(As an administrative aside, my life has become both very busy and host to something like ten dance events in the last two weeks. So I have many backlogged things to write about, and I will be making those posts when I have the scraps of time and energy to write them. If there's anything you think might be on my mind, and you'd especially like to see a post about it, please let me know.

On a semi-related note, should I start keeping a calendar of events I did or am going to?)

I have mentioned before the existence of a mischief maker at Tech Squares. He's a charming sort of boy, who can get away with being a smartass because he absolutely knows what he's doing, where he's supposed to be, and generally where everyone ELSE is supposed to be as well.

And so he leads the rest of the club into mischief, whenever he can find people willing to indulge or join. Recently, this manifested in a square containing him and me and six others of our ilk, all club members during a class review tip1. Accidental on our part --we were what was leftover after everyone else formed squares-- but not altogether a bad situation, especially as the evil smirks began.

"Snap switch?" the mischief maker innocently suggested, and it was quickly determined that everyone was amenable to the idea. After all, there were no newbies to confuse, and the moves called were likely to still be simple enough that everyone would easily recover from any missteps.

Snap-switching, in Modern Western Square Dance, refers to meeting another dancer's eyes, raising hands, and snapping your fingers. The effect is that the two of you have now switched places, and you complete the move, and the rest of the dance, from your new roles. Most often I've seen it happen between one couple, or between one couple and their facing couple. This was the first time I'd ever gotten to dance in a square where everyone was receptive to snapping.

It took very little time at all for our square to reach the ridiculous, as snaps started occurring at every possible point. The pinnacle was when the caller began calling a series of pass-throughs2 and our entire square responded by snapping through each one --rather than the tedious motion of walking all the way across the square, we would smirk, snap, and simply turn around.

This prompted me to start thinking of the situation in terms of a game, somewhat of a competition between the caller and the dancers. You may technically snap-switch for any move, so long as you end in the correct place. But for many moves, the only movement required if you snap-switch is to change your facing direction --pass throughs and trades especially.

So what happens if you set up a square in which each dancer's goal is to move from their spot as little as possible, as started to happen with us? It would require a firm working knowledge of the calls, and of where one was supposed to wind up, but it could lead to an interesting sort of chaos. I suspect it's less workable as you move from Mainstream into Plus, but it could be a cute game for an experienced square that was feeling more than a little lazy.

At the very least, if I can add some polish, it might be worthy of inclusion with other interesting Square Games (very few of which I've gotten to do yet!)

1: Tech Squares is divided into "class members", people who are currently learning the calls from Mainstream and Plus, and "club members", people who have already learned those calls. During class season, the night is usually divided into alternating club and class tips (dances), the latter of which alternate between "review" and "teaching". Review tips are nonstop dancing, teaching tips alternate between dancing and learning new moves.

2: When two people facing each other simply walk forward, passing right shoulders, to end in the other person's place, still facing their initial direction.

(As a complete aside, I must also offer my amusement at the idea of snap-switching ones way through a right and left grand. Rather than walk halfway around the set, one simply snap switches with each subsequent person, changing yours and theirs direction, and merely turning around rather than move. Sheer elegance in its simplicity.)


A brief aside on the topic of Swishy Dancers and the Vericon Masquerade

As I've mentioned before, dancers tend to like to have some swish to their movements. I am hardly an exception to that rule --if anything, I do my best to exemplify it, every chance I get. (My skirt collection is rapidly approaching the stuff of legends)

However, at the Vericon masquerade, I decided to go in costume. A close friend and I, after assessing that we could kinda pass for eleven if one squinted, decided to go as Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres and Hermione Jean Granger, from the fantastic fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and specifically in the battle fatigues worn in later chapters.

(And if you're going to make fun of me for cosplaying from a fanfiction, you understand neither that I refuse to be shamed for what I enjoy, nor that HPatMoR really isn't anywhere close to your average fanfiction.)

This meant that, for the ball, I found myself in old surplus army pants, and a long sleeved camo t-shirt (later abandoned for an olive drab tank-top.) I was dressed functionally, a state I generally enjoy, but for the dance...no swish. No twirl. No satisfying motion of my clothing to accent the motion of my dance.

