Lady Walpole's Reel--A traditional contra dance

Source: Zesty Contras, Larry Jennings

Walk Through

Form contra lines, long sets with gents on the right, ladies on the left (of the band/caller); take hands 4 down the set in groups of 4 dancers, the couples with their backs to the band are "active" and should cross over so there are alternating lines of male-female. Throughout the dance there will be a "progression" and all the active couples will move down the set one place, all the "inactives" will move up the set one place. Couples will stay active or inactive throughout the dance until they get to the end of the line. At that point, they will wait one time through the dance, switch sides with their partner, and the next time through they will dance the opposite role. Symmetry: For the initial line up for an "improper" contra dance formation, we will consider male and female dancers to be two different sets of unique motifs; thus, this form represents a glide plane, with alternating men and women positioned in long lines down the set.

A1 Balance and swing the one below. (Balance: face your partner, take a step in towards your partner and a step back in 4 beats; Swing: take the ball room position, hip to hip, ladies' right hand in gents' left, other hands around waist; turn clockwise around three times, pivoting on center foot, pushing around outside foot; end in long lines facing across the set with the lady on the gents' right; 12 beats). Symmetry: 2-fold rotation as the couples swing; simple harmonic oscillation for the balance. For the rest of the dance we'll consider all dancers to be "equal" and thus higher order symmetry is represented).

A2 Active couples down the center of the set. (Active couples walk hand in hand ~ 6 steps away from the band). Turn alone and come on back; Cast-off to long lines. (Active couples drop hands, turn alone, and walk back towards the band side by side ~ 4 steps until next to their inactive couples; Cast-off: inactive couples scoop up actives around the waist, pivot in place and the actives walk around the inactives 3/4 turn until they form long lines facing across the set. NOTE: the cast-off is the "progression" and all the active couples have moved down one place, the inactives up one place). Symmetry: mirror along the center of the set.

B1 Two ladies chain. (Ladies extend right hands to each other and pull past; give their left hands to the opposite gent who gives a "courtesy turn" by placing his right arm around the ladies' waist and turning her around to face the center of the set). Chain right back. (Same as above; ladies extend right hands, pull past to a courtesy turn). Symmetry: center of symmetry (inversion) as the ladies occupy positions at equivalent distances from the center of the set (where they originally joined right hands). Courtesy turn at the end of the move could be considered a 2-fold rotation.

B2 Promenade across the set. (Gent and lady cross hands in front, dance counter-clockwise across the set and end facing back to the center, switching places with the opposite couple). Symmetry: 2-fold axis as couples turn around the center point of the set.

Right and left through. (Two lines walk towards each other, gents on the left and ladies on the right, extend right hands across the set and pull past; as dancers face the outside of the set, and then gents give the ladies a "courtesy turn"--left hands joined, gents right arm around the waist of the lady, do a half turn with lady walking forward, gent pivoting in place to long lines looking across the set). Symmetry: mirror as the dancers pull past each other, equidistant from the center line, and then the courtesy turn can be viewed as a 2-fold rotation.

End of the dance: All active couples moved down one place (away from the band), inactives moved up one place (towards the band). Start the dance with a new couple, starting with balance and swing the one below. NOTE: couples at the top and bottom of the set will have no one to dance with--they will wait out one time through the dance, switch sides with their partner, and the couple at the head of the set will become a new active couple (they were formerly inactive), and the couple at the bottom of the set will be the new inactive couple (they were formerly an active couple). Start the dance again with a balance and swing with your new partner. And away you go. Symmery: All dancers have occupied identical positions at a fixed distance and in a linear direction--thus, the pattern has been repeated by translation. Because males and females alternate across a mirror plane, the lineup for a contra dance represents a glide plane.

Download the video of the complete dance (MP4 Video 25.1MB Apr29 09)

Download the audio file (MP3 Audio 3.7MB May21 09) of music and calls so that you can do this dance in your own class!

The full dance (MP4 Video 125.4MB Aug1 17) performed by dancers from Montana State University and the Bozeman Folklore Society with music from The Broken String Band.