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Contra dance calling with Lindsey Dono

welcome to Zeitgeist Radio. I'm your host, Morgan Roe, founder of the Zeitgeist Academy. Zeitgeist means spirit of the times, and it is the collection of cultural forces that all contribute to what it feels like to be alive and part of a dynamic culture. Every episode I speak with someone from a unique musical subculture.

We dig into their passion and explore how music is a powerful force that brings people together. Before we dive into today's interview, I want to offer you something special. If you're like me, you come out of these interviews with all sorts of questions. Each week, after speaking with one of our amazing guests, I dive into something they introduced us to that I find interesting or important.

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**Morgan Roe:** My guest today is Lindsay Dono, a contra dancer and caller outta Washington State.

All right, Lindsay, welcome to Zeitgeist Radio. I'm so excited you're here.

**Lindsey Dono:** Thanks for inviting me. Really glad to have this opportunity.

**Morgan Roe:** Yeah. So I've known you and danced with you for, I don't even know, probably over 10 years, but I've never had the chance to just sit down and pick your brain. You've had quite the journey with this hobby that we both do and I'm so looking forward to di diving in, digging in and kind of seeing like, I feel like.

This whole world is something that like, like there's like this whole underworld like of, of this hobby that I do. So, so before we get too deep into that, can you tell people like kind of who you are and then what, what you do? What is contra dance?

**Lindsey Dono:** Sure. So by day I am a user experience researcher and I work in the tech industry.

And the rest of the time I am involved in this niche hobby called contra dance. And my role is both a dancer and also that of what is known as a collar, someone who leads the dancing in real time. Nice.

**Morgan Roe:** So people ask me, I've been doing contra dance since I was like eight, like a long time. And I always kind of struggle when people ask like, what is it?

I'm like, oh, I do contra dancing. What is that? So I'd be really curious, how do you answer that question when you get asked what contra is?

**Lindsey Dono:** So it turns out the hardest part of contra dance is actually describing it without, it's so true. Dancing. It's so true. So, There have been so many pages written and efforts put into trying to describe what is contra dance and, you know, to come up with that succinct elevator pitch.

So I'll give you a couple and they'll, some are a little bit more serious than others and, and we can kind of work through those. So a really basic description is it's a type of American folk dance. And then, okay, what is a folk dance Actually, Well. It's a type of participatory dance that is a vernacular recreational expression of a past or present culture.

And that's the Encyclopedia Britannica definition. Nice. Pretty dry, right? Yeah. Another way to describe it might be increasingly fancy ways of walking in patterns with other humans that about 118 beats per minute.

**Morgan Roe:** I like that

**Lindsey Dono:** one. That's good. Moving even further down the spectrum of silliness, Jane Austin goes square dancing to river dance.


**Morgan Roe:** Hey, that's good too.

**Lindsey Dono:** My personal elevator pitch though is that contra dance is the most efficient use of your time because it provides three things simultaneously and that's your physical activity. Mm-hmm. Your cognitive stimulus and your social interaction. Yes. And breaking all that down is you show up in an event.

You may or may not know anybody. You'll dance somewhere between 10 to 12 dances. You'll get your 10,000 steps in. Yep. And you'll walk away with a whole bunch of new friends. That is, every

**Morgan Roe:** single word you said is so true. I, I usually describe it as most people kind of sorta know what square dancing is.

And there is totally a whole. Square dance community of which I am not typically part of. So and most, most people didn't particularly

**Lindsey Dono:** have a good time square dancing. So I will typically say it's

**Morgan Roe:** like if square dancing were fun and smiling, people are coming at you for three hours and that's all you need to know about it.

**Lindsey Dono:** That's pretty good. Yeah. I mean, everybody has, so, I mean, Square dance can also be, I didn't

**Morgan Roe:** mean, I don't mean to actually dis on square dance, it's just, it's not a very, like, it is not always super beginner friendly. And it's taught to kids for some reason. It's, well, there's, there's a whole interesting history around that, why it's taught to kids in middle school.

But it's not typically an enjoyable time. I have yet to meet someone who genuinely loved square dancing in middle school.

**Lindsey Dono:** Yeah. And that's often why I avoid trying to make that reference. But yeah. It's the one that often seems to help the most. At least communicating the form. Yeah. But what it really doesn't communicate is the energy or the culture.

Yes. Or particularly the music. Yes.

**Morgan Roe:** I like the one that you said about river, like Jane Austin meets river dance. That's pretty good. So when did you start Contra dancing? How long have you been doing

**Lindsey Dono:** it? So I actually just celebrated my contra half life, which means I've been dancing contra more than half my life.

And I, I won't give you a number on that, but No, that's fine. That's fine. Yay. I started later than you actually, I didn't realize you had started so young. I was in high school and a number of my friends had high school friends had been participating in another niche hobby shape note singing. Ah, yes.

And they're all of these different folk cultures, you know, overlap. And, you know, oftentimes, whichever one you start with ends up being a gateway to explore all these other folk traditions. And so they said, well, you know, our shape note group off often does this dance thing and, and we think you'd like it and you should come.

