I got this beautiful bracelet (OK, scrunchie, in a deep rich red with metallic-gold musical notes on a black staff) at the West Coast Queer Contra Dance Camp, where it serves double-duty as an armband — I’ll explain about that a little further down the page.
It was made by Mary of Yellow Cat Bags, and I’m modeling it here while petting my black cat Balor and with the Fender gauntlet watch I usually wear it with — click the picture to see more of both Balor and the watch.
Contra dance is a centuries-old New England folk dance tradition. It’s the rowdy red-headed stepchild of English country dance (the kind of dancing you see in Jane Austen movies). Contra dancing is done to live old-timey music in a variety of styles, from lilting Celtic-inspired tunes to rollicking bluegrass. All dances are taught by a caller, who “calls out” instructions throughout the dance.
Queer contra dance takes the traditional division of the dance into “gentlemen” and “ladies” and gives it a queer twist. Instead of gender roles, dancers choose whether or not to wear an armband, which determines their role. (If you’re curious, the “armband” role corresponds to the traditional gentleman’s or leader’s role, but there’s not much difference between the two roles.) The caller uses the term “armbands” or “bands” to refer to the dancers wearing armbands, and “barearms” or “bares” (no, not bears) to indicate those without armbands.
The video below was taken at the first West Coast Queer Contra Dance Camp in April of 2008, and you can both hear the caller’s instructions to both the “bands” and “bares” and see the bands’ red armbands.
The thing about the bands is that they’re just a basket of very basic red-garter elastic things that are kind of ratty due to lots of use, so when I was at the first camp and looking over the bags and other handmade goods at Mary’s Yellow Cat Bags table (she has some kind of association with one of the musicians or callers), I just loved this red scrunchie and bought it to use as my personal band. So I wear it around camp (and elsewhere) as an elegant-looking bracelet with my gauntlet watch, and then when it’s time to dance I push it up over my left T-shirt sleeve if I’m going to dance as a band, or under the sleeve if I’m going to dance as a bare.
I’m not in the above video even though I’ve been to all four West Coast Queer Contra Dance Camps so far — probably at the time I was either in the other hall for a workshop or sitting down cooling off from the previous dance — but I am in the 2010 camp video below. In this video you don’t hear any calls to bares or bands, because it was filmed late enough during that particular dance that the dancers had learned the steps well enough not to need to keep hearing them any more.
I want to say that of the various utopias I find myself in now and then, the West Coast Queer Contra Dance Camp definitely ranks high on the list. For me it’s just a city bus ride away to the beautiful Monte Toyon camp and conference center in a coastal redwood forest, full of friendly and fascinating people who — if you dance both band and bare — by the end of the weekend you’ll have been rapidly twirling in each other’s arms (“swing your partner!”) with every single one of them.
Even if you’ve never done contra dancing before, both the camp and contra dancing in general are super beginner-friendly, with walk-throughs and instruction at the beginning of each dance. In addition to lots of contra dancing to incredible live bands, you’ve got workshops in things like international folk dance, waltzes, singing, English Country Dancing, and playing keyboard for contra dancing.
You’ve got your own cooking staff making all you can eat of wonderful things like stacks of pancakes covered in hot peaches, sandwiches made with slices of just-baked bread still warm from the oven, ice cream sundaes, Chinese food with tofu and vegetables, and even big trays of homemade cookies hot out of the oven.
In addition to a Saturday-night fancy/outrageous-dress dance party there’s also a Saturday-afternoon tea dance with wonderful refreshments like watercress sandwiches and scones with lemon curd, and usually some giant birthday cakes as well.
The camp is welcoming and inclusive to everyone, including having gender-neutral bathrooms with “Trans 101″ posters inside each stall.
If you’re 100% not a dance person then Queer Contra Dance Camp may not be one of your utopias, but it’s definitely a utopia. I miss it when I’m not there, I wish life during the rest of the year had more in common with it, and it’s nice to have this bright red reminder/souvenir/etc. of it to wear on my wrist.
updated October 24, 2011