in trying any of the below, please let me know and I'll help you get set up! My typical week looks something like this

Monday night: Scottish Country Dance in Watertown. SCD is a kind of set dancing, where short lines of couples repeat choreographies to move throughout the room. It differs from most other well known set dances (contra, square dance, English country) by having steps --you aren't walking, you're skipping! It is very energetic, infectiously joyful, and the style I have put the majority of my dancing energy into over the last eight years.

Tuesday night: Modern Western Square Dance at MIT. Tech Squares is exactly the sort of dance club you'd expect at MIT. We're doing square dancing (like you learned in elementary school gym class) only harder, faster, and restructured as a multi-person realtime puzzle. It's the most mentally challenging dance form I do, though not particularly physically intense.


Blues Dancing in Cambridge. This is a bit of a misnomer really, since I've only been to Bluesy Tuesy about three times in the last two years, but I'm trying to get out there more often (in between and after weeks at Squares). Blues is a very close couples dance, that focuses on slow movements. I like it for the opportunity to do improvised leading, and, let's be honest, because it's kinda sexy and I'm an often-unpartnered2 twenty-something.

Wednesday night: Highland Dance in Arlington. Highland is a solo performative style. It's extremely bouncy, extremely precise, and extremely difficult. If you've seen a person in a kilt performing a dance while leaping over a sword, that's part of Highland. I've only been taking lessons since September of 2014, which means I am still extremely rubbish. I may never be what's considered "good" at Highland, but I do hope to be passable someday.

-followed by-

Excess or Allure, in Boston. These are nightclub events, that run from 10pm-2am. They involve a lot of flailing around like a fool, gothy arm-waving, and sometimes a spot of swing or blues. Given how late they run (and that I have a pretty strict midnight curfew) I don't make it out often, but I enjoy it when I get there.

Thursday Night: This is my night off! I use the time to clean my room, hang out with friends, and sleep. I love dancing, but by the time I hit Thursday, I'm always ready to relax.

Friday-Saturday Nights: Assorted dance styles in assorted places! I don't have anything regular on the weekends, but there's inevitably some sort of event going on --SCD, contra, blues, and more!

Sunday: SCD Demo Team practice, in Arlington. This runs "many" Sundays from September-April(ish), and is where I get my serious SCD technique and footwork practice. We do two major performances a year (the SCD Boston Branch fall concert and NEFFA), and several minor ones.


Contra dance in Cambridge. The BIDA3 contra is my favourite of the *many* contras set in the greater Boston area. Contra is another kind of set dancing, only with much longer lines of couples --you may well dance with 40 or 50 other people in one dance! It's plenty enthusiastic and very beginner friendly. I go as often as I can, but between demo team and other adventures, that's only about once every 4-5 months.

Whew! And that's not even getting into festivals, or balls, or dance camp, or...

1: Which, I mean, many circus arts are extremely close to dancing anyways. They are very physical activities, often set to music, and require a lot of practice and skill. I juggle, hoop, and stilt-walk (poor-to-mediocre) and have done the barest bones of silks and acro-yoga.

2: I mean outside of dancing --usually, it's pretty easy for me to find a partner for any given dance form. I use "unpartnered" rather than "single" very deliberately --I have several partners at any given time, but the majority of them are nowhere near me geographically.

3: BIDA = Boston Intergenerational Dance Advocates = Good People!


So I've found my life's passion...what next?

My friend Tamra looked at me a couple times while she was visiting, and pointed out that I get really passionate when I talk about dancing. Like, she can tell it's important to me --tell that it's one of the most important things in my life-- because of the way I light up, and start moving, and stumble over my words in my haste and enthusiasm to explain everything I love about it.

Dancing is important.
Dancing is incredibly important.
Dancing is, if not the single most important verb in my life, certainly in the top three1, and my life would be radically, shatteringly, different (and worse) without it.

Dancing is an activity that has significant connections to freedom, sex, kink and power dynamics, kinesthesia and body awareness, gender, GENDER, costuming, teaching and learning, performance, mathematics and patterns, joy, flirtation, and fun. That list is basically the complete "things wot Kat will perk up for", minus the spiders and board games, and both of those can be found in spades at Pinewoods.


I am passionate about dance. What can I do with this. How can I --for lack of a better term-- monetize my passion.

(It's not about making money. It's about creating a world for myself where I can spend as much of my time as possible doing things that make me wave my hands around and physically bounce up and down. There are two ways to find this world, and one of them involves finding a method of capital acquisition that I love so much that I feel genuine joy participating in it2.)

How can I work out my world so that, at the very least, I get to engage, and meta-engage, in this most wonderful activity as often as possible.

How can I bring my passion to other people, how can I find other people with similar minds, how can I better do teaching, and outreach, and gosh I don't even know.

Dancing is important. How do I bring it to the rest of the world?

1: It ranks behind writing and ahead of teaching, but then we get into verb-combination and sometimes I get to teach people to dance.

2: The other involves finding a method that will get me as much capital as possible, in as little time as possible, and then spending all of my non-capital-achieving hours engaging in activities that bring me genuine joy. There's a third method, but I'm no good at dismantling capitalism.




I told myself that the very first place I would share this news would be here, because damnit, I am neglectful and I am arbitrary but this is my dance blog and the thing I am about to share is the most relevant piece of dance news I have gotten pretty much ever.