And then I unbraided my hair from its multiple thin braids, hoping to get some of Hermione's classic unruly poof. And oh yes. My hair poofed alright. It was downright alarming, as my hair --already thick and formidable-- managed to nearly double in volume.

As it hung in waves around my face, I found myself smirking. In slacks and a tank-top I had more swish than nearly anyone else1 on the dance floor. I rocked out with my hair flying everywhere, restraining my motions only enough to keep my vision clear and avoid whipping any of my fellow dancers.

Having my hair down, especially having my hair down with added volume is a literal pain in the neck at a dance, especially when partners get involved and need to find a place to put their hands where they won't get tangled or lose grip. But every once in a while, for this kind of excellent single-person flailing? Screw practicality. Swishing, in any manner, just looks good.

1: I was challenged by a charming gentleman cosplaying Vim from con Guest-of-Honor Brian Sanderson's "Mistborn" book(s?). His cloak was comprised of ribbon and scraps of fabric, and seemed to be solely designed for maximum swooshiness. We wound up dancing together a couple times, partly because of how well our respective motion blur complimented each other.

Choreographing the Vericon Masquerade

Many science-fiction conventions have an event called the "Masquerade". They're basically huge costume contests, where everyone from bare novices to master-class costumers get on stage and show off the pretties that they've been working on for the last year (or more!).

Vericon1, however, skips all the judging nonsense and so their masquerade is closer to the traditional roots of the word, a ball in which attendants are encouraged (though not required) to show up in costume or cosplay. This leads to wonderful and silly situations as four decades --or more!-- of pop-culture collide.

(As an aside, have you ever wondered how EvilSpock would react to a cute girl grinding up against him to the dulcet strains of "She Blinded Me With Science"? It's pretty entertaining, let me tell you! I only wish I had my camera out to catch his perfectly quirked eyebrow as he declared: "Science.")

So because it's a ball, it is expected that there will be dancing. And because Vericon is staffed, run, and attended by complete geeks...well...let's just say that the music can be considered eclectic at best, and the dances performed to match.

Oh sure, there's definitely a lot of happy flailing and bouncing around. Just because the songs are geekier than your average club fare doesn't mean you have to change the dancing around any --just find a strong beat and rock out. But between the flailing, maybe every third or fourth song, some spectacular geek anthem comes on, and the dance floor transfers from an incohesive throng to an impromptu performance space. Different people step up, as costumes or attitudes necessitate, and instead of just dancing, they *perform*.

One of the clearest examples is the annual production of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". The room finds itself a circle, leaving plenty of space for Johnny and his foe to face off, miming fiddles as though their life depended on it. And at the point of the song where the demons of hell get to jump in and join their master...hoo boy, you get quite the cast of characters as anyone even *slightly* evil takes their cue.

Other songs get the star treatment too. "Walk Through the Fire" varies by year, but when it's good, it's good, with people of all costume stepping up to fill the roles of the various scoobies et al. (I got to be Spike this year!) And usually late in the evening, the DJs cue up "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun", which lends itself to a spectacular amount of running around screaming...at least until you get shot (at which point you get to throw yourself to the ground dramatically, which is arguably even more fun.)

The impromptu choreography is wonderful, and best of all, it lends itself to sharing, as ideas ripple across the dance floor. One person comes up with something clever, which is quickly stolen by another, or another. Some songs will lead to multiple performances, scattered across the floor --what's "Skullcrusher Mountain" with only one evil scientist after all?

My crowning victory this year was for another JoCo song. When "Re: Your Brains" came on, it took me only a few lines to realize that the logical way to "dance" was with arms outstretched, moaning the lyrics and shuffling around like a true zombie. The idea caught on like wildfire, and by the second stanza, the floor was almost entirely populated by zombies --one lone human ran around and around, giving us something to grab for.

It was wonderfully reaffirming, being in this mass of groaning humans. Sure, it was ridiculous, and in all honesty, we probably looked thoroughly uncool. But we're geeks. Most of the people in that room would probably pick fun over cool any day of the week. And being in a room of creative, kinesthetic, unashamedly silly people leads to some excellent -albeit uncool- geek choreography.

