Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hull's Victory

We went out dancing last night after some discussion about whether we should brave the winter elements or not. A four wheel drive truck and a desire to support the smaller community dances (before all of them are gone) made it a pretty easy choice. We were rewarded with one of the best evenings of contradance that we've had for a while (in my opinion anyway). So, what made last night special?
There were five couples... which worked out perfectly to do many of the old chestnuts we hear about but don't dance. For whatever the reasons why they aren't popular these days, they were fun, fun, fun last night. The reason five couples seemed to work well is because the active couples are VERY active and five times through is enough- by the time you get to be inactive five times through, you're rested up to go it again! Much more than five times through and the inactives would be bored and the actives would have dropped on the floor from sheer exhaustion. But five seemed just right. These dances were pretty challenging too. Hull's Victory in particular (one of my favorites it turns out) has a left allemande with your neighbor- not too difficult you say? Try spinning your neighbor by the left TWICE around in eight beats! You are truly flying- and then you release them so they can go allemande their partner in the center once around - in just four beats so they're still spinning pretty fast. All of these allemandes are punctuated by balances and ALL of this happens (along with a partner swing) in the first (A) half of the dance. The second half is where the inactives get to rest while the actives go down the hall and back, then it's rights & lefts over and back (another hallmark of the old chestnuts is the "full" right & left, ladies chain, hey rather than the half moves seen in many of today's contras) before starting again. Written out it looks like this:
Hull's Victory
A1 Actives allemande by the right half way, left hand to your neighbor and balance the wave
Neighbor allemande by the right twice around
A2 Actives allemande by the right in the middle, reform the wave and balance
Actives swing in the middle
B1 Actives down the center, turn alone
Return and cast off
B2 Right and left through 'cross the set
Right and left back
We also did Lamplighters, Chorus Jig, Ninepin, and a few others I cannot put a name to. One dance in particular called for nine people arranged in rows of three. Each of the nine positions had a name: left wing, right wing, centers, those in office, moderates, extremists, those out of office and the person in the center was the prime minister. This dance was really tricky to keep up with because you kept filling a different position as you worked your way around the set- more than once I found myself acting as a moderate instead of an extremist but it was all fun, we all laughed and most of us could easily relate because I wasn't the only one dancing out of turn :) The thing is, it all worked.
The dances make so much more sense when you're dancing them than when you're reading them off a card. Often times these dances have tunes written to go along with them, and it was easy to see why- there's something in the tune that greatly enhances a particular move. We were fortunate to have amazing musicians who were able to pull these tunes out of the archives of their brains, thanks to Ellen Gawler and Maggie Erickson! Our caller, John McIntire, has a true understanding of these dances and his stories and guidance throughout the dance, not just calling out the moves but assisting us as we had momentary lapses, made it a success.
Will we call these dances in crowded halls? Maybe but probably not. Today's contra culture asks for contras and lots of them- and there are lots to choose from so why not accomodate them? There are occasions to add in a circle, or a square without too much resistance. But I think we'll save these chestnuts for the appropriate moments- dances with five our six couples with some experience within that group.
As we were driving home under gentle snowfall, we felt good knowing we'd gotten out and supported the smaller dance community. We also felt like we might have gotten the better end of the bargain in what we'd learned and experienced, and the fun we shared with everyone who had attended.
Hull's Victory can be found in the New England Fiddler's Repertoire.

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