I have completed, and passed, my Teaching Certificate Part 1 to become an officially certificated teacher of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. All three Units.

Forgive me if I forget the normal propriety I pretend to have on this blog:



Words that I have excised from my vocabulary that could now theoretically creep back in:

In Candidate Class, one of the things that is tested for your Unit 2 is your ability to brief the dances before performing them. However, these briefs must be manual-perfect, which means there's quite a few SCD colloquialisms that have dropped from my vocabulary lately, lest I become too comfortable with them and forget myself during the exam.

(As an aside, I actually had an interesting discussion with Jeanetta McColl about this, due to my originally putting "widdershins" into my exam lesson plan. Her reasoning, which is very sound, is that due to the truly international nature of Scottish Country Dancing, having standardized language that is used and shared by everyone across the world is much easier than hoping people will understand your alternate terminology.)

The classic example is "Hello-Goodbye Setting", which in official parlance is better known as "Set to Corners and Partner1", but even something as mundane as "corner-partner-corner-partner" has a more official briefing as "turn corners and partner". There's a lovely woman who runs the Salem class who you can make scream if you call right hands across at the top and bottom "teapots", and quite a lot of contra dancers who will understand what you mean perfectly well if you call them "stars", but neither term is remotely correct. And of course, we never do a double anything, we do the thing twice.

(Which is honestly the biggest shame --the rest of that is fiddly, but "double crossover mirror reels" is dead simple to say, and evocative in a way "1s dance reels first with opposite sides then with own sides, crossing down between the 2s and 3s to begin" just isn't.)

Of course, all eyes are going to be on me2 for the next few years as I find my footing as a teacher and start my unit 4 portfolio3, so we'll see whether I can actually loosen up my tongue. And who knows? If I'm ever calling a dance in South Africa, I'll be quite glad I've the experience of being able to brief something everyone would understand.

1: Not set to corners and partnerS, as I continually flubbed. There's definitely a polyamory joke in here somewhere...

2: Not actually true, I don't think, but our tutors liked to emphasize the fact that as new teachers, everyone would be looking to us as role models.

3: Assuming I passed my units 2 and 3, oh gods, the waiting!

Tookus Long Enough

Tookus Long Enough is a 32 bar reel for 3 couples danced in a 4 couple set. It was mostly written by Laura dC, with contributions from the rest of our candidate class, Beth, and Robert.

(Note: "Tookus" in the title should be pronounced as the hebrew word "tuchas")

Bars 1-8: 1s cross down into second place, 2s stepping up immediately on bars 1 and 2. 2s, 1s, and 3s dance a six bar chase clockwise once around the set. On bar 5, 1s meld into the center of the set and turn once around by the right, giving a "twiddle" to end in back to back in the center of the set facing own sides, ready for double triangles.

Bars 9-16: 1s, with 2s and 3s, dance inverting double triangles. (set for 2, 1s move to the outside of the set facing in while 2s and 3s move to the inside of the set facing out, all pulling right shoulder back, set for 2, all move in or out to end with 2s and 3s on the sidelines as normal, and the 1s in the center facing out their own side.

Bars 17-24: 1s dance solo figures of eight, first man up with the 2s, first woman down with the 3s, passing the person on their right by the right shoulder to begin. 1s end facing their first corner.

Bars 25-32: 1s dance set to corners and partners, ending by pulling right shoulder back and doing a petronella turn into second place on their own sides. All dancers may clap as appropriate at the start of bar seven.

This dance is dedicated to Andy Taylor-Blenis. It is an actually good dance, we are sorry for making it into an extended butt pun (not actually sorry).

End Notes: Andy has a talent for helping us stretch out our whole bodies and for emphasizing where our good posture should come from --including that we should, at all times, keep our tuchas tucked underneath us (especially for things like hello-goodbyeset to corners and partner.

Mack Gregor's Reel

Mack Gregor's Reel is a 32 bar jig for 4 couples. It was mostly written by me and Laura dC, with help from the rest of our candidate class.

Bars 1-8: 1s set and cast off one place, 2s stepping up on bars 3 and 4. 1s and 2s turn partner by the RH one and a half times in four bars. 2s end that turn in the center, both hands joined, 1s use that turn to move down the set to third place, ending back to back in the center facing opposite sides, 3s stepping up on bars 7 and 8.

Bars 9-16: 1s, with 3s and 4s, dance Double Triangles from a balance-in-line formation WHILST the 2s dance the "Mack Truck" figure, slipping down the middle of the set and back up, between the backs of the dancing 1s. 1s end facing first corners, 2s end on opposite sidelines.

Bars 17-24: 1s, with 3s and 4s, set to and turn their first corner. While turning, the second corners perform the "Smart car progression" and slip back to back diagonally across the set to end in each other's place. 1s set to and turn the person in their second corner position. While turning, the first corners perform the "Smart car progression". All end on opposite sidelines, in the order 2-3-1-4.

Bars 25-32: 2s, followed by 3s, 1s, 4s, cross up and dance down the outside of the set, 3s 1s and 4s dancing up the set to begin. End on own sidelines, in the order 4-1-3-2. The dance concludes with the wheels on the truck going round and round; 4s with 1s and 3s with 2s dancing right hands across.

This dance is dedicated to Gregor Trinkus-Randall.

