Switching to Larks and Ravens

Over the past few years we've been hearing from an increasing number of dancers who would prefer our dances use role terms that don't indicate gender, to make it more clear that anyone can dance any role. Several contra dances on the West Coast have switched from "Gents and Ladies" to "Larks and Ravens", as have most of the dances that formerly used "Bands and Bares". At our April 2nd dance we tested out "Larks and Ravens", and our dancers rated it 3.6 out of 5.

Seeing that our dancers were generally interested in "Larks and Ravens" we decided to run a three-dance trial of the terms, followed by one dance of "Gents and Ladies". We polled people at the last "Larks and Ravens" dance and the "Gents and Ladies" one, and the results are at the bottom of this post. Taking all three surveys into account, plus our sense of what would be best for the dance, we've decided to switch our dance to "Larks and Ravens".

Questions and Answers:

Why are you doing this? What’s wrong with Gents and Ladies?

We’ve had considerable feedback from members of the BIDA community that they’re not comfortable with gendered dance role terms and would prefer to go to a dance that doesn’t use them. For transgender and gender non-conforming dancers especially, gendered role terms can be exclusive or hurtful.

We feel that the new terminology makes it clearer that roles in contra are dance roles, not gender roles, and so it better encourages people to try dancing both roles and dance with people regardless of their gender. This also could make it easier to find partners, with fewer dancers left on the sidelines when there is a gender imbalance.

Why the birds? Is there a reason?

The “Lark” starts the dance and ends swings on the Left, and the “Raven” starts the dance and ends the swing on the Right. Also, “Larks” and “Ravens” have the same syllables and accents as “Gents” and “Ladies,” so it’s easier for callers who are used to "Gents" and "Ladies" to switch from the old terms to the new terms.

Why not "Leads and Follows"?

To some dancers, "Leads and Follows" is clearly the right choice.  These dancers think of contra as having a strong lead-follow component, and generally enjoy that aspect of the dance a lot.  On the other hand, many other dancers don't think of contra dance as lead-follow, or they think that in as much as there is a lead-follow component it makes the dance worse and should be discouraged.  And a third group thinks that while there is a lead-follow component it isn't or shouldn't be aligned with the roles, and that leading and following should be things anyone can do at any time.

This means that there are many dancers who are strongly opposed to "Leads and Follows", in a way that there aren't for any of the other terms people have considered.  For example, when writing to callers to ask whether they'd be up for calling "Larks and Ravens", several responded that they were willing to call anything except "Leads and Follows".

Have you considered using other terms instead?

Of the terms we've seen considered so far, we think "Larks and Ravens" are the best choice, but we're not entirely happy with them. If you have other terms that are better, let us know: we're much more committed to gender-free terms than to any specific terms.

6/4 "Larks and Ravens" Poll Results

We received 33 responses:
  • How did you like dancing to "Larks and Ravens"?
    • 1 *****
    • 2 **
    • 3 *****
    • 4 *****
    • 5 ****************
  • Should BIDA use these terms?  (1=no, 5=yes)
    • 1 ****
    • 2 *****
    • 3 ***
    • 4 ******
    • 5 **************
  • See the full data.

6/18 "Gents and Ladies" Poll Results

We received 28 responses:
  • How did you like dancing to "Gents and Ladies"?
    • 1 ******
    • 2 *******
    • 3 *****
    • 4 *****
    • 5 *****
  • Should BIDA use these terms?  (1=no, 5=yes)
    • 1 **************
    • 2 ******
    • 3 *
    • 4 **
    • 5 ****
  • See the full data.


  1. The debates concerning alternative terms for men/women/ladies/gents have omitted the truly best alternative: yin and yang, with yins being those who finish swings on the left. Everyone relates yin and yang to Chinese (actually Taoist) spiritual concepts. Identifying with a spiritual concept, rather than with a bird (lark/raven), a person in control (lead vs. follow), a direction (right/left) or a gang name or term (jet/ruby) will provide everyone an enhanced ethereal dance experience, even for most who probably can’t tell their yin from their yang.

    Of course a few currently enlightened dancers might know of yin’s traditional association with femaleness, and thus object to yins’ ending swings on the left. However, the movement for term change manifests from a desire to obfuscate gender roles, thus making this transposition the perfect solution.

    Others may (incorrectly) hypothesize that yin and yang sound too similar. Actually their very different vowel sounds suppresses any confusion.

    The sounds of yins and yangs sound much less stark than those of larks and ravens.

    Also “gents” has fewer letters than “ladies,” “men” has fewer letters than “women.” Similarly, “yins” having fewer letters than “yangs” will help dancers identify the two roles.

    Today if I invite someone to dance, I might be asked if I wished to be lead or follow--not if I want to be a lark or raven. It would be much more pleasantly gigglely if I were instead asked if I wanted to dance as yin or yang, especially if the caller also used those words.

    And of course during a dance either yins or yangs can initiate embellishments.

    So contra dancers now need to replace or at least augment their “I dance both roles” buttons with “I dance both yin and yang” buttons.

  2. I know I am very late to the party, but has there been any thoughts on compass directions? Say that "North" is the top of the set/where the musicians/stage are. Then you could have "Westies" (the traditional men's side) and "Easties" (the traditional ladies side).

    This way you could completely avoid any masculine/feminine attribution associated with ideas like yin/yank, larks/ravens, etc. It's also transportable as it won't matter what venue you are at (so you don't have to do things like "clock" side or "piano" side. And when you want to have people on a side travel away from the set, you can use "West side" and "East side" or just West and East to indicate which way they are traveling. If I am designated as a Westie, it would be super easy for me to remember which side I'm supposed to be on and which way I would need to go.


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