Which is probably why we could shuffle like pros during "Re: Your Brains", but not a zombie among us knew more than the fewest poses for the next undead anthem played: "Thriller". It's a great song and all, but for us?

We'd rather write our own choreographies.

1: Vericon is Harvard University's annual science-fiction convention. It seems to range from maybe two to five hundred attendees (yes, I totally guessed that number), and is currently held every year in March. I do recommend it! If nothing else, they have a fantastic dance.


Swishy Dancers

Dancers like being swishy.

I don't mean in an effeminate, limp-wristed, gay-stereotype sort of way (though I'm sure there is overlap). No, dancers really like it when they can do a swing, a twirl, a flourish and have their garments swirl out around them. It's a neat visual effect, the way the cloth moves, the rush of wind as something breezes past. Oh yes, dancers like being swishy, a lot, and that predilection is not at all limited by gender, role, or dance form.

Of course, there are certain types of dance that encourage it more than others (or perhaps it's the opposite correlation, perhaps forms develop more twirl to them when the dancers wear more swish). The kilt, as worn by dashing Scottish Country Dancers everywhere, doesn't just serve as an emphasis to a well-toned calf. It also provides incentive to keep your moves crisp, for optimal hem-swish. When a friend first got his, he remarked that it was suddenly easier to dance well --making the kilt twirl just so seemed to be the purpose of many moves that he hadn't quite instinctively gotten while he was still wearing pants.

Contra dancers seem to thrive on adding twirls, to every move they can, including (as far as I can tell) the twirls! On the one hand, it makes for a dizzying dance. On the other, it's a great excuse to wear full-circle skirts and watch the hems fly. I've never attended a contra where fewer than fifty percent of the dancers were wearing unbifurcated bottoms, and at some bigger events, that number creeps to seventy or seventy-five!

Even the less instinctively twirly dances encourage the wearing of garments that are kinesthetically pleasing as they move about the body. Oh sure, a lot of vintage lady'swear is hoops and bustles, with enough hardware beneath the skirt to ensure total rigidity. But what do you think the purpose of a tailcoat is? It's not just designed to get in the way when you sit down --tails look splendid during turns, which is quite satisfying to the more vain among us.

There are other good ways to get that visual blur as well. Beads and fringe of flapper dresses. Tiny braids or hair worn loose past the shoulders. Scarves, ties, cloaks and coats. A varied enough crowd of dancers will have all this and more, because let's face it, having your accouterments fly out around you is both visually pleasing and just damn fun!

So grab your skirts, your kilts, that excellent dress or perfect pair of tails. Let down your hair and let it fly. Spin like you've never spun before, until the cut of cloth through air becomes audible to all around you.

Just remember to wear a really cute pair of underwear. Otherwise, it gets a bit embarrassing.


I Am Not Alone

I am not alone.

It's a reassuring thing to note sometimes, when I get stuffily told "I only dance trad1" or glared daggers at for coaxing my male-gendered partner into the typically female-gendered role. I am not alone, I remind myself, when I'm told that gentlemen do not dance with other gentlemen, that a female-sexed body in male formalwear counts as a woman, and other women will feel "cheated" if they have to dance with me rather than a real man.2

I am not alone, and perhaps more importantly, I am not alone in any dance form I do. It is not that certain dancers are a safe haven for me to play with gender and roles where others are not. No, I'm remarkably lucky in that every dance form I've tried (admittedly, mostly throughout liberal New England) has held allies. Not everyone. Sometimes not even a majority. But it's a lot easier to put myself out there when I know one-two-a-few other people present who don't think the gent's role is strictly for males or the lady's role strictly female.

Lots of female-gendered people dance both roles, simply to make up for the gender imbalance on most floors. I know several male-gendered people (and at least a few female!) who like trying the opposite gender's role, simply for the challenge, to keep their skills sharp. I once met a woman at a ball who had grown bored of dancing with inexperienced partners, and so now dresses and dances the gentleman's part specifically so she can have first pick of the experienced ladies. I've an excellent friend at Tech Squares who's been teaching me how to snap-switch (trading roles in the middle of a figure, back and fourth several times during the dance) specifically because he likes to promote "mischief"3.