End Notes: Gregor has a tendency to tell his students to keep their backs close together when back to back in the center, lest a "mack truck" be able to be driven between them. As our candidate class progressed, we were rewarded with smaller and smaller vehicles, including pick-up trucks, the aforementioned smart cars, and eventually matchbox.



In 2007 I was introduced to Scottish Country Dancing by MarcMagus, due to the juxtaposition of a fried hard drive and a shitty breakup. This is flat out the most important thing to ever happen to and shape my life.

Somewhere in the 2012ish range, I decided I actually wanted to get actually serious about being a good dancer, and started conspiring to get onto the demo team, where I would get a chance to further refine my footwork. That summer, I determined that the way to do it was, in fact, to ask the ladies who are in charge of the demo team if I could join.

I am not exactly sure when the rumblings started, but in late 2013/early 2014, there were all these mutterings going around about candidate class and training up some more teachers. The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society is delightfully bureaucratic, and so there is an actual double-leveled certification process to become a teacher. By Pinewoods 2014, it was confirmed that I was gonna be in the class, we had had our initial interest meeting, and I was beginning to _no really_ start looking at my footwork.

The first level of the certification is three units. Unit 1 is a written exam on the manual of the RSCDS, it includes questions on history, music, footwork, and figures. Unit 2 is a dancing exam, where we have to show ability to talk through and perform 12 pre-selected dances. Unit 3 is a teaching exam, where we are given a 16-bar lesson plan to teach.

From September to now, I have been dancing at least every other Saturday, for five(plus) hours, to prepare. This was an 80+ hour course, not counting time spent practicing, writing lesson plans, rehearsing dances, doing homework, and driving. It is one of the most intense things I have ever done in my life, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Scottish Country Dancing is a hugely important part of my social life and my emotional happiness. It is the number one thing keeping my in the Boston area right now --if I want to have remotely the same level of competence and options as I do here, I can go to Philly, SF, or Seattle. That's it. No where else has the music (live music every week, at least in Watertown!) or the teachers (so many, and soon some new ones!), or the dancers (we actually have young dancers participating!)

When it's working right, it feels like flying.

It's a puzzle to be solved, and a flirtation to be winked, and a physical challenge to be overcome. And one of my base states is "teacher", it is important to me to be able to share this joy with the rest of the world. So there's a system to become thus officially? Great, that recognition can only make it easier to accomplish what I want.

Unit 1 was in October for 4/5ths of us, and February for the last. We've all five passed, yay!

Units 2 and 3 were today. Our examiners were a pair of women, one from Seattle (who I hear is guest-teaching at Monday night Scottish in Watertown, oooo!) and one from Aberdeen, yes, the one in Scotland. They sat at a table at the top of the hall and assessed us cooly as we demonstrated our dances, as we demonstrated our teaching.

(They stared with some amusement when we presented our gifts to our tutors, a pair of dances we had written.)


Now we wait.

Seriously. Six to eight weeks, we wait. We should all know by Pinewoods, and it sounds like Susie (the last of the five) is gonna come to ESC1 week with us (yay!) so we can have a congratulations/commiserations party then.

But six weeks is a damn long time. More than enough time to go through every possible combination in my head of "which of us failed which units?". More than enough time to review my entire lesson, in meticulous detail, and cringe at the bits I forgot.

(I have not read an assessment sheet while thinking about it yet. I'm a bit scared to do so.)

Eventually we find out we all passed everything (THIS WILL OCCUR, DAMNIT. BRAINWEASELS CAN BE STOMPED.) and then we begin teaching beginner classes and easy level dances and keeping perfect track of everything. Why? Because in about a year, we'll be submitting our Unit 4 portfolios of lesson plans. Registered mail to Scotland, obviously.

And two years from now, I'll be sitting in this same anxious stir, waiting to hear back about my Unit 5, the second-level teaching exam. At that point, I will be finished forever, because despite all these stringent guidelines about who can teach in the first place, once your in, you're never evaluated or retrained or checked up on.

And then, you know, I can start a class of Scottish Country Dancers whereever I go. No matter where I am located otherwise, I will lead the dance.

It's a good feeling.

1: Quick shill: Do you like English, Scottish, and or Contra dancing? Do you like relaxing in the woods and swimming in ponds? ESCape to Pinewoods this summer, for a session full of ridiculous young things being wonderful!


Candidate Class: The Tricky Parts

As mentioned in my previous post, I have twelve Scottish Country Dances I need to memorize before May. This is not just memorizing the choreography so much as perfecting it, knowing every single piece of technique, where the hands go, where the feet go, exactly how far to turn. Expect me to talk about those dances quite a bit in the near future.

One thing our dance instructor has asked is for those of us in the class go through our 12 dances and identify what we think the tricky bits are, things that need special focus or practice. I think it would be interesting to come back to this post around the time of my exam and see if I have the same opinions.

I have done my best to link the dances from The Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary, which seems a *wonderful* resource. My versions may be very slightly different/updated from the website, I took all of them from the most recent version of the Unit 2 book of dances. This is official RSCDS stuff here!

Without further ado, tricky bits:

General Stuart's Reel: Fairly straightforward, trickiest parts look to be the transitions, remembering to turn the second corner by the right, and remembering to pull shoulders back correctly after the hello goodbye setting.

The Gates of Edinburgh: The last manuver of the double crossover mirror reels, where the ones move to top and bottom positions in the middle of the set. Getting the turns properly covered --obviously on the first part, the ones are turning more and aren't going to be quite in sync, but the twos and threes should be spot on for all of it.

