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.)
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.
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.