Grid Contra – Contra Bias

I had a three hour drive to a gig the other day, and ruminated (again) on grid contras. I think I’ve come up with a potentially danceable one. This is advanced-dance stuff, not to be deployed lightly. And while I hope it won’t take 3 hours to digest, I’m going to get into the weeds here. Dive in only if you feel like bush-whacking with me. Here we go…
 
I’m going at it from a theoretical framework, from the ground up. This is NOT how I’d teach it to dancers. If you want to start with the dance, jump to down to Contra Bias in bold.
 
One drawback to grid contras attempts is what I’ll call the “corner issue” (discussed in more detail in footnote); where folks travel on diagonal lines and get stuck in closed loop. Grid Squares can break the loop by having figures and breaks that do different things. You’re less likely to get stuck in a corner when you progress in different ways at different times through the dance.
 
But modern contra is defined by doing the same sequence every time through. I personally enjoy, as a dancer and as a caller, when the caller can drop out and let the dancers move to the music. (It’s why I’m biased towards contras.) So I want a sequence that doesn’t trap dancers in a corner loop, but is the same sequence every time. So I think we need to de-couple the up and down the set progression from the lateral progression from set to set. If you’re a 1, you’re going to stay a 1 until you reach the bottom of the set, whether or not you reach the edge of the sets. The 2s will be 2s until they reach the top of the hall. But if you were progressing to the right across sets, when you reach the edge, you have to start progressing left; or you’ll run out of dancers. So some folks are progressing right, and some left. That means that different sets will have different progressions. 
 
Let’s set up a dance hall, 8 sets wide, and 4 hands-four deep.
Stage is to the North (or you can think of N for Nutcase Caller…)
(I’ve attempted to format this with a fixed-width font to keep the grid clear. If it doesn’t line up, your web browser may have changed the formatting). 
 
                             N
  1s(A1) 1s(B1) 1s(C1) 1s(D1) 1s(E1) 1s(F1) 1s(G1) 1s(H1)
  2s(a1) 2s(b1) 2s(c1) 2s(d1) 2s(e1) 2s(f1) 2s(g1) 2s(h1)
  1s(A2) 1s(B2) 1s(C2) 1s(D2) 1s(E2) 1s(F2) 1s(G2) 1s(H2)
  2s(a2) 2s(b2) 2s(c2) 2s(D2) 2s(e2) 2s(f2) 2s(g2) 2s(h2)
W                                                         E
  1s(A3) 1s(B3) 1s(C3) 1s(D3) 1s(E3) 1s(F3) 1s(G3) 1s(H3)
  2s(a3) 2s(b3) 2s(c3) 2s(D3) 2s(e3) 2s(f3) 2s(g3) 2s(h3)
 
  1s(A4) 1s(B4) 1s(C4) 1s(D4) 1s(E4) 1s(F4) 1s(G4) 1s(H4)
  2s(a4) 2s(b4) 2s(c4) 2s(D4) 2s(e4) 2s(f4) 2s(g4) 2s(h4)
                             S
 
1s are going progressing south. 2s are progressing north. 
 
Sets A, C, E, and G will all be right-progressing. Sets B, D, F, H, will be left-progressing. It doesn’t matter if the west-most set is right or left, but it does need to alternate.
 
Right/left progressing here means relative to the direction they’re facing.
Left-progressing D set has 1s(D) progressing south and east; and 2s(d) progressing north and west.
Right-progressing E set has 1s(E) progressing south and west; and 2s(e) progressing north and east.
 
When a couple reaches the edge of the set, (which westward progressing 1s(As) will do after one time through; as will eastward 1s(Hs)) we need them to come back in the set still the same 1s or 2s, but now going the other way laterally (east/left for the initial As; west/right for the initial Hs). 
 
Because I don’t want to have folks wait out on the sides as well as the top and bottom; I’m going to go for a double lateral progression.
 
