The Proprieties of the Partner Game
A set of policies for a hypothetical series
reflecting the views of Larry Jennings.
Larry Jennings - Nov, 1997
GeneralWe will ordinarily not intervene in
partnering activities. However, if push comes to shove, we are responsible
for the series and have the right and obligation to set the personality of the
series. We note that, in accordance with tradition, the admission is low
compared to other recreational activities. Thus we feel comfortable insisting
on your cooperation in maintaining the personality of the series. So we here
give our expectations with regard to one aspect of the dance: partnering.
Gender We assume that you have come primarily to
dance, not primarily to socialize. We ask you to consider dancing the other
sex role if it will allow someone to dance who would not otherwise be able to.
You will, of course, be accepting of same-sex pairs dancing as partners for
To comply with tradition and predominant preference and to allow easy
recognition of whom the caller is calling a "man" or a "woman", we expect you
to give strong preference to dancing your own sex role if possible. Except
for the case of the previous paragraph, you should not dance the opposite sex
role when the dancers are having difficulty with the sequence nor so often as
to change the perception that, at our series, males usually dance the man's
part, females the woman's part.
Asking for a DanceThe privilege and responsibility
lies equally with the women and with the men. You may ask anyone of the
opposite sex. Unless you have a special relationship, you will ordinarily
dance no more than one dance per evening with the same partner. Unless
otherwise specified, it is assumed that a request is for the next dance only.
Because we wish to foster the view that "we're all in it together," we suggest
that you arrange, as part of the partnering procedure, to dance in a different
part of the hall for the next dance.
Your Response The etiquette of contemporary contra
dancing suggests that you will ordinarily accept a request to be partners for
the next dance. Under what circumstances, and how, is it appropriate to
- If you have already accepted an invitation, you naturally
offer, "Sorry, I already have a partner." To be gracious, you would
ordinarily add something like, "But perhaps we can work it out later." Or, if
that does not reflect your feelings, you might well make use one of the honest
answers suggested below. This would avoid awkwardnesses later both for
yourself and for the asker.
- If you genuinely propose not to dance the next slot, it is
reasonable to state, "I am planning to sit this one out." Note that we
suggest "planning" rather than the more forceful "I am going to sit this one
out." You may find a long lost friend in town for just this dance or maybe a
square set needs "one more couple". So you cancel your plan to sit out. To
maintain a reputation for gracious behavior, you would normally make a point
of later arranging a dance with the rebuffed partner.
Some authorities suggest this same response (I was planning to
sit out) be used as a euphemism for "I don't care to dance with you." You are
then obliged not to dance that slot; we don't advocate lying. We instead
suggest that you use one of truthful responses given below, even "No thank
you." Then you will feel comfortable dancing the slot--better for you, better
for the series, better for everyone.
You might say, "I was planning to ask a newcomer [or
wallflower or beginner]." Such altruism would generally be socially
acceptable. And it might even be a graceful way out of the predicament of the
What do you do in the more difficult case where you want to
dance, but not with the particular individual who first asks you? Let us
discuss this situation in detail.
Some authorities advise outright lying: "I already have a partner," or less
blatant lying, "I think I have a partner." We do not favor subterfuge; if you
really want to duck the issue, "I have other plans," or even "No thank you"
However, we prefer that you consider a proactive response. Maybe you can
have a positive influence on the trait that bothers you: "We really don't
dance well together," or "May I show you how I could be more comfortable as
your partner." Such responses are appropriate in cases where the offending
trait is correctable on the spot. We hope that they would not be used if the
trait is not under the control of the offender. In particular if the offense
is that the requester is a beginner. However, you might just as well say, "I
don't dance with beginners," as lie.
Or, if you judge the behavior to be uncompromisingly unsuitable, "I think
you set a bad example; I'd rather not be part of it." That's pretty strong
stuff and you would do well to have advance discussions with a few
stakeholders before trying it. However, we believe there is little point to
repeatedly side-stepping around difficult behavior. If you put an offender in
a position where he can scarcely rationalize away adverse opinion, he will
probably shape up or abandon contra dancing as being populated with over-opinionated dolts. Either way, you have gained.
Booking aheadWe feel that the details of booking
arrangements are best left to the individuals involved so long as they comply
with our basic philosophy of dancing in all parts of the hall with all kinds
of people. We explicitly consider it proper not to accept a request further
ahead than the next dance.
Provided by the New England Folk Festival Association