And of course, then there are those like me. People whose gender doesn't line up with the binary. Boys who would simply rather dance with other boys, and girls who much prefer partnering with other girls. Gender-queer, sexuality-queer, plain ol' dance-queer. We're out there, and we're clever enough and organized enough (be it through the internet, queer-flagged dance events, "indicators"4, or just straight-up announcing "hi, I'm Kat, I dance both roles") to find each other, look out for each other, and yes indeed, dance with each other.

So hi to the person who changes from a street-casual woman-in-a-dress to a dance-formal man-in-a-tailcoat. To the one with the shaved head and twirly skirt who beamed when I asked if they had a preference for role. To the pair of gentlemen old enough to be my grandfathers, who I see at contras wearing skirts and holding hands and very much in love. Hi to the people who are gendered like me, hi to the people who dance like me, hi to the people who are willing to support me.

You are all awesome people. I'm glad I'm not alone.

1: Trad = Traditional --a man in the gent's role, a woman in the lady's. Don't worry, I had to ask too the first time I heard it.

2: Which is problematic for loads of reasons above and beyond just being unwelcome to someone who is a good dancer (yes me, I'm egotistical like that) and is trying to get more people out and about on the dance floor. Smacks of homophobia, and is awful for me as a not-always-female-gendered mind in a female-sexed body. I know I'm not good enough at being a "real man". You don't have to remind me.

3: This is the same troublemaker who organizes the hexes each week of squares --and half of the reason I got pulled into my first hex (dancing gemini --side by side with another person) after only learning three dozen calls or so.

4: T-shirts or buttons with declarations of queerness. Rainbow bracelets or bangles. Male-sexed bodies in skirts, and female-sexed bodies in tailcoats. Not every indicator is accurate, and certainly not every queer person uses them, but it's sometimes nice to flag yourself to your certain subgroup.


Totally in no way inspired by real events last night during the fifth dance

Set dancing is commonly known by another title --social dancing. This is because it's almost always a very social event, one where you get to interact with many different people over the course of each dance. There are great advantages to dancing in multitude like this. Non-active dancers can help lead less experienced dancers, or detangle knots. Multiple people are trying to remember the sequence, and can guide each other if someone forgets. And of course, every dance, you not only get to interact with one partner, but with multiple other couples --from your standard eight people in a square, to the thirty couples or more at a big enough contra.

However, there is one significant disadvantage to social dancing, that doesn't really come into play with any other type of dance. Once you commit to a set in a social dance, you're stuck. You _must_ dance, or attempt to dance, the entire rest of the sequence. If you quit halfway through, you have not just stopped your dance --you have stopped the dance of everyone else as well.

Now, I'm not saying if you suddenly injure yourself, or feel faint, or otherwise have to pull out halfway through for medical reasons, you shouldn't. Persevering against all better instincts is for fools, especially when a medical emergency is on the line --please protect yourself so that you can come back and dance another day. But try to be aware of your body. If you're likely to become exhausted, sit out a round --there's no shame in it-- or if you're truly unsure whether or not you'll be able to complete a dance, find a friend who's not dancing who is willing to step in for you.

But don't just quit. Even if the dance is difficult, ill-taught, frustrating, even if your set has fallen to pieces 'round your ears. Much of set dancing repeats itself --reset yourself in the position you need to be at the end of the phrase, or the time through, and get ready to try again. If you're too petulant to reset, too annoyed to try again, then for lands sakes, at least get out of the way. Unless all eight+ people involved have agreed that the dance has become undoable, you will be impeding someone else's ability to dance if you stand in the middle of the floor, or remain at the top of the set and refuse to let others go.

Also, should you reach such a state of irritability that you refuse to go on, please find it in your heart to apologize to the rest of your set. They were depending on you in order to fully enjoy this dance, it's boorish not to acknowledge that fact. The least you can do is say you're sorry.

Lest they carefully and specifically mark you in their mind as someone to never share a set with again.

(As a postscript, I feel I should note that I am in no way referring to the knots that can occur when very new dancers are being thrown into a set dance with little or no previous training. New dancers mess up. They're inexperienced, it happened, dust off, back to places, and try again. My anger is only directed to when someone -of any dance level- consciously makes the decision that they are no longer willing to participate in this dance, and so ruin the rest of the dance for people who needed them present.)