Choreography: Glossary Dances

Once you have a working knowledge of the basic figures, structure, progression, and have identified some flowing transitions that you like, you can start writing contra dances.

Your initial impulse to write a dance may have arisen due to having an unusual transition, new move, or existing dance you wish to vary in mind.  If so, then try to write it up.  However, if you get stuck or want to write simpler dances first before tackling something more complex, try writing some glossary dances.

Glossary dances are simple arrangements of the basic figures, often used to teach them in a class or as an evening's first dance, suitable for beginners.

For example, David Kaynor's The Baby Rose:

A1 (16) Neighbor balance and swing
A2  (8) Circle left 3/4
    (8) Partner do-si-do
B1 (16) Partner balance and swing
B2  (8) Ladies chain
    (8) Star Left (to someone new...)

Other frequently called examples would include Gene Hubert's The Nice Combination and Tony Parkes' Hey Fever.  All three of these dances were written in the 1980s and feature very strong flow.

You might begin with some standard transition you like, such as Ladies Chain to 1/2 a Hey followed by Partner Balance and Swing:

 (8) Ladies chain
 (8) Ladies lead 1/2 a Hey
(16) Partner balance and swing

Hmm... how did they get there?  Perhaps, it began with a Neighbor Swing?  If so, then we need to get the men back.  Let's see:

A1 (16) Neighbor balance and swing
A2  (8) Ladies chain
    (8) Ladies lead 1/2 a hey
B1 (16) Partner balance and swing
B2  (8) Circle left 3/4
    (4) Balance the ring
    (4) California Twirl

Presto!  A new contra.  Well, maybe not new.  And that's the first problem with glossary dances -- they are so simple, that the odds that you come up with something truly original are low.  But, that's fine for learning how to write dances.  As long as you're low key in presenting it when you call it ("Here's a glossary dance I wrote.") and attribute it to the correct (earlier) author, once someone points him or her out to you, it's ok.

The second problem -- if you're trying to write a distinctive dance -- is that since so many glossary dances with good flow exist, your dance needs more than just good flow to stand out.  A dance that would have been memorable in the 1980s may not be memorable today.  The dance above has decent flow, but it also has three balances.  The B2 balance, in particular, doesn't seem like it really belongs with the rest of the dance.

Here's a glossary dance I'm reasonably happy with.  It was one of the earliest dances I wrote (I later revised it slightly):

Beginner's Luck
by Tom Lehmann

A1 (16) Neighbor balance and swing
A2  (4) Pass thru
    (4) California Twirl
    (8) Gents allemande left 1 1/2
B1 (16) Partner gypsy and swing
B2  (8) Ladies chain
    (8) Star left

A2 could begin with Right and Left Thru instead (and some callers have called it that way), but that wouldn't free up the gent's left hand for the allemande.  The allemande left leads nicely into a gypsy and swing, so that partners feel like they got something "special", and the gypsy provides a nice contrast to the first balance and swing.

B2 could be (6) Circle left 3/4 (2) Pass thru (8) New Neighbor do-si-do, but I decided I didn't want either the extra vigor (the dance already has two long swings) or two different pass thrus (both across and along the set) in a dance intended to be fairly easy.

Since California Twirl isn't a basic figure, I don't use this as a first dance.  I have had success with it as the final dance of the first half, provided I use (and teach) California Twirl earlier in my program.

Experiment with glossary dances and common sequences.  Writing something simple, original, and memorable today is quite hard, but a worthy goal.  Have fun!