And so they dragged me to a down. So I was living in the Massachusetts area. And they took me to a dance that no longer exists. But of course we were classic teenagers. We showed up in the second half. When you typically at a contra dance, the

**Morgan Roe:** choreography starts very,

**Lindsey Dono:** Sick and scales up until about halfway through the event and then scales back down as people get tired.

So we showed up just at the apex of complexity. I remember being horrifically dizzy. And getting completely lost. And my face hurt from smiling.

**Morgan Roe:** Yes, yes. Yes. I, man, after Covid my first dance back, my face hurt from smiling again. Like, it's, it's, it's intense. It's literally just smiling people. And you are one of them coming at other people for three hours.

It's, yeah. Ugh. Yeah. So, but you stayed after all

**Lindsey Dono:** of that? I did. And I danced. Danced. Oh. Opportunistically throughout high school and college, and it was in college that I was handed a card of choreography. Oftentimes dance choreography is written out on, on index cards, and the person who handed me the card says, I'm curating an open mic in two weeks, and I think you should try calling a dance.

And for those of you who are newer to Contra dance, what does calling a dance actually mean? It turns out that you have to participate in this style of dance. Somebody needs to tell you what to do. And so it hadn't really been anything that I'd thought about. And so I look at the card and go, Hmm, I, I don't know what a lot of these words mean.

And there's a bunch of funny numbers on the side. Oh,

**Morgan Roe:** no.

**Lindsey Dono:** So I, I asked a lot of questions and I. Found I had lots of recordings of Concho music because Yeah. Something that I'm hoping we'll get to discuss a little bit later is how fabulous the music is. Yes. And how complex the music can be. And sat down and, and learned how to count out jigs and reels and got up at the microphone and nobody caught on fire.

**Morgan Roe:** Oh my gosh. You're so brave. I've, again, I've. I've been dancing since I was eight. I also won't share how long that is, but it's a while. And I would be still, I just would feel so intimidated. Calling would be like, just all the pressure. All of the pressure. And I guess to, to also share for people who don't know anything about contra dance You really don't have to know anything.

Like you really don't. People are like, oh, I'm, I'm, I have two left feet, or I, I can't keep a beat, or I don't know how to dance. None of that matters. None of that matters. Generally, move in the right place. Someone tells you what to do the whole time, and that is the collar. So. Again, I'm, I'm I'm so interested that you just learned That's so cool that you just jumped in and learned how to call without Oh, man.

With had an open mic. That's so great. Yeah, that was definitely one of my questions was how did you decide to try calling for the first time?

**Lindsey Dono:** I, I didn't, other people really yeah, I, there, there was no initiative on my part at all. Yeah. I was basically, A path just opened up in front of me, and this particular caller who's in the Portland area named Rich Goss, decided that I was also going to be a caller, and I had nothing to do with this decision.

That's awesome. And so after that first experience had, Invited me to call one of, you know, typically there are 12 dances in an evening when he was calling and invited me to do it again and the next time said, how about two dances? Nice. And they went, eh, that's really pushing it. And I did it anyway. And at the next point, one of the organizers of a dance in Seattle said, oh, you should.

Pair we should, we should pair you with a senior caller who's, you know, quite experienced and work you up to doing half the evening. And I went absolutely not, and then did it anyway.

**Morgan Roe:** I'm sensing a

**Lindsey Dono:** pattern, so on and so forth. And I just found myself, you know, doing that calling thing without reading, having, what do you, what do you

**Morgan Roe:** like about calling?

What, what grabs you?

**Lindsey Dono:** I think. It's creating those moments of magic that I've experienced on the dance floor for other people. And I, there's something that's called dance trance of you're just in the moment. You're gro, you're, you're connecting with the music, you're connecting with your partner, you're connecting with all the other dancers around you, who you're interacting with and everything's, you're in that flow state, and I think the most.

Profound thing for me about being a caller or a leader in the community is how do I create that magical experience for others, and how do I bring people together? Yeah. And part of being a caller is connecting all the pieces that create that magic moment. And what's great is that knowing the magic be knowing the, I guess the technicalities behind the scene doesn't remove the magic as a dancer or even watching that magic unfold.

Nice. But it is so. Compelling to me to be able to create those moments for others.

**Morgan Roe:** Yeah. I, I, as a dancer, I know exactly like some of the moments I can picture. You know what, what those And dance TRAs, I like that. And that's so true. You just kind of like, there's this magic where you lose track of there's no time.

There's just moving and smiling. And moving and moving and spinning. Yeah. Yeah. What's the biggest event you've ever called?

**Lindsey Dono:** Biggest in terms of number of dancers or whatever, whatever.

**Morgan Roe:** So that's what I was thinking, but you know, whatever, whatever you feel like. The answer to that question is

**Lindsey Dono:** the Northwest Folklife Festival, which is in Seattle at peak capacity, holds perhaps 600, 650 dancers.

And the really unique thing about that festival is that is it is a free event open to the public. Yes. So in terms of crafting a user experience, you have your really dedicated. Deeply involved dancers who have traveled from out of town to, I've jokingly heard it called the High Holy Days of Contra dance, that they're at the festival specifically to dance.

