The Top Ten (plus) Things That Make a Good (Contra) Dancer.

A good dancer...
  1. Is always on time for the next figure, and makes sure his/her partner is as well. Dance with the music, on the beat and with the phrases. Flourishes can be fun, but should only be done if there is time available. It can be just as satisfying to spend a few seconds holding hands with your partner as it is to twirl around three times.

  2. Dances at the level of their partner. Adjust your dancing to match the skill level and style of whoever you may be dancing with at the moment. This means making a very quick evaluation as you meet someone in the line and modifying your dancing to accomadate them. For instance, follow the signals of the person being chained as to whether to twirl or do a normal courtesy turn. Don't try fancy embellishments until your partner is ready for them.

  3. Has a smooth swing. All motion should be horizontal, none vertical. Whether you use a walking swing or a buzz step, make sure it is smooth. Imagine there's a glass of water on the top of your head. Hold your back straight with your arms up, your shoulders parallel to your partner's and your weight over your own feet. Don't hang on your partner, the support you give one another is just what is needed to keep the centrifugal force of the swing from throwing you apart.

  4. Moves gracefully through all figures. Remember, we're dancing. Avoid trudging, marching, running or hopping.

  5. Gives lots of eye contact. On all figures look at the people you are dancing with. This goes for circles and same-sex allemandes just as much as for gypsies and swings. If you feel like it, flirt with the people you meet, it's fun and non-fattening.

  6. Dances with the entire set and not just as an individual or a couple. It is possible to concentrate so much on your own dancing pleasure that you annoy or disrupt the other people in the set.

  7. Can recover if the set gets messed up. If you get lost or your minor set breaks down you should know where you need to go next. Skip the next figure or figures, walk to progressed position or to the next partner swing, and get ready to pick up when the music comes around again.

  8. Gives weight on all figures where you contact other dancers. Hold your arms firm, but springy, so the other person knows they are dancing with someone. Give them your support. Adjust the amount of weight you give depending on the figure and who you are dancing it with.

  9. Is gentle with their partner. Never force unnecessary physical stress or movement on another dancer. Always make sure your partner is in control of their own movement before letting go after a swing or a twirl. Don't squeeze or twist other dancers' hands on allemandes or balances, make your hands like hooks and hook the other person's hand such that you have a firm connection, but so that they can be released easily.

  10. Always makes sure their partner has a good time. Have fun, it's what we're there for, but make sure that everyone else does as well.

  11. Can dance the opposite part. Men will learn a lot from dancing a men's chain. Women will learn a lot from leading a swing.

  12. Can dance well with newcomers. Make them feel welcome and help them learn.

  13. Anticipates the next figure. Transitions between figures can be as important (and enjoyable) as the figures themselves. Be aware of where you are going next, what you will be doing and with whom. Make getting there smoothly, and on time, part of the dance.

  14. Excels at dancing the inactive part as well as the active part. Dance proactively rather than inactively. For example, while dancing the inactive part during contra corners don't just stand there with your left hand out waiting for someone to come and take it, instead identify your 1st and 2nd corners and move towards them, meeting them halfway and then turning them by the left hand. This helps less experienced actives dance this figure better and makes your part more challenging and interesting.

  15. Avoids making any reckless movements. Remember there are other dancers on the floor. Dance in your own space and don't allow yourself or your partner to intrude on that of the other dancers.

  16. Is always courteous to the other dancers. Always listen politely to the caller during the walk-through. You may know this dance by heart, but the people around you may not. Also listen quietly to the announcements when they are given. You may not be interested in upcoming events, but others around you are. The people who put on these events, and who are making the announcements, are volunteers who put in a lot of hard work to make sure you have a place to dance. The least you can do is show them some respect and be quiet, if not actually attentive, during the announcements.

  17. Always..., but that's another list.

Thanks for the contributions from;

Jane Billman
Michael Elizabeth Chastain
Cindy Dodds
Robert Ennis
Elizabeth Gremore Figa
Lyle Hodgson
Manohar Kulkarni
Patricia Ann Moffitt
John D. Noonan
Jonathan Sivier
Andrew Tannenbaum
Barb Coffin

Send comments, additions and suggestions to Jonathan Sivier at:

Last updated on May 15, 2008