Seven years after David Kaynor wrote a letter to the regular dancers at his Greenfield dance, Susan found herself struggling with complaints from some regular dancers as well. Like David, she found herself compelled to respond in some public way and published the following as a separate handout made available for several months at her dances in 1995.
— Bill Tomczak
Susan Kevra's Letter to the Greenfield Contra Dancers
Dear Greenfield Dancers:
Over the last few months, both as a result of conversations with dancers, musicians and other callers and in my participation in dance events at home and across the country, I've found myself questioning the direction contra dancing is going in and specifically, the direction of this dance. I'd like to talk with you all about my vision of the first and third Friday night dance. Since it's difficult for me to meet with each and every one of you, a letter seemed like the best way to communicate with you about how to create a truly welcoming dance.
Greenfield is known as a dance with reliably good dancing and music in a spacious, beautiful hall. While I have heard about and experienced countless good times dancing and calling here, I have also heard reports and personally witnessed a sometimes less than welcoming spirit on the dance floor. While I doubt that anyone is consciously generating such an attitude, I do believe there are patterns that discourage community spirit and indeed, promote a kind of exclusivity that leave newcomers, the less experienced, or those unwilling to book ahead, relegated to the side sets, or worse to the side lines.
Are there ways that you as dancers can heighten the dance experience? You bet! My hope is that you would all be true participants in this community and think and put into practice the following suggestions:
- Dance in all parts of the hall, not just in the center set, thereby removing the unfriendly visual sign of an "in" and "out" crowd. Moreover, such an arrangement allows me greater latitude in my selection of dances. If all the experienced dancers cluster in the center set, I'm obliged to do an easier program and gear the level of difficulty to the inexperienced folks in the side sets.
- Avoid "booking ahead." It may not seem like a big deal, but booking ahead makes it difficult for newcomers to find partners; your "no thank you, I already have a partner" may have been one in a long line of rejections.
- Dance with new and different people. Think about the gracious dancers that invited you to dance when you were first starting out or the kind soul who was friendly to you when you visited an out of town dance. Seek out new faces. Who knows, you might make a new friend and your gesture will go far in promoting a friendly atmosphere.
A word on programming. While many of you have been extremely encouraging and enthusiastic about my calling squares, I'm sometimes asked why I bother to call them. Aside from loving to call them (and dance them), I believe that squares offer an opportunity to get to know a smaller group of people and to remove the focus from just one person to an intimate group with whom you have the chance to develop a group spirit. (Circle mixers too offer an opportunity to change your focus and see the "bigger" picture: a whole group of dancers moving together.) Sure, sometimes you're forced to dance with a member of the square who you may even find offensive, but it is only a twelve minute commitment and maybe, just maybe, you'll end up discovering something pleasant about the person. The other thing I like about squares is the increased potential for a three-way interaction between caller, musicians and dancers; the thing I enjoy most about calling.
As you no doubt can tell, running this dance means more to Bill and me than simply playing or calling. Contra dancing has been an important and positive force in our lives that has brought us in touch with a wonderful group of people of which you are a part. We would appreciate you help in making this dance a place where everyone feels at home from the moment they step through the door. If you would like to talk to either Bill and me, we'd love to hear from you. Feel free to call us at [See note].
Thanks for taking time to read this. When you get the chance, share it with a friend. But for now, find a partner for a dance.
Published with the express permission of Susan Kevra