This page is part of The Caller's Box, a contra dance database.

Contra Dance Database FAQ


I'm getting no results!

Try using fewer words. The search algorithm looks for exact matches of text strings. Often one word is enough. Try looking at some sample searches.

For more information, there's a whole separate search FAQ.

How do I save my search query?

After getting search results, cut-and-paste the url at the top of your browser.

Why are you using the word "gypsy"?

This is a resource for callers, rather than dancers. We're trying to keep the notation consistent, and hence searchable. You are encouraged to use your own words for many of these figures. (Should the non-gypsy camp coalesce around one replacement term for "gypsy", I may rethink my position.)

Why are you using "men" and "women"?

Part of it is time -- changing all references, especially the shorthand M and W to G and L would take 40+ hours. Part of it is worry that changing the shorthand of women to L for ladies will be confusing, as L is also used as shorthand for Left. So, for now I'm keeping the terms I started with back in 2010.

However, when transcribing, teaching, or calling the dance, you are encouraged to use whatever role terms are best for you and your community. Current common pairs include "Gents" and "Ladies," or "Larks" and "Ravens." (Larks finish the swing on the left, ravens finish the swing on the right.)

I don't understand the notation!

This database is for callers researching the dance. There's extra information encoded to help understand, diagram, and search on the dances. (These are not the words you should use for teaching the dance!) For details, see the short glossary.

What is move XXXXX?

There's lots of moves in contra, from many different traditions. If you're not sure, there's a full glossary. If you're still stuck, try looking at the original source material, or asking on a caller listserve.

Also, if the move is underlined, you can click on it to link to the move's definition.

For dance authors

How do I add my dances that aren't here?

We'd love to include them! Send them here, in some format. Or, if they're already on the web somewhere, just send a link and we'll include the link on the dance page.

Easier to read and understand formats will be processed first, so if you send them as individual blurry pictures of your dance cards written in pictographs, you may be lower in the queue.

Please only send dances that have been tested.

If you have more than 50 dances, please send them in two batches -- one of your best 50-or-less, and one of everything else.

How do I remove my dances that are here?

We have a couple levels of permissions for how much information is revealed about your dances. If you'd like to restrict that, read the question below about permissions, then please email us.

How can I change permissions on my dances?

We currently have the following permission levels:

If you're the author, we'll happily change permission on your dances. Each individual dance can have its own permissions, and you're free to change your mind at a later date. Please email us. It may take a few weeks to process.

Dances also have one of two tags:

Can you change the terminology used?

Probably not. We're making the descriptions share a common language so that they can be searched on.

If you think you have a strong case, you can still discuss it, but any change will be applied globally to every dance.

I disagree with your timing/phrasing!

One possibility is there's an actual typo. Another is that I may agree with you. A third is I might disagree -- you can tell the dancers to do a circle left 1 & 1/4 in eight beats, but most dancers just aren't going to get there in time. Email us if you'd like to discuss it.


Can I report a typo in the dance?

Please do! There are bound too be tpyoes in the the database. Though some apparent typos may be from a different way of annotating the dance. Email here.

What dances are good for Zoom sessions?

In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of groups are holding contra dances using the Zoom meeting software. Music and a caller's prompts are piped to individual dancer's houses, where individuals or couples can approximate contra dance moves to the prompted figures.

Some dances are being written specifically for this situation -- to find them use the progressions menu option of "Virtual." Or if you're looking for a specific formation, try doublet, singlet, and solo.

Also, you can adapt existing contras. Circle mixers work well with two people. Many contras can be adjusted