Duke of Perth: This is all very straightforward to me, hardest part is remembering not to do extra turns on the set to and turn corners.

The Westminster Reel: Getting everyone back to original places on bar 16, everything else is pretty straightforward.

Miss Gibson's Strathspey: Seems straightforward enough, I would just watch out for keeping track of right vs left.

Mrs. Hamilton of Wishaw: Getting the correct timing on that meanwhile, remembering to DANCE up and then cast down. The weird reel from bars 9-16. The rest is fairly simple, but grand chains can be a challenge to get the timing right.

Alltshellach: TOURNEE! Really, everything about this dance is a wondrous challenge (it is so uncompromising and beautiful, it may be my new favourite). The transition from bars 16-17 (starting the reel) and the transition from bars 24-25 (starting the tournee) are both tough. Remembering all the fiddly bits of the tournee and being able to do them from any role or position.

Village Reel: This is really quite elegant and simple, I find. Having good strong arms for the pousette is important, flowing well from the pousette to the figure 8 promenade.

Woo'd and Married and A': Transition from promenade to pousette can be tricky. Remembering to end the pousette correctly, with the W between the 2s and M between the 3s. Getting from the circle to the promenade is tricky.

Miss Hadden's Reel: The final casting figure is unusual, and can be tricky for that. The rest of it is fairly straightforward.

The Starry Eyed Lassie: Lots of quick precise choreography, but nothing overwhelmingly difficult, until you get to the last eight bars and have to remember to bring the circle ALL the way around. That is killer.

Mrs. Stewart's Jig: Having the nice precise timing for the grand chain and ladie's chain is a must. Making the solo figure at the beginning look nice can also be a challenge --practice good covering!

Candidate Class: Overview

I have been doing Scottish Country Dance for almost 7 years now --my anniversary is the Monday after Thanksgiving. This means I've been doing it for over a quarter of my life, which is a whole different pile of awesome.

Part of dancing SCD has involved my gradual improvement, and invitation into more challenging or technically driven forms of the dance. There are advanced classes, there is the demonstration team, and there is reaching the point where one is encouraged to stop being a mere participant and become a teacher of the dance. I've reached that point, and for the last two months, have begun my Candidate Class.

An overview, for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society is a creature comprised of red tape and buracracy: To become a fully certified teacher in the RSCDS, one must complete 5 units (comprising two levels). Level one is unit one, a written exam, unit two, proof of performance and technical accuracy, and unit three, proof of teaching skill. Level two doesn't start until a year after your level one certificate, and is comprised of unit four, a portfolio of lesson plans, and unit five, a more technically involved proof of teaching skill. It is all very official and impressive.

The upside of having all this is that the RSCDS can verify that its teachers really do know their stuff, and are committed to the goals of the Society. This is, first and foremost, a cultural preservation --Scottish Country Dance has roots as far back as the early 18th century, and being able to carry on this dance tradition is one of the core ideals of the Society.

The downside is that I'm giving up five hours of my life, every other Saturday, until early May in order to get my level one certificate. My unit one exam was two weeks ago (more about that in a separate post), which means for the next six months, I will live and breathe the twelve official dances I need to know for unit two, and the precise wording and pedagogy required for unit three.

I'm wonderfully happy with the situation.


How to make a gentleman

I am busy preparing for eight days of Pinewoods Camp, where I will be from the 12th to the 20th of July. This amounts to six days worth of dance classes, eight evening balls (two of them formal!), and who knows how much pick-up dances in the evenings to a twenty piece jam band.

I'm very much looking forward to it, but am a little intimidated in two regards. Firstly, this is the longest stretch of time I will spend on Scottish to date --it's not gentle dancing, and eight days is going to be ridiculous. I am quite looking forward to it.

The second intimidation is a little more usual for me, and a little less solvable. Namely, how do I arrange myself such to feel comfortable at the evening balls, without causing Undue Consternation amongst the more conservative dancers, nor making myself feel small and wrong.

Well...easy, actually. I get the right clothes. For I own a real kilt now, a _true_ kilt, and it fits me exquisite well. Add to that a sporran, and a shirt and vest (all no problem) and perhaps a ludicrous uniform jacket or the jacket of my suit, and I will be primo. It is so much easier to hold my head high as a gentleman when I look the part.

But when I want to be a lady? Oh, that's easy too. I buy a dress that makes me feel like a fairytale princess, and I hold my head high, because barefoot and unshaven can be just as beautiful as the made-up beauties deemed more typically attractive. And part of that is that for the first time, I had an article of clothing tailored to me --just a little bit, sure, to make the strapless dress small enough that it won't fall down around my waist. But the difference is amazing.

The clothes make the person, and I've known this for so long. But finally, it feels like I'm reaching the point where I can find (afford?) things that make me into the sort of person I want to represent. I really like this fact.


My argument against 2-couple dances in 4-couple sets

I'm not sure I've ever written this post, and I just made reference in a bio that points at this blog, so here we go. If you don't dance Scottish Country Dance, this may not make the slightest bit of sense to you. That's okay.

I don't think two-couple dances should be danced in four-couple sets.

I wouldn't think of this as a particularly controversial statement to make, but I've gotten some very confused and blank looks when I've tried making this assertion. My reason is simple --I want to have as much dancing as possible. When you dance a two couple dance in a four couple set, at least traditionally, where only the 1s start as active, then the original 3s and 4s lose out on a round of dancing. I find that terrible.

