The Contra Dance Umbrella has decided that we will begin a transition to using the non-gendered role terms, starting in July 2019. For the rest of the year, we’ll have a mix of “Larks & Ravens” and “Gents & Ladies” dances. Each dance will have a note about what to expect, on the flyers and in the listings here on the Grange website.
Beginning in January, 2020, we will be shifting to using these terms at all of our dances.
You may be wondering “why are we making this change?” We made trials of these terms at the 3 dances in March of 2019, and got clear preferences for these non-gendered role terms. The survey results are shown on charts at the end of the “FAQ” below.
CDU member Dana Dwinell-Yardley has adapted a flyer of “FAQs”–frequently asked questions–about this:
Larks & Ravens FAQ
With thanks to the Oberlin Contra Dance Club
What the heck is going on?
Starting in July 2019, the Montpelier dance will be transitioning to using the terms Larks and Ravens to replace Gents and Ladies. Larks stand on the left after a swing, and Ravens stand on the right. The change of terms is the only difference — nothing else about the dance will change.
From July to January, some dances may be called with Larks and Ravens and some with Gents and Ladies. We will publicize the terms used at each dance. By January 2020, we will be using Larks & Ravens 100% of the time.
How did this decision get made?
In March 2019, the organizing committee ran a trial of Larks & Ravens role terms. We surveyed dancers and asked for feedback. We also ran a survey at the April 6 dance, which was called using Gents & Ladies.
Our community was strongly in favor of making this change.
- 75% of March dancers (192 surveys total) liked or loved dancing to Larks & Ravens, and another 13% were neutral.
- 83% were in favor of the Montpelier dance switching to Larks & Ravens or had no preference.
- Only 13% preferred to attend dances called using Gents & Ladies.
- April 6 had a much smaller survey sample (20 surveys vs 192 in March), but the numbers were fairly similar, with 70% of respondents saying no or no preference to keeping Gents & Ladies as our terms.
The organizing committee met in April to review the surveys and discuss additional comments received. We came to a consensus decision to transition to Larks & Ravens, as described at left.
What’s wrong with Gents and Ladies?
While it’s generally understood that your dance role says nothing about your gender, this does not change the fact that Gents and Ladies are inherently gendered terms. Because of this, many dancers feel pressure to dance a specific role. In addition, use of this terminology implies that men are Gents and women are Ladies by default, which is not true. While contra dance roles were strictly gendered in the past, Gents and Ladies no longer describe the roles as they are in our community today.
This is not just an issue of semantics. Some members of the community find the use of Gents and Ladies to be awkward, exclusionary, and even hurtful. Transgender and gender non-conforming people can be particularly affected by this issue. With this switch to gender-free terms, we hope to make the Montpelier dance even more welcoming and inclusive.
Have other dance communities started using gender-free language?
Yes! Many communities on the East and West coasts have permanently switched to gender-free language. Most recently, the popular BIDA dance in Boston recently made the change, as well as the dances in Amherst, MA, Portland, ME, Providence, RI, and New York, NY. See a full list at trycontra.com/gender-free.
In Burlington, Queen City Contras and the Mad Robin dance are both discussing a change to Larks and Ravens, and offering occasional evenings of Larks and Ravens.
What’s wrong with Leads and Follows?
While it is an obvious choice for role terms in couple dancing, Leads and Follows works poorly for contra dance. First of all, Leads and Follows implies a dynamic of leading and following which, unlike other social dance forms, is not emphasized in contra dance. Also, Leads and Follows implies a power dynamic between the two roles, even more so than Ladies and Gents.
If this issue weren’t enough, the terms Leads and Follows are awkward and confusing to call. For example, consider the calls: “Follows lead a hey for four” or “Leads, follow the Follows” or “Leads up, Follows down.” Again, this is not an issue for other dance forms.
Why Larks and Ravens? These terms are kind of odd/quirky/fanciful.
Larks and Ravens are by far the most popular terms used in gender-free contra dances today. The main reason for their popularity is that they are related directly to the roles: The Lark starts with the letter ‘L’ and stands on the left after a swing, while the Raven starts with ‘R’ and stands on the right. After all, where you stand is the main difference between the two roles.
Additionally, Larks is the same number of syllables as Gents, and Ravens is the same number of syllables as Ladies, making the transition easier. The words are not used in other contra dance calls, meaning that there is unlikely to be confusion. Most importantly, there is no implied power dynamics or gender/sexual connotations.
That being said, we get it — the terms are kind of weird. They are not perfect! If you have other ideas, please let us know.
What happens now?
Enjoy the dance! If the terms feel liberating, feel free to experiment with roles that you’re not used to. If the terms feel kind of awkward, don’t worry — only words have changed, nothing else!
If you have always been a Lady and you want to keep dancing as a Lady, just keep on dancing as a Raven; if you want to keep dancing as a Gent, simply dance as a Lark. Just be sure to ask your partner what role they’d prefer, if any.
I have thoughts/feelings/opinions about this change. How do I make my voice heard?
Come to our community conversation and potluck on Saturday, June 15! Potluck dinner 5:30-6:30, discussion 6:30-8 pm.
Please also feel free to speak to an organizer. We’d love to hear what you think.
Montpelier Contra Dance Umbrella:
Alice Smolinsky, Dana Dwinell-Yardley,
Emma Schoenberg, Jody Pettersen,
Kurt Giavara, Patty Giavara,
Tim Swartz, and Thomas Weiss
There will be printed copies of this flyer at the front desk–and please do give us feedback, either in person, or with a note in the “Feedback” box. We really do want to know how this works for all types of dancers.