So we’ve set up requirements, for progression and consistent moves; which means we have to have moves that put different people in different places; something like “1s half figure 8”, but you need to be able to differentiate the dancers in the rightward/leftward sets; and it shouldn’t be something that is called for only half of the sets (although, like 1/2 figure 8, or gents allemande left, I do consider having half the dancers move okay, especially if we can keep it balanced over the course of the dance). The solution that occurred to me while driving on highway 89 was corners. I’d call them 1st and 2nd corners, but those have specific meaning to English Country dancers; so I’m going to call it Bias Corners and Other Corners; where Bias is from the sewing and/or cooking sense, and refers to “on the diagonal”.
 
If you’re a leftward progressing couple, you’re facing another leftward progressing couple. The Bias Corners are the folks on the left of each couple (i.e. the gents role). The Other Corners for left-ward progressing couples are the folks on the right (i.e. the ladies role).
 
For rightward progressing couple, the Bias Corners are the folks on the right of each couple (ladies role), and the Other Corners are the folks on the left (gents role). 
 
The bias pair for left/right progressing couple is not the left/right diagonal; it’s the opposite diagonal; i.e. the left progressing bias couple is the right diagonal couple. 
 
Bias Contra
Grid contra of duple improper 
Alternating leftward and rightward progressing sets. 
Single vertical progression, double lateral set progression.
Any number of equal-length* sets, ideally 3 or more.
 
A1
(4) Balance the ring of four
(4) Bias Corners trade places, passing by left shoulder; 
all face neighbor across the set
(8) Half hey across the sets; passing four people 
(initial neighbor right, then left N2, right N3, left N4, all will be opposite role dancers)
A2
With Partner and New Neighbor (#5)
(4) Balance the ring of four
(12) Swing Neighbor on the top or bottom, end facing up or down the set, towards your partner
B1
(4) Balance the Ring of four
(12) Partner swing on the side of the set, end facing across at the neighbor you just swing
B2
(4) Balance the Ring of four
(4) Other Corners trade places, passing by left shoulders
(4) Right hand to partner, balance
(4) Pull by partner right, current neighbor left
 
Notes:
Bias Corners: 
In a left progressing set, this is the gents (the folks on the left); 
for a right progressing set, this is the ladies (the folks on the right).
Other Corners:
In a left progressing set, this is the ladies (the folks on the right); 
for a right progressing set, this is the gents (the folks on the left).
Edge effects:
This is a double lateral progression. When you reach the edge of the sets, you pass your partner by the left as one of the passes in your hey (2nd or 4th) and trade lines that you’re heying across the set in. You’ve just swapped left/right progressing
End effects:
When you run out of couples top or bottom, you wait out one time. 1s become 2s, and vice versa. Your left/right progression status DOES NOT change, but the wall (East/West) that you’re laterally progressing towards DOES change, because you’ve turned around.
If you’re worried about A2 the swing top and bottom (I don’t think that’s the biggest roadblock to this being danceable, but it could be a concern), you could move both swing to the side,

Bias Contra (var 1.1)

Grid contra of duple improper
Alternating leftward and rightward progressing sets.
Single vertical progression, double lateral set progression.
Any number of equal-length* sets, ideally 3 or more.

A1

(4) Balance the ring of four
(4) Bias Corners trade places, passing by left shoulder; all face neighbor across the set
(8) Half hey across the sets; passing four people (initial neighbor right, then left N2, right N3, left N4, all will be opposite role dancers)

A2

With Partner and New Neighbor (#5)
(4) Balance the ring of four
(4) Petronella spin one place to the right
(8) Neighbor swing on the side, end facing your partner.

B1

(8) Gents Allemande Left 1 1/2
(8) Partner Swing on the side

B2

(4) Balance the Ring of four
(4) Other Corners trade places, passing by left shoulders
(4) Right hand to partner, balance
(4) Pull by partner right, current neighbor left
 
*: Equal Length:
It’s not terrible if the sets aren’t completely even. If you had some extra, they could be a partial across the bottom (each X is a hands four):
XXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX
XXXXX
 
But they should all be contiguous, not
XXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX
XX X X X
which would create awkward mini-loops in the dangling sets. 
 