(Don't believe me? The eight rounds of a two/four dance go like this, with italics meaning the couple is dancing and bold meaning they're active. Couples keep their original number throughout:


If you count it up, 1s dance six times (3 active), 2s six times (3 active), 3s five times (3 active) and 4s five times (2 active). 3s and 4s lose out on a round of dancing, with the 4s being deprived of one round as active.)

Luckily there are some very simple fixes to the problem, to ensure that everyone in the hall gets an equal amount of dancing (as it should be). My favourite is just encouraging the dance to be done in a three-couple sets instead, and the musicians play six times through.

You can also solve the problem by having the 1s and 3s start in the first round. I recognize that this is not the "proper" way to do things, but it makes it so everyone gets six rounds of dancing (and 3 rounds as the active couple). It may feel a little weird for the 3s, who spend one round active, then several rounds moving up the set before they are active again, but if contra dancers can manage that sort of weird reversal, us SCDers certainly can.

(When I'm being especially irreverent, I will also suggest the "solution" of having the musicians play the music nine times through instead of the typical eight, so that the 4s can finish their last round active. I suspect that this would lead to people tripping all over the dance floor in confusion, however, and would probably cause the 1s to start again, thereby not really solving the problem of inequitable dancing in the first place.)

So dear Scottish Dancers, here's my plea: I want to dance as much as possible. When I find myself as the third or fourth couple in a 2-couple dance, I know that I'm not going to get as much dancing as other people and I find that unfortunate. Please, encourage a dance floor where everyone gets in as much dancing as possible --stop regimenting your two-couple dances into strictly four-couple sets with only the ones active.


Modern Waltz Music

In a fortnight, it will be Splash, an event where people teach high schoolers stuff. Everything from physics to origami to brownie cooking to fort building to an in-depth analysis of the battle tactics in Star Wars.

I am, of course, teaching cross-step waltz. It will be my second year in a row to do so. While there's heaps to enjoy about sharing my passions with the 14-17 year old set, there is a specific benefit I'd like to discuss, to wit, the acquisition of modern music to enhance the class.

See, high schoolers want to listen to hip, modern things. I am neither of these things (I own three tailcoats for god's sakes!) which means I get to spend a week beforehand frantically searching for music. The problem, of course, being that hip modern artists don't write a whole lot of waltz music. This means I get extraordinarily excited throughout the year every time I hear something in 3/4 time on the internet or radio.

Most recently, I was sent a Girlyman CD for my birthday, and it was just *loaded* with 3/4 time! Well, okay, two songs, but I look forward to adding "St Augestine" and "The Person You Want" to my DJing list.

And because no matter how many of this particular sort of blogpost I encounter, it's always a subtly different setlist, here are some of my favourite waltzes that were actually written some time this century:

  • Between, by Vienna Teng (by far my favourite waltz)
  • Lucky, by Bif Naked
  • Cassandra's Waltz, composed by Murray Gold for Doctor Who
  • Ampersand, by Amanda Palmer
  • Coattails of a Deadman, by Tom Waits
  • Herr Drosslemeyer's Doll, by Abney Park
  • The Only Exception, by Paramore
  • Down to Earth, by Peter Gabriel, for the Wall-E soundtrack
  • Davy Jones, composed by Hans Zimmer for the Pirates of the Carribean trilogy
  • Mother Superior, by Katzenjammer
  • Rainbow Connection, by Jim Henson (although my copy is sung by Tom Smith)
  • Woodburning, by Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • Friends, by the Beach Boys (I know, right? But it's a great little slow waltz!)
  • Spark, by Tori Amos
  • Carousel, by S.J. Tucker
  • Going North, by Missy Higgins
  • Heart Attack of '64, by the World/Inferno Friendship Society
  • A Little Priest, composed by Stephen Sondheim, for the musical Sweeney Todd
  • Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, by Tom Lehrer (watch it! The melody...flutters)
  • With Whom to Dance, by the Magnetic Fields
  • The Riddle, composed by Frank Wildhorn for the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel.

If you've got recommendations to share, please do! I'm especially interested in slower waltzes for cross-step, but most any contemporary song in 3/4 or 6/8 will pique my interest. I like a wide range of music, and I'd love to be able to share it with my dancers.


Button Ideas

I happen to own a buttonmaker, which is a dangerous prospect considering that I collect buttons (known to some as pins or badges or "those usually-circular things with pithy sayings that you can attach to your clothing or bags") and enjoy owning large quantities of them.

At NEFFA, I finally put it to good use, and created a handful of buttons for me to wear or give to others. All had to do with dancing and/or gender, most were snarky. Here is what I created:

  • "Gender is for Girls" and "Gender is for Boys" --I actually thought of this line about a year ago, and am very pleased with how petulant it is, as well as the absurd factor. Most people either get confused, or giggle madly.
  • "Yes, I'm in the right spot. Are you?" --I was advised that the last two words make it a bit confrontational, but then again, I'm tired of demurring politely when concerned people try to steer me back to the woman's side of the dance. None of that please!
  • "Damn Dirty Mischief Maker"
  • "It's called a REEL!" --okay, maybe this Scottish dancer gets just a *little* bit pretentious about the fact that everyone else calls them hays.
  • "This is what a FOLLOW looks like" and "This is what a LEAD looks like" --people just get so confused, otherwise!
  • "Gender =/= role"
  • "Ambidancetrous" (with the words "Lead. Follow. Dance." repeated around the outside edge)
  • "Why yes, I am corrupting your precious pure dance form, thanks for asking!" --Oh well, I am not always nice.
  • "Since when does lead mean the same as boy?" --this is my most important and favourite of all of them. Because seriously, as genderqueer and strange as I am, I don't automatically become male every time I lead. Lead and boy are not equivalent, nor are follow and girl. Stop conflating them.
  • "Lady is one of my top ten favourite genders...probably." --Came out of a conversation I was having about some other button. I was really pleased by it, and aim to wear this button to lots of genderfucky dance things.