And you have people who showed up to the festival because it's Memorial Day weekend and it was a thing to do. And all of a sudden somebody off the floor who might actually be me, walks up and says, Hey, would you like to dance? And they say, I don't know what you're doing. I don't know how to dance. And I say, no, no, no, don't worry.

You, you walked over to me. That's all the skills you need. Smile. Yep. We'll figure the rest of it out. Yep.

**Morgan Roe:** Ah, that's awesome. And just for perspective, how many people do you think that dance floor holds up there?

**Lindsey Dono:** Again, about 650. At 50. We've. Some people who are even nerdier than I am have, have actually calculated this or run the numbers based on in contra dance, you line up in formations and you looking at just even a photo or a video mm-hmm.

You can pretty quickly estimate what the flu capacity will hold. Mm-hmm. There are a couple events that get a little bit larger than that. The Dance Flurry in upstate New York. And the New England Folk Festival in Massachusetts, I think end up slightly higher than that. Wow. But those, as far as I know, are really the biggest events in terms of number of people.

Yeah. I have

**Morgan Roe:** been to folk life many, many times and it is, it is just so, it, it's so fun. High. Holy. It is. So. When you decide, let's go back to calling when you decide, okay, this is something I'm doing, I can do a whole night now, like I can be the caller for a dance. How do you connect, like you must still have influences and mentors and people that you I guess I'm wondering like, what's the type of community, the caller community?

Mm-hmm. Like how do you guys get together? There's a lot of conver. I, I know that there are conversations that happen, but I don't know how those happen or when or where.

**Lindsey Dono:** Lots of formats. I'll start little and I'll zoom out. Okay. So much is just word of mouth and in-person community of someone comes up to you and asks a question of.

Yeah, you're the caller for the evening and somebody says, I really liked the choreography of this particular dance. Would you share it with me? And you say, oh, here's the, here's the index card. And they'll take a picture of it on their phone and now they have it. And so there's that very organic, you know, communication that happens.

And that can be just from somebody walking up to you, it can be at and, and something that contra really enables this community. Mm-hmm. And so it's not just, What happens on the dance floor there ends up being opportunities to connect either before a dance, after a dance. Dancers end up you going to afters, which could be at somebody's house.

It could be at a restaurant that's open late, et cetera. Or we end up being friends and we just do things off the dance floor and those conversations can happen there. Sometimes it can be a little bit more intentional of, I have a specific question and I think I know who might know the answer and I've found that people are just extraordinarily generous with their time.

And I can reach out to various experienced callers and say, Hey, I've got this question, and it might be really silly. And it's something that I definitely did a lot of as I was building my skillset, and I still do. Is

**Morgan Roe:** there like a repository of dances? Because the more experienced dancers often are also colors, but you know, I'll be dancing with someone and they'll just, they'll know the dance like within the first, I mean, sometimes it's like the first two moves that are like super common moves and all of a sudden, you know, here's William Watson pointing me in the right direction.

I'm like, how did you know that was coming? So is there like, Is there a repository of, of centralized dances? You mentioned these index cards. Also attribution is usually given to the people who write them. How do you keep all of that straight? So many good

**Lindsey Dono:** questions. And as I was describing, you know, just how I connect with other callers.

There's a, there's a organic connections at events and you at dance camps or other dance events. There's also a big online community and this is something that's obviously. Wasn't the case 50 years ago. Yeah, there are various caller networks. There's a mailing list called Shared Weight, which for those in the contra scene, sharing weight is a way of connecting with people.

So there's a little internal joke there and choreography. Has historically been shared there. People, some people prefer to, choreographers, prefer to publish their dances and books and had encouraged you to buy the books. Increasingly as, as everything has moved online, you can just do a web search for, if you know the title of the dance, look it up.

There might be a YouTube video, and even better, the YouTube video might have somebody teaching it and gave you all the tips from it. I can also make a plug for a database created mostly by Chris Page called The Colors Box, and it is a searchable database online and Chris has meticulously collected and cataloged more than 14,000 unique comforts, and it is now a searchable public free database and that has completely revolutionized.

How we find choreography or share it. Yeah.

**Morgan Roe:** That's so awesome because I know people, I mean, have you written a dance? Yes. Yes. Ah, that's so cool. And I know, I know other good friends of mine in the community have written dances too, and it's like, okay, well then what?

**Lindsey Dono:** So yeah, and, and that's, that. It's an interesting thing of, of why.

Choreographer is a slightly different role than collar. Yeah. Oftentimes they overlap.

**Morgan Roe:** It blows my mind. Is this just, it's like, it's just, it's math, right? It's so much math. Can you, can you describe, I guess, before we, before we move on from that, w can you describe the structure of a contra dance?

**Lindsey Dono:** Totally.

So I'd like to, to give it an analogy of, it's a sonnet. There's a very particular form, pattern, meter. To how a dance and actually how to, how the tunes that go with conjured dances are structured. Yeah, they are typically, but not always, 64 beats long and there are four parts. There's an A, one part and a two part, and the tune will repeat a one into a two, and then you'll have a B one and a B two part.

And again, the tune will repeat within that as well. And then, then you'll come back to the top. If you're playing at what we would call dance tempo, that choreographic framework needs to fit in those 64 beats of music. And within that, there are some soft rules for what needs to happen. There's a particular move called a swing.

