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.