Additionally, though I did not come up with it, bunches of people at Tech Squares have been sporting buttons with the sweet little bird from the children's book, and the line "Are you my [Corner/Opposite/Partner]?" So I have two of those in my collection, waiting to be deployed.

And the ones I haven't made yet, that I think I probably should:

  • "Your discomfort does not dictate my gender presentation." --or possibly just gender. This is another one of those confrontational buttons, that I probably shouldn't actually make.
  • "Fuck the old guard" and "Fuck the newbies" --Okay, these ones I definitely shouldn't make, not just because I try to minimize the amount of swearing on my person, but I admit a certain amount of malicious glee towards them as an idea.
  • "Dance what's coming at you!" --Apparently there is a contra caller in Philly(?) for whom this is the motto. I like. I like very much. The idea of trusting that everyone else on the dance floor is in the right place is an idea that I support. If the person coming towards you isn't the gender you expected, cope with it, swing them anyways.
  • "Ask me about my role preference" --Based on the traditional "ask me about my pronoun preference" which is a button I need to make for general use. I do my best to ask people what role they prefer on the dance floor.
  • "Country Bumpkin" --this is subtle, but I have a favourite dance, and it's this one. All other dances are less exhausting, impressive, and enjoyable.

What other snarky buttons should I create, to get myself in even more trouble on the dance floor?


The problem with formalwear...

The problem with formalwear is that it's impossible to find a non-gendered version.

To be formal is to make a decision about which side of the dichotomy you wish to be, and stick with it for the rest of the night. There is nothing that translates or parses differently if you change your posture, how tight the belt is, whether or not the shirt is tucked in, all the little differences in coding that you can accomplish with a t-shirt and jeans.

I just don't like having to pick a gender, especially if there's not something (internal, or more oft, external) driving me to identify along the binary. Most of the time, I get away with just being a person, small, silly, slightly scruffy, and essentially neuter. I can do that in my everyday clothes, it's easy to just be viewed as another warm body on the train. But formal, real, proper clothing comes in precisely two forms: stuff boys wear and stuff girls wear. There is nothing occupied by both.

This is a large part of what has been making formal balls suck so hard for me these last few years. Because there's always been something there, I haven't attended a single Ball that wasn't preceded by anxiety about my clothing. Whether I am choosing to be a boy or choosing to be a girl, I have to choose. When my gender is so constantly in flux, when I can go from definitely a boy to definitely a girl in the course of an hour, when I don't ever -ever- know in advance what name I'll want to use upon waking up...To be frank, trying to book my gender in advance is impossible. It'll just lead me to feeling constrained, trapped.

The dysphoria as I switch pronouns in a pair of jeans is managable --at least I can hold my posture different and pretend I'm recognizable. Wearing a full cocktail dress, or tails and a top hat? Oh no. There's no easy way to break free of social cues that strong. I pull on a gender when I get dressed for the ball, and believe me when I say I'd rather just stay indifferent to the whole thing. But formally, alas, that simply isn't an option.

Genderqueer Rolemodels

When you don't have a role model for something, you must become one.

I'm still not sure on the universality of that advice, but it's certainly true for me when it comes to dancing, and finding my strange little genderstrange place in the world. In the bouncy, pretentious1, recreationist forms I do (vintage, Regency, and Scottish Country) there's very little playing with gender or pairings. The men dance in the gentleman's role, and the women dance in the lady's role, and if you've two women or two men dancing together it's a necessity due to the imbalance of the dance floor, not something enjoyable or done out of choice.

So already, there's a space where I feel uncomfortable because it seems that no one is interested in playing with gender and role and social conventions. Part of what I enjoy so much about dancing is playing with those things, so it makes me lonely when I'm without playmates. And let's be honest, it is difficult to stir the waters all by yourself. I am not so indifferent to this group that it wouldn't hurt, very much, to be outcast by them. And so when it comes to playing with gender --when it comes to honestly expressing my genders-- I find myself in a space where I am very cautious as to how I go about it.

After the Highland Ball, in May, I found myself despondent over being 'forced' into dressing and dancing as a woman. There were lots of reasons for this (including the cruelest one of "I don't have the wardrobe or money to do it right, and doing it wrong feels too inadequate"), but one I eventually figured out is that, unlike in vintage, where I commonly dance the male role, there is not really a genderqueer scottish role model for me to look up to.

I have a friend in the vintage community who is my genderqueer role model, especially so at dances. I sometimes see them in full tailcoat and breeches, identifying full as male. And I sometimes see them in a beautiful red dress, identifying full as female. It makes it so much easier for me to put on the top hat when I go dancing Regency, because I know I will not be alone, will not be the only one looked at oddly for being small and slight and ostensibly "female" while still demanding the gentleman's part and pronoun. And separate too from the solidarity is the normalization --my friend has gone through this already, and made it a thing that happens common, at least among certain groups we dance with. They are not surprised to see me in a tailcoat, because they have long since gotten used to them.