In a modern contra dance, you absolutely must swing your partner sometime during those 64 beats. Most often you also want to do that same, move a swing with your neighbor. And typically in a part in a contra dance, you will keep your partner and you will move up or down the formation to a new set of neighbors one time through the dance.

So in addition to those couple of move requirements, there's also, it's like a game of chess. You need to move to a certain position beyond those rules. You can do. Pretty much anything. And the bigger question is, should you, yes. And certainly you can use any sort of random word generator to write a sonnet.

It may or may not be a pleasant sonnet, and so there's certainly a lot of art that goes into putting together choreography that achieves goals beyond those basic couple of rules.

**Morgan Roe:** How much do you take like the music into account? So like is okay, is the music always at a certain tempo?

**Lindsey Dono:** It's usually within a certain range.

And something that an experienced band can do is they can match their tempo to where the dancers are and also to the feel of the dance. And so there's language that I'll use to communicate with a band of what I'm looking for in a dance. And something that's also unique about contra within the folk music umbrella is that there is organic pairing of tunes to dances.

And so part of that, creating that, that magic moment or creating me a story arc across an evening of dance, Is figuring out what the flavor of a dance is and figuring out how to pair music with a dance. And so it's actually a conversation between the collar and the band about what sort of mood and energy you're trying to create.


**Morgan Roe:** That's so cool. Can you give me an example of what that conversation might look like?

**Lindsey Dono:** There are workshops about how callers talk to bands and how bands talk to callers, and something that is absolutely fascinating is that it is a different conversation with a different vocabulary with every single musician I've worked with.

And part of working for the first time with the new band or a new musician is learning what dialect they're speaking in terms of trying to figure out what I want. And it'll depend very, very, very much on the band. So I'll give you two extremes. There is the band that really likes to look at my dance card and at the choreography, and there are particular moves that are more or less percussive and they want to match the percussive bits in the music.

Mm-hmm. To the percussive bits in the dance. And so with a particular, with a band that that is tending to do that. I would, let's say I have a dance that's very percussive in the B part, which is fairly typical for a, a high energy set that you would want to close a half with. What I would do is I'm, I would, first of all, I would've, before the evening, presumably have a conversation with the band of, do you like words?

Do you wanna just see the card? Do you want input from me? Do you not want input from me? I hope they want some input from me. Yeah. But I would turn to the band. I. Or typically there's a designated person who's selecting tune sets and say, okay, this will be our closer set of the first half. This will be probably the highest energy dance of the evening.

It's has, I'll say, balances, which is a percussive figure in the beats. I'd like some sort of driving reels that have percussive bees, and that could be a conver, that could be one conversation. There are other bands that really prefer to shape their tune around or shape how they're playing their tunes.

So they're not necessarily asking me for where the percussion is. They're looking at the dancers. At the dancers. They're listening to the dancers and they're, it's like improving their tune. Yeah, absolutely. And some of the very best musicians will work. We'll, we'll basically be interacting with the dancers by changing what they're doing based on those percussive steps.

So there's another, there's a figure called a, a petrella and very, in some places in the country, dancers will do a particular clapping pattern as part of the move. Originally, this was actually discouraged and considered No, no, no. Don't clap. You're, you're interrupting the music. But people really like to clap.

It's really

**Morgan Roe:** fun to clap. It just feels right.

**Lindsey Dono:** And so there'll be musicians who will leave space. They'll just stop playing and let dancers clap and let dancers be part of that musical experience. And for me, that's really the epitome of playing for a dance is it's not a concert you are. Interacting with the dancers on the floor.

Yeah. So that's co-creation. Yeah, that co-creation. Thank you for that word. So that's one kind of very particular way that I would interact with a band. On the flip side, they just might want the adjectives and they'll figure out where those percussive pieces are themselves. And so again, I might say something along, you know, driving reels or I might give them a little bit more some idea of what I'm looking for.

And I'm always negotiable on this. I'll say, I really want something dark and, and dark might be a word or I could say bright. I'd like something bright and airy and they can put the percussion in there, but I have the, I have that feel. And bright and airy could also be something in a major key and dark and moody could be in a minor key and I might give them some of those pointers as well.

And they might counter, they might come back to me and say, oh, well we just played a, a really, you know, bright set of happy jigs. Can we do something moodier, darker? And I'll say, absolutely. It's very typically most dances and rose tunes get along pretty well. Mm-hmm. And that's really taking it from taking it to that next level of dance trance when you're having those very detailed conversations.


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**Morgan Roe:** So when you're putting your set together, how much of this, like, so you're not building just like, oh, these are fun dances, but you're crafting an entire evening in an experience start to finish that flows one into another.

**Lindsey Dono:** It, it's a multi chapter storybook, and I really think of it that way of, you know, we, I am leading dancers on an adventure, on a journey, and where are we going to go on these, this journey?

Where are we going to stop? What features are we going to look at? What are we going to encounter along the way? Mm-hmm. And. I try to use my knowledge of the band and of what I know about a community, if it's not one that I am typically part of, to try to think about what kind of story do they wanna be part of?

