HANDS FOUR AND PASS IT DOWN: GENERATIONAL ENCOUNTERS IN MODERN URBAN CONTRA DANCE
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Contra dance is a form of folk dance with a heritage dating back hundreds of years. Now, in the early twenty-first century, contra dance is thriving, its participants successfully navigating elements of their multi-faceted lives to bring the living tradition into a relevant and meaningful present. In this dissertation, I examine generational encounters, with both vertical (from one generation to the next within contra dance) and horizontal (between members of the same generation but across genres) flows of ideas, as a means by which contra dance communities and practices are perpetuated. I approach this through a variety of perspectives. Culminating in the recent electronically-infused music crossover trend, which I locate as part of a larger twenty-first century remix phenomenon, this study delineates the younger generation’s contribution to the community while observing the interaction of the community as a whole. I describe contra dance as a community of practice in which participation is a key component for individuals to engage in and contribute to the practices of their communities, and for communities to refine their practice and ensure new generations of members. I analyze contra dance as a participatory practice in which style characteristics of the choreography and the music combine with a spirit of invitation to provide opportunities for people of varying levels of commitment, interests, and skills. This is valuable in bridging states of competence and challenge, and creating the possibility of optimal experience (flow). These practices allow contra dance to evolve with the times. Through this examination, contra dance is seen as a practice that has proven consistently malleable and open to transformation in both social context and in regard to music and dance capable of absorbing aspects of other styles. Contra dance, in all its facets, is not a vestige of the past, nor is it a passive form, but a practice fully in the present.