To look at where folks end up after one time through the dance, lets go back to our grid, with A, C, E, G our rightward sets: 
 
                             N
    R      L      R      L      R      L      R      L
  1s(A1) 1s(B1) 1s(C1) 1s(D1) 1s(E1) 1s(F1) 1s(G1) 1s(H1)
  2s(a1) 2s(b1) 2s(c1) 2s(d1) 2s(e1) 2s(f1) 2s(g1) 2s(h1)
  1s(A2) 1s(B2) 1s(C2) 1s(D2) 1s(E2) 1s(F2) 1s(G2) 1s(H2)
  2s(a2) 2s(b2) 2s(c2) 2s(D2) 2s(e2) 2s(f2) 2s(g2) 2s(h2)
W                                                         E
  1s(A3) 1s(B3) 1s(C3) 1s(D3) 1s(E3) 1s(F3) 1s(G3) 1s(H3)
  2s(a3) 2s(b3) 2s(c3) 2s(D3) 2s(e3) 2s(f3) 2s(g3) 2s(h3)
 
  1s(A4) 1s(B4) 1s(C4) 1s(D4) 1s(E4) 1s(F4) 1s(G4) 1s(H4)
  2s(a4) 2s(b4) 2s(c4) 2s(D4) 2s(e4) 2s(f4) 2s(g4) 2s(h4)
                             S
 
After one time through the dance:
 
                             N
    R      L      R      L      R      L      R      L
  2s(b1) 2s(d1) 2s(a1) 2s(f1) 2s(c1) 2s(h1) 2s(e1) 2s(g1)  – OUT
  1s(C1) 1s(A1) 1s(E1) 1s(B1) 1s(G1) 1s(D1) 1s(H1) 1s(F1)
  2s(b2) 2s(d2) 2s(a2) 2s(f2) 2s(c2) 2s(h2) 2s(e2) 2s(g2)
  1s(C2) 1s(A2) 1s(E2) 1s(B2) 1s(G2) 1s(D2) 1s(H2) 1s(F2)
   2s(b3) 2s(d3) 2s(a3) 2s(f3) 2s(c3) 2s(h3) 2s(e3) 2s(g3)
 W                                                         E
  1s(C3) 1s(A3) 1s(E3) 1s(B3) 1s(G3) 1s(D3) 1s(H3) 1s(F3)
   2s(b4) 2s(d4) 2s(a4) 2s(f4) 2s(c4) 2s(h4) 2s(e4) 2s(g4)
  1s(C4) 1s(A4) 1s(E4) 1s(B4) 1s(G4) 1s(D4) 1s(H4) 1s(F4)  – OUT
                             S
 
As for actually teaching it; the criteria I would want before trying: 
  • You need dancers that want to stretch their brain. No sense calling this for caller ego, it has to be something folks are excited to try.
  • You need enough dancers to make enough sets to make it interesting. It would work with 2 or 3 sets (or even technically 1 set, although why bother then)
  • The room should have visible cues to help anchor dancers (like the stage, quilt, exits, and bleachers at Flurry; but even those might not be noticeable enough)
  • You need enough space to enable swinging on the side of the set, and top/bottom of the set of four
I’d get the dancers lined up in regular sets. Then have them take wide lines between the sets to make sure they’re lined up that way too. Then back to long lines in their contra sets, and have the sets count off; left-right-left-etc to identify their initial lateral progression direction. I’d mention it’s a double lateral progression; and that you switch lateral progression direction at the edges; and up/down the set only at the top and bottom.
 
I’d explain Bias Corners. Do the first move, start the half hey and mention that you’re passing 4 people of the opposite role. If you reach the end, pass your partner as one of your four and trade lines that you’re heying in.
 