What sort of adventures do they wanna go on? What's going to be fun and straightforward for them? What's going to be a little bit of a plot twist and something that they'll have to. You dig into a little bit to enjoy and when do I really just need to back off and let the band be driving the story?

**Morgan Roe:** I mean, that's kind of ultimately your.

Your end goal every dance right, is to not be calling anymore. Yeah. Just let them do their thing.

**Lindsey Dono:** Yeah. One of the best compliments I got when I was very early in my column journey was I had been splitting the evening with a more experienced caller and I asked, can I do the first half so I can just relax and dance the second half?

And I remember getting off the stage having finished calling the first half. And there was about a 15 minute break for, which is pretty typical. People, you know, get a drink and catch up with people. And one of my friends came up to me and said, Hey, did you just get here? I haven't seen you all night. And I went, I had this moment of, oh, this is awful.

And then I thought about it and I went, you know, I didn't do anything so terrible that my friend had to look at stage.

**Morgan Roe:** That's true. And wow, good mental pivot there.

**Lindsey Dono:** And, and that's one of the funny things is that if you're doing a caller, if you're, you're doing a good job as a caller, you are should not be center stage.

And it's not about you, it's about the experience you're creating. Yeah. And so people say, well, Linda, you're a really extreme introvert. How do you do the stage thing? And I said, well, because nobody's looking at me. And if they look at me, something's gone terribly wrong. Right,

**Morgan Roe:** right. Has anything ever gone terribly wrong?

**Lindsey Dono:** Oh, of course. What do you do and. Depends on what it is. Of course. We, we try to smooth it over and I often joke that when things go right, it's because the band was awesome and when things go wrong, it's because the caller was not awesome. That, you know, when, when you play a wrong note, it's a variation and when you call the wrong move, it's incorrect.

So yeah, the stakes are a little bit different. Right? Yeah. To give you a specific example Let's say that you have a dance that's a little bit too hard for a group of dancers. And again, in the, there's formations called lines. And let's say you have three lines of dancers. Two lines are okay, and one line is just collapsing, and the dancers are milling around and they're looking really nervous.

My first goal is to keep people from panicking. Mm-hmm. And that can be some sort of audio cue of icu. Look for your part, the years, because in that, in every time through that pattern of choreography, there's a move called a partner swing. Yeah. And if you wait for the partner swing and have everybody swing their partner and then just hang out.

The music will roll around back to the point where you're swinging your partner again and I can catch people up. So what I'll try to do if is reset, people say, okay, no worries. Swing your partner, make sure you're facing another group of two across. Again, reset the formation, wiggle in place, take a deep breath, wait for the music, and then I jump back if I've dropped out.

Queuing figures as the music is going, I will jump back in and I will call all the way through as long as I need to. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Just prompting figure after figure to try to reset people. And something that I really, really like to communicate to dancers both in over the course of the evening and in introduction sessions is being a good dancer is not about all the moves you remember how to do.

Yes. It's about that resilience and that ability to reset of mill around, find your partner, swing your partner, and we can figure the rest out.

**Morgan Roe:** Yes, yes. I've obviously been on both sides of that. I've been in lines that were doing great and one line was falling apart, that was not mine. And then I've been in the line that was falling apart.

And just a couple things that came to mind while you were talking. First of all I mean, even, even under you, I've, you've called dances where I've been in lines. And I didn't even realize maybe one line was falling apart because your voice was so calm. And it just, you know, you didn't stress the rest of us out, even though one line was maybe going crazy, like your voice and your presence.

Or other callers as well, like just keeping the calm so that the rest of the dancers who were doing fine and had, you know, maybe something clicked in their line for whatever reason. They didn't even know. And then, you know, later at breaks they're like, oh, that dance, I don't know what I was doing.

I was like, what are you talking about? That was great. So I think that speaks to, to that. And then, and then, yeah, when you're in a line and it is falling apart, my, my relationship I guess with Contra right now is at the point where I just love it. I'm there because, I love to be there, and so it doesn't matter to me like contra is messy.

It's not perfect. It's not ballroom or or Latin or some of these where you're very precise. It's messy, and if it's falling apart, like. Smile, swing your partner, laugh it off and focus, but don't like get too, some people get very angry or very emotional when they feel like they're doing it wrong. Well, it's contra.

It's okay if you do it wrong. Just try to jump back in when you can. Anyway, those were some, some things that I could relate to in what you just said.

**Lindsey Dono:** Totally agree. And that's something that as an experienced dancer on the floor, I also like to try to model Yeah. Is I make mistakes and when I make them, I enjoy them.


**Morgan Roe:** Yeah, I laugh, especially if I'm with someone new. I will just, I mean, you straight up own it. You're like, oh, that was eventually, I'll reach a point, I call it contra brain, where I just cannot remember anything and other people kind of have to like push me. You know? It's at that point where I've at about 9,900 steps into my 10,000 and I just.

It's just hit me. It's usually well into the evening. I'm tired physically. And then, I don't know, I call it contra brain. I just can't keep track of the moves. And sometimes people, I mean, again, I'm, I'm a pretty experienced dancer. I still have to have people push me around sometimes. Just be like, that's where you go head on down that way.