After the ball, I was lamenting to someone about how I so wished there was someone like my friend in the Scottish community, already breaking the trail, making my desire for a gentleman's airs to be somewhat less transgressive. Somewhere in the course of the conversation, my brain pinged. What if I am not the only one feeling this way?

And I suddenly knew that if there is not a role model in this community for me, well, then there's not a role model for anyone else. And I'm a lot louder and stronger and more stubborn that I give myself credit for, and I certainly am willing to be the one who fights so that others can live easier.

It will be slow going, I'm sure. They are used to me at Scottish as female, and it is so hard to pull off the other gender without owning the other clothes. But I will keep going, keep showing up sometimes as male, and others as female. Keep dancing whatever role seems right to the moment.

And because there is no one who has paved the path for me, I will be unashamed to pave it myself.

1: Look, I'm sorry, but Scottish dancers are snobs. We're very open snobs, who really want you to come dance with us, and on the whole, we're not really uptight about *people*. But "Aww, you do English Country? How cute." is well within our level of general pretentiousness. I think we just can't help but look down on every dance form that doesn't pair figures with steps, because seriously, we do it all the time, how is it so hard?


Choreography and Communication

Choreography is an important part of most of the types of dancing I do. It matters some in couples dancing (where figures can have a fairly precise path that must be followed if they're going to look and feel good), and it matters significantly in set dancing. In fact, one could easily argue that choreography is the whole POINT of set dancing --while you could just move directly to where the caller next wants you, that strips the entertainment of what makes it great. The point isn't to mill around on a dance floor, the point is to create patterns, follow paths, flow gracefully thoughout your set.

(Some of the prettiest patterns I've seen in set dancing result in very little net movement when all is said and done --Relay the Ducey, for all its winds and turns, is the same net change as "circulate twice".)

That being said, being good at choreography does not necessarily make you good at dancing, and vice versa. I'm living proof of that latter rule --I consider myself to be a fairly competent dancer (and routinely receive outside confirmation of that fact) but if we're being perfectly honest, I'm pretty lousy at a lot of choreography --especially squares. While I've technically learned all of A1 and A2, (and at least a dozen calls from C1!) were I quizzed on the actual definitions, I'd be at a complete loss. Yet I'm able to keep up on an A2 dance floor with relative ease, and have even been known to participate in dances at the C1 level --no gemini, no other square to match, just me dancing, and well enough to keep the square from breaking down.

So where's the trick? It's a lot of little things, I think. Practise, and lots of experience at set dancing is a big one. I can learn new kinds of set dances easier, because I understand the rules and can often recognize the gist of a figure based on similar things I've done. Being flexible is huge, especially about things like what direction you're supposed to be facing (quick spin!) and who's hands you're supposed to be grabbing. There are hints to be picked up from a good or familiar caller, what direction the flow of the dance is moving, whether they have a tendency to re-use certain sequences, that sort of thing. For squares, being aware of your opposite and being able to align yourself with them, quickly and effectively. (unless something interesting happens, you and they should always be symmetric, with respect to a 180degree rotation).

Most importantly, for any dance, the trick is just being able to communicate, and having a set or partner who you trust to lead you true. Be it words, hands, pushes, pulls, points... people will give you signals of where you need to be, and learning how to follow those signals, respond quickly and efficiently, will boost your ability to dance in a noticeable way. There are few things as frustrating to me as a dancer who will not listen when they are told what they need to do, and insist on dithering in the middle of a set, or doing things their own (wrong!) way despite the admonitions of the rest of the group. We all mess up sometimes, but that's why we dance together --so different people can help each other through the calls we find difficult.

Interestingly, the types of communication that help a set guide its individuals to the correct spot are also the types of communication that guide a follow through a convoluted couples dance. Because here's the thing --it's all well and good if the leader knows a complicated bit of choreography, but if they can't communicate what's going on to their follow, then the dance will fall to pieces (just like if a square of seven perfect choreographists have no ability to steer through their new student eighth.) I've had the misfortune to meet leaders who think of themselves as very good (because they know the choreography) but are actually absolutely terrible to dance with. I assure you, I am an excellent follower (and so modest), so it shocked me to find myself unable to keep up with someone who had looked so very good just a few dances before.

Here's the point of this (slightly rambly) entry: Learn the choreography. Learn the calls. Learn the figures. Practise them, and get good at them, and break them down so you can do them cold. But when it comes right down to dancing them, make sure you're doing more for the dance than just following a precise set of movements --because unless you're dancing alone, there's a lot more than choreography to being good at dancing.


Dance Without Touch

Due to a complicated set of circumstances having to do with that delicate intersection between being silly and being stubborn, I got a chance recently to dance with someone without touching them at all.

Specifically, we were partners in a contra dance (a form of dancing where long lines of couples progress up or down the hall, repeating the same set of figures with each new couple. You dance constantly with your partner, and generally once or twice with everyone else in the set.) We were both allowed to touch anyone else in the set, we just wouldn't touch each other. This was a mutual decision based on our own amusement, rather than a spite decision one of us made against the other.

