The Contra Council
The Contra Council is the sector for Contra & Traditional in ECTA and addresses Prompter (Contra & Traditional Square Dance Caller) and interested ECTA members. The chair of the Contra Council holds the Contra Coordinator. He or she represents the interests of the council in the ECTA Extended Board.
Within the Contra Council committees support the work of the council. At the moment exists one committee: the Board of Examinars.
The Contra Council gets together several times within the year to hold a council meeting, usually during one of the following events: Spring Jamboree, ECTA Convention, Fall Round Up and Contra Dance Convention. Current topics, education and further qualification programs, the organisation of future education events of ECTA and more are discussed. Everyone who is interested is invited to participate.
In cooperation with a hosting club the Contra Council annually hosts the Contra Dance Convention. One of the aims of the dance event is to offer a possibility for further education for Prompters. Examinations are held as well.
What is Contra & Traditional?
Contra and Traditional Square Dance is a collective term for numerous different dance tradtions from the United States of America, which originate mainly from the 19th century. Mixer, mescolanza and quadrille are danced next to Contra Dance and Traditional Square Dance.
The great common character of the dances is that in each a group of dancers is dancing a fixed set of figures to the structure of a piece of music. Every dance is explained by a Caller or Prompter and called to the music during the dance. Especially in America dances are danced to live music whereas in Europe mainly records are used.
Contra Dance is mainly danced in two long, facing lines of couples, the longways. There are different setups relating to the position of the partner in the formation (e. g. Proper, Improper and Becket) and relating to the number of couples dancing together (Duple, Triple, Triplet). A different formation is the Sicilian Circle. Facing couples create a ring in which in each group one couple is dancing counter clockwise and the other clockwise.
Contra Dances are mostly danced to reels and jigs, but also to hornpipes. The music consists of the melodies A and B, which each contain 16 bats and are repeated so that a melodic structure of AABB is created. The set of figures is danced to this AA BB structure of 64 beats. There also are deviant structures like AB BA.
The Prompter explains each dance and calls the figures to the music a little ahead of time. Like this it is possible for both experienced and new dancers to dance. Throught the repetition of the set of figures the dancers learn the dance and the Prompter can shorten his calls or reduce them bit by bit. The set of figures is written so that after dancing through it once a new group of dancers meet. This is called the progression. In formations with a fixed group of couples the position within the formation changes.
Traditional Square Dance differentiates between three regional types, Northeastern, Southeastern and Western, which is a mix of the two former types. In Northeastern type facing couples dance with each other and the dance is fit to the phrasing of the music. In Southeastern type each single couple dances with all other couples one after another. The type has many unique figures and is not strictly bound to a four-couples-formation.
Corresponding to the region the type of dancing and teaching a figure can vary (hand or arm turns) and there are different names for the same type of figure. The music is mostly traditional country music and it is danced to the phrasing of the music. There are however exceptions where the structure is broken within a melody part.
Differentiation to Modern American Square Dance
The difference between Traditional and Modern American Square Dance shows especially in the expenditure of time in teaching and learning, as well as the relationship of dancing the figures with music.
In Traditional dancers dance to a limited number of figures and to a fixed figures sequence so unexperienced and new dancers can also dance. It is prefered to dance exactly with the music. Modern Square Dance in comparison works with a multitude of figures which are usually learned in a class and their sequence while dancing is chosen freely by the Caller. The figures are not bound to the music and beat accurate dancing. More about Modern American Square Dance in ECTA can be found on the page of the Square Dance Council.
Education and Advanced Training in ECTA
Of course it is a great interest of the Contra Council to gain, educate and train new members. Possibilities for this are offered on events like the ECTA Convention or the Contra Dance Convention as well as in the ECTA Education Program, called EEP. All members of ECTA can participate in the EEP.
The ECTA Convention is a big, annual education event for all sections on which both section specific and general seminars are held. Most are sorted to an EEP level and give guide and structure. The EEP committee permanently works on maintaining, improving and expanding the programm. You can read more in the EEP area of our website.
The ECTA offers three different types of membership: Subscriber, Trainee and Active. Joining the ECTA one can choose between Subscriber and Trainee in the Contra Council.
Subscribers are members which are interested in the issues and the development of Contra & Traditional, but are not a teacher of the section. Contrary to Trainee and Active they have no voting right in the Contra Council Meeting. Trainees are members who are in training to become a leader for Contra & Traditional and intend to become Active.
To atttain Active status and become Active Prompter the member has to take an exam. The aformentioned Evaluation Committee conducts the exam and examines among other specialised knowledge and practical skills as leader. An Active Prompter or Contra Caller is authorised to teach on ECTA events as well as events of the head organisation of dance clubs EAASDC (European Association of American Square Dance Clubs).
Every four years the Active status has to be confirmed through participation in a council meeting, the general membership meeting of the meeting of a regional group.