And that's, it's just, it's okay. I love that about contra. It's a place where it's okay. It'll just be messy and make mistakes and smile it off.

**Lindsey Dono:** And as a caller, when you can anticipate when that contra brain sets in, ha, you can preemptively jump back on the microphone. Yes. And oftentimes I'll have a, a note on my, my card of choreography that'll say this prompt, this move.

Sure. But oftentimes it's a really simple move right after a swing. That's what people forget. And it's not the the crazy complicated move. It's. A move like circle, which is really common and really straightforward, and it's the one that just goes right out of people's heads. So if you'll, you may have noticed if you're out of an event and the caller has already stopped queuing, and then about two thirds of the way through, they jump back on the mic and they just say, circle yes.

Once Yes. And then they jump off the mic. That's exactly what that

**Morgan Roe:** is. That's so funny because it's so true. I mean, a, a swing is you're spinning. And if you've been doing this for, you know, two hours, it's a lot of spinning. So maybe it is. Yeah, you're right. That is an area where tended you come out, you're like, that was so fun.

Maybe you're having conversations. That's another thing is you get into conversations with your partner and then come out of it and need to focus back in on the dance. I would love to talk with you a little bit about some of the, maybe in the last. Five to 10 years. We don't have to get super detailed, but some of the changes that have happened in the contra dance community, certainly on the west coast.

I have only danced here on the west coast recently, so I don't know what's happening in other areas of the country, but there's been a really big push towards inclusivity, bringing in younger dancers, and I think the West Coast has done overall just. An amazing job of, you know, when I started and, and for so long, Contra dance was, it was a very traditional community that, that had it was a much older community and there was a lot of concern.

The dances were small. There was typically only one line. And then I moved to Portland and, and not only have those dances just exploded in the number of people who come, but also the age of the people Portland, Seattle, San Francisco. You know, it's, it's become so much bigger. What has that been like as a caller and having conversations about some of the changes to the dance itself?

That has prompted some of the inclusivity and reaching out to the younger generations.

**Lindsey Dono:** What a great set of questions. And there are a couple different ways to approach this, and I think that the place that'll start is contra is still best spread by word of mouth. So you go to the dance, you have a great time, you go home, you tell your roommate.

I just had the best time ever and you make that attempt to describe contra dance and you stumble over the words and you give up and you say, oh, just come with me next time. It's, yep. You bring your friend and the experience that your friend has at the dance is what's going to either encourage them to come back or say, Hey Morgan, that this was, thanks for inviting me, but.

I, this is not what I wanna do with my Saturday nights. Yeah, I felt X, Y, and Z and it wasn't great for whatever reason. And so what are those reasons that it either might be great or it might not be great. And that inclusivity element is such a huge component of that, and it can manifest as the other dancers who you don't know.

Just walking up to you and asking you to dance. You're always able to find a partner. Your partners treat you respectfully and inclusively. They understand where you are at in your dance trajectory, and they dance to match you. Those are some general community things that you can, and,

**Morgan Roe:** and that last bit, that would mean like if you're new, they're not gonna add a bunch of new twirls or Yeah.

Contra dance can get fairly elaborate. If you're more experienced, you can kind of play with the basic moves. Is that kind of where, where your head was at when you, when you mentioned that, is just keeping it in simple?

**Lindsey Dono:** Yeah. Precisely. Is that one of the other pieces of, of contra choreography as a sonnet.

Is within each piece of choreography, there are often ways to augment it. And if you're dancing with somebody totally new who's still trying to pick up the basic moves, dance the basic moves with them. Yeah. Or ensure that they're enabled to dance. The basic move in such a way that they're going to get to their next place on time.

Yeah. So that's one element of it. Another element of it is feeling like the dance community is somewhere where you belong. And something that rather than saying, oh, you know, we need to really drive this to be a youth community, the word that I use is intergenerational. Mm-hmm. And the dances that I find the most compelling are the ones that are really truly intergenerational and mixed.

And there's certainly a lower age threshold at which it gets harder to participate. But I want an 11 year old and I want an 88 year old. To feel equally comfortable at this event. Mm-hmm. And there are ways that communities, callers, organizers, everybody involved, can really make that happen. And from the microphone, something that you can do is be very intentional about your language.

Historically, there were two dance roles that were gendered. In Contra dance because it came from other styles of older folk dance, which again, were gendered and something that has really revolutionized dance over the last 10 years is a move towards non-gendered or gender free calling, which means that instead of referring to a role by a gender term, We use non-gender terms now.

So much blood has been spilled and sleep lost and electrons flung over the internet to try to figure out what are the exact right terms. There are spreadsheets. There have been so many discussions they continue to go on. Mm-hmm. And there are two term, there's a term pair that has been adopted pretty widely at this point called Larks and Robins.

And the larks start on the left and the robins start on the right, the L and the R. Is it the absolute perfect set of terms? No. Do they work well enough to get by with? Absolutely. And I have found myself at the point where I am actually not sure I could go back and call gendered anymore because I've really switched everything over.