And it was fascinating. I'd previously only witnessed no-hands dancing between very good couple dancers, stepping through a one-step or swing based on very good eye contact and knowing each other very well. I'd never gotten a chance to do it on my own, and certainly not in a dedicated way like this. Of course, my partner is a talented dancer --I would have never tried this with a new dancer, as not being able to give them weight or help steer them would be a huge detriment to everyone involved.

The first thing I noticed was that dancing without hands has to be a little more precise. You don't get the physical cues from your partner that let you know you're in the right place. You have to pay better attention, and you have to adjust your body just a little more to compensate, especially if there's only one non-touching pair. (I refer specifically to things like a circle of four, which benefits from everyone being strong and well-balanced. When there's a broken link, it makes the circle that much weaker.) Most importantly, when swinging with my partner, I had to pay enough attention to pull away myself when I was in the right place. I couldn't rely on my partner steering me to the correct position like I often do.

The second thing was something I was already familiar with, at least in passing. Dancing without touching is arguably more intimate. Because you can't steer with physical cues, you have to do it entirely through eye contact, expressions, gesture, and if possible, verbal cues. I wouldn't dance like this with someone I didn't already know and trust to be a strong enough dancer to keep up. Having to trust someone not to be confused or led astray, paired with having to trust yourself not to mess up can be an enlightening moment --or an utter disaster.

Of course, contra's a lot easier than most dances to do without touch. The steps have already been decided by someone else, so you don't have to worry about leading or following successfully. Additionally in our case, we were still getting the necessary physical cues from everyone else in the line. If neither of us were touching anyone it may well have ben a more difficult dance.

I did enjoy the experience, and look forward to getting to try it again sometime. My mind is already trying to work out a more interesting way to swing when all you have to go on is eye contact --you can get the motions pretty easily, but it's impossible to get the speed without something to anchor against. And of course, I fully intend to get good enough at couple dancing to pull a strong partner around the room by just a clever smirk and a tilt of the head. And if nothing else, touch-free dancing has a wonderful effect on those watching, as the audience tries to figure out just what it is you're doing, and how much you've practised.


Historians and Michievians

A dance historian friend of mine hosts quarterly invite-only dances. For her, they're a chance to work out some of the figures that she can't quite get perfect without watching actual people. For us, it's a chance to dance a lot of very interesting figures and footwork, in a reasonably experienced setting. I went to one of these recently, and found myself having to coin a new word, to describe the difference in how she and I approach dancing.

She is very much a historian. She spends her time looking through ancient dance manuals and resources, reconstructing dances that no one has done in two hundred years, and getting every small detail as perfect as she can. For her, accuracy is the chief goal. She is trying to bring back to life dances no one has touched in years, and she wants them to be as exact a recreation of the nineteenth century experience as she can get. This results in very precise footwork, arguments over hand-holds, and endless repititions of figures as we try to figure out how the great dancemasters would have split setting-traveling-setting1 over eight bars.

And the dances she teaches are beautiful, and exciting, and accurate. I've been to some of the balls she's hosted, and it's a joy to watch a room full of period-costumed dancers whirl through a period-accurate dance.

But I can't do that.

I am too dramatic, and too distractible. I want my dancing to include flourishes, I want to show off. I want to be silly, I want to goof-off, and I want to do whatever is the most fun over whatever is the most accurate. Most importantly, I want to take the good pieces out of every dance form, and put them into other forms. My perfect dance has the intimacy of a waltz, the flirtation of Scottish Country, the solos and fancy footwork from Regency, and the mindbender from squares. And most importantly, the gender(s) of the people dancing doesn't matter a whit to what role they start (or end!) in.

Perhaps the simplest example of this comes from my favourite couple dancing group, hosted down in Maryland. At Oella, they dance a lot of vintage dance forms, to a lot of modern music. Sure, you can get period music for some stuff (or have it recorded, as my historian friend does), but there's a lot of great modern music that just happens to make a good waltz, or one-step, or even schottische3. Dancing the dances I love, to the music I love? What could possibly be wrong with that?

Ultimately, the two of us are just going to have to work around each other. This is where that ever-important relationship skill of "communication" comes in --knowing whether a dance will be strictly historical or a looser interpretation beforehand will help the dancers adjust their expectations. If it's really important to you to have mischief, you can ignore the historical sector. If it's really important to be accurate, skip out on the more ridiculous balls. For me, it's not particularly a problem --I like dancing, and helping her to create accurate dances ensures that they'll be around for the next generation of dancers to enjoy.

And for her? Well, I'll limit my compulsion towards doing the macarena during boring set dances to cases when it would be amusing rather than insulting. Chaos is fun, after all, but only when it's controlled enough to keep the dance coherent. If I combine my differing dance ideologies and come out with something less than the parts, I will consider myself to have done something wrong.

1: I'm not actually joking about this. I think we did eight bars of dancing at least a dozen times, going back and forth between "set for 2 bars, travel for 2 bars, set for 4 bars" and "set for 4 bars, travel for 2 bars, set for 2 bars". (No one liked my suggestion of "set three, travel two, set three"2.)

2: For good reason --I tried dancing that and it was horrible in every possible way. Don't set for an odd number of bars. It's terribly awkward.

3: I have been told quite firmly that Sweet Home Alabama is not _actually_ a schottische. I continue to be unsure of this fact, and think you just need a pairing willing to do a damn fast schottische. Any volunteers?