When you’ve just come in off the ends, or around the edges; trust the folks coming at you with regards to who is Bias/Other corners. 
 
Mentioning small swing would be critical, since you’ll need to end tight enough that you can go from a swing to a ring balance. 
 
And I think it’s worth walking twice, just so that people don’t have to go back 😉
 
I welcome feedback on the whole thing; but also see this mostly as a theoretical exercise about what a grid contra could be. The conditions to actually call it seem less common than a solar eclipse; and there’s not a great way to practice it ahead of time. But if someone wants to get a couple hundred people together, I’d be game to give it a go.
 
Thanks for even reading this far. 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Footnote:
Corner Issue (or why I de-coupled the progression directions):
 
Standard contra has you progress up and down the line, turning around when you reach an end. If everyone in a grid contra were to progress to the right one set while also progressing up and down, you’re progressing on a diagonal. When you reach the edge of the set; you have to swap number, or the grid runs out of dancers. One you pop out of the bottom as 1s in a regular contra, you have to come back as a 2s to replace the folks that would normally have danced with you and moved past you. Same thing on the edges for and all-same lateral progression grid contra.
 
In a case where you have 8 sets A-H, 4 hands four deep:
1s(A1) 1s(B1) 1s(C1) 1s(D1) 1s(E1) 1s(F1) 1s(G1) 1s(H1)
2s(a1) 2s(b1) 2s(c1) 2s(d1) 2s(e1) 2s(f1) 2s(g1) 2s(h1)
 
1s(A2) 1s(B2) 1s(C2) 1s(D2) 1s(E2) 1s(F2) 1s(G2) 1s(H2)
2s(a2) 2s(b2) 2s(c2) 2s(D2) 2s(e2) 2s(f2) 2s(g2) 2s(h2)
 
1s(A3) 1s(B3) 1s(C3) 1s(D3) 1s(E3) 1s(F3) 1s(G3) 1s(H3)
2s(a3) 2s(b3) 2s(c3) 2s(D3) 2s(e3) 2s(f3) 2s(g3) 2s(h3)
 
1s(A4) 1s(B4) 1s(C4) 1s(D4) 1s(E4) 1s(F4) 1s(G4) 1s(H4)
2s(a5) 2s(b4) 2s(c4) 2s(D4) 2s(e4) 2s(f4) 2s(g4) 2s(h4)
 
 
If the progression for a grid contra were: 
1s down the set 1 couple, and right one set
2s up the set 1 couple, and right one set
 
Then when couple 1s(A1) finished one time through the dance, they’d come back in as the 2s(a1) couple. The initial 2s(a1) will come in as 1s(A1); and they’d never get to dance with anyone else. 
The B1 couples would only get dance with 2 other couples. C1 with 3. D1 with four, and which point the length and width tie for influence. But everyone from D1 to A4 is stuck in their corner, travelling back and forth on a diagonal line.
 
If all the 1s and 2s progress in different directions, i.e. 1s down and right, 2s down and left; then you’re shifting the whole dance hall; i.e. folks are shifting into sets to the right of A, and leaving set H.
 
Other progression attempts, say 1s down and right 2; 2s up and right 2; just draw different diagonal lines through the matrix. 
 
You could try to set up a diamond set, but that’s logistically a pain, and you’d still only be travelling in one set, it would just be on a diagonal compared to regular progression.
 
You could make a single-lateral progression grid contra, and have folks wait out at the sides. The waiting out folks could swap with another waiting out couple to switch the diagonal line that they were bouncing around in. But it’d either be chaotic with random swapping (and who would want to go to the “bad” corner and get stuck) or systematic – everyone shuffles two places along; but then folks have to run from top to bottom; and grid contras are designed for large numbers of dancers.
 
The alternating lateral progression sets of Bias Contra creates (in my mind) two sub-lattices of contra sets, who’s boundary conditions for propagating units (i.e. couples) feed into each other. But I don’t know that thinking of it that way would make sense to anyone besides a physicist.