And what's so great about gender neutral dance terms, Is that if you have a discrepancy of gen, of an imbalance of, you know, gender presentation in the hall experienced dancers you'll find often can dance both roles. They may have a preference and if they're dancing a role that doesn't have a gender affiliated with it, there's significantly less stigma.

Yeah. In switching roles to balance alcohol, You'll often find that with younger dancers, particularly kids being misgendered really doesn't feel great. And so for kids taking out any sort of gendered language means that they're empowered to dance whichever role is actually easier or works better for them based on their height.

Yep. And there's a role that tends to work a little bit better if you're shorter.

**Morgan Roe:** Is that where you find that people tend to To, to draw. I'm just curious. I have so many questions. Hold on Morgan, one at a time. Because I do have a preference. I do have, I do tend to want to, you know, follow one particular role and I wonder if it's just because I'm short.

I never even thought about that. I like to twirl and that's

**Lindsey Dono:** actually the distinguisher that I'll use is people say, well, if, if you're going to introduce dancers to this form and you're not going to give them. A, a gender cue. How, how do you encourage them to pick a role? And one of the factors could be how much do you like to twirl?

I really, really, really like to twirl. So in that case, I'd say if you like to twirl, rob and roll might be a, a good fit for you. Yep. The other thing that you can do is you can hold out both hands in an both arms in a neutral position, like as if you're going to hug a barrel. And if they've done some other form of partner or social dance, you ask them to take, either take ballroom position with you or to say, if you were to dance with me, how would you hold a partner?

And if they default one way or the other, that's how you can start them.

**Morgan Roe:** Yeah. Okay. The other question that was like bouncing around my head is this switch I think overall has been so positive and I'm just so curious. How do you know when, who to help? When a line full of beginners may be falling apart and the dancers certainly don't know who's who coming at them.

How are you supposed to know who needs help?

**Lindsey Dono:** That is a really good question because the first time I actually called it a dance that was truly gender neutral, I didn't realize how anchored I was. On looking at the face. Yeah. To determine if someone was in the right spot. There's a fabulous line saying, look for the place and not the face.

Look for the place. And so encourage dancers who are, again, more experienced to say, okay, if this move is X many places around, note where you're going to end up and dance with who's ever coming at you, where you end up. Yes. And make no assumptions. Yes. What I do as a caller is I assume people are where they want to be, and even if they're not, I'll say dance where you're at.

And then again, that partner swing is that moment of reset. Yes. So wander around, even if you end up not where you intended to be, and again, just foster that sense of it's fine, it's a dance you're supposed to, there's no test at the end, really, but without having. And you, that visual cue of who to look at.

There are some people who, who will, you know, pick a particular person or group of people on the floor who they know which role they're dancing and track that. I don't bother. I will just, okay, there's a group that looks messy. I'll just call the moves for everybody universally and let people sort themselves out.

And if they don't have the, if they are, you know, new enough that they're not quite sure how to sort themselves out. I am relying on the other dancers on the floor to do that because the best teachers are really your fellow dancers on the floor. Mm-hmm.

**Morgan Roe:** Yeah. Oh man. So have you ever been at a place where you have this whole set, I mean, it sounds like quite a lot of preparation to put a dance together.

You have to look at the area who might be coming the band that's playing, possibly how experienced or inexperienced that bands may be, or maybe you've never worked with them. It's a lot of preparation. Have you ever done all that and then got to the dance and then. Some, I don't know, let's just say like bachelorette party walks in the door or some, like, there's a ton of new people and you have to kind of adapt cuz this happened recently.

The dance I was at where she had all set planned out and then all these new people. I don't know if it was spring break, I don't know what happened. All these college-aged kids who had never danced before and it was awesome to see them all. And I could tell that it was not, it was welcome but not expected.

Has that ever happened to

**Lindsey Dono:** you? It happens all the time and as soon as you started describing it, like the classic busload of Group X. Yeah. The bachelorette party, the meetup group, the someone hosting students from out of town who may or may not speak English. Oh boy. You, there's so many examples of this and one of the things that I'll jokingly say is I need a program to throw out.

Sure. So I'll have a baseline that I'll be starting with and I fully expect to need to change it. I mean, what you're talking is a total step. Change, reset, swipe everything off, start from fresh, and something that you grow into as a collar is building the repertoire to be able to do that. And it's oftentimes, if you really do have a critical mass of.

People who are not familiar with the formation and the flow and the figures is you need to back away from that formation and need to back away from the figures. And you just put everybody in a big circle and you say, hold hands, walk to the left, walk to the right, take four steps into the center now.

Great. That's a dance. Let, that's some music. Yes.

**Morgan Roe:** And having, and actually for those listening who thinks that's boring, that can be really fun. Even if you're experienced, that can be a great time.

**Lindsey Dono:** It's all about the music, and that's about music. It's where you turn to the band and say, I want your most rock and set of reels right now.

**Morgan Roe:** Nice. Break 'em out. Okay. You wanted to talk about music? Let's do that. Let's go all in here. Let's talk about music. Where do you wanna start? Okay. Let's just start with structure, I guess. So you mentioned jigs and reels, and you've talked about the 64 beat pattern. Like do, are these all traditional tunes?

Do they write their own tunes? Let's talk, you know, some of the, the bands, there's been so many so many amazing, amazing concert dance bands. Is that what they do? I mean, I could, I probably should have a, a. Musician from a, a contra dance band on here. I have so many questions for them too. But you know, are there, are there songs that come back that you hear over and over again that are contra dance standards?

I don't know. What are some of your favorites? Just start anywhere you like first

**Lindsey Dono:** I'll say you should absolutely talk to you. At least one musician, hopefully more, because they'll all tell you something slightly different. Yeah. And the magic of Contra Dance is the variety of music that can be used, that there's what I'll call the, the standard Portland collection that was actually curated by Sue Songer in the Portland area, who put together multiple, I think four tune.

She's up to four tune books like Portland Collection of Volume, four of a Standard Repertoire of. Jigs reels, marches, and then you can move into things a little bit more exotic to contra slip jigs, strats bays horn pipes. You can really, you can really do a lot with it. And you can also take music that is, and this is all traditional music.

Some of it's Irish, Scottish, Americana, bluegrass old time. Cape Breton, all of these traditions are really common within the contra repertoire. And there are older tunes that really predated contra that either have that 64 beat structure or can be what it's called squared, that you change the number of beats in the tune to fit into contra format.

Yeah. And of course, people don't really just stop, their musicians will take inspiration from. Basically anywhere I've called Contras to Kleer, to Katie Perry, to Elton John. I've called Contras to Disney Tunes. I have called,

**Morgan Roe:** not dance too. I'm trying to think. I maybe they've thrown in, they've thrown in a line from a Disney tune.

**Lindsey Dono:** Maybe. I, that does not familiar. And it really fun when musicians just start riffing on something and you go, oh man, oh, I know that.

**Morgan Roe:** It's so good.

**Lindsey Dono:** It's so good. And just like collar, just like choreographers are, are writing new sets of dances. Musicians are writing new tunes all the time. Yeah. And what's really fun is to hear a new tune.

And you know, I always go, oh, I don't know that one. What is it? And I'll running up to the band, what is that one? I don't know. It doesn't have a name. I just wrote it last week. And say, well that's a keeper. Yes. And there's certainly tunes that really go through popularity phases and it's really fun to kind of track those.

And I've. Had the honor of traveling nationally to call dances and work with bands that are also traveling nationally, and it's always hilarious when we go, well, I know that over the course of this weekend long dance event, I'm fairly sure I'm going to hear these five tunes. They're just the trendy ones right now.

It's, you know, you listen to the radio, it's top 40. You know you're gonna hear that song at least once. Right? Right.

**Morgan Roe:** Yeah, it's as a dancer, it's really fun when that happens because I mean, people will start singing. Yeah. Like, you'll have the entire dance floor, several hundred people singing to the Beatles, or, you know, whatever.

Like they recognize the tune and then they're singing or humming along. That's, that's always fun. Well, Lindsay, I could talk forever with you, but I have one final question. Do you know, so first off, do you know what zeitgeist means? I looked it up. So it means like spirit of the times, right? Mm-hmm.

So this project, the whole goal behind this project is to talk with people from all kinds of different musical subcultures. And every single subculture has something that feels alive to them. That's why you're part of something some kind of subculture, which contra dance is absolutely a subculture or a, or a musical niche, right?

So for me, there's like this moment where, where, where music creates an environment where you feel just alive. You feel alive and connected and part of something bigger than yourself. What was a really good zeitgeist moment for you recently?

**Lindsey Dono:** I wanna go back to that dance trans moment. Yeah. And just kind of lean into that.

There's a, a band that I, I work with pretty often and I knew that they had this particular. Set of tunes that was actually, it has a, an m and m riff in it of all things. Awesome. And I knew that it paired really well with a particular dance in my collection and was able to say, okay, we're going to put this pairing together at the exact correct moment.

Yeah. At the apex of a weekend long dance event. And we were able to put all those pieces together of it was. At the right tune, at the right time with the right set of choreography. And I'd waited for the lines of dancers to be particularly long because part of the fun of that choreography was having these really long lines where you could just really, you know, groove into the music.

And it's a very driving sort of set of things where you're moving onto a new set of neighbors, every couple of feets. And being able to put all those pieces together and to create that moment of magic and to have somebody recognize it and come up to me afterwards and say, I'm pretty sure that it was intentional because it's you and I know you clam things and just letting you know it worked.

Ah, that's

**Morgan Roe:** awesome. Ah, I love it. Well, thank you so much for, for joining me on Zeitgeist Radio. Thanks for being on


**Lindsey Dono:** podcast. Absolutely. I can't believe it's been an hour. I feel like we, I know we're just starting to scratch the surface. I,

**Morgan Roe:** I could absolutely do another hour. Thank you so

**Lindsey Dono:** much. Thank you.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Zeitgeist Radio. To up-level your musical journey and become a music student for life. Join the Zeitgeist Academy by signing up for my biweekly newsletter. You'll get exclusive content, blog posts, and behind the scenes insights. I love putting it together and you'll love reading it.

Head over to zeitgeist That's Z E I T G E I S t Music for this episode was created by Ian Boswell. Please hit that subscribe button and tell all your friends you found a cool new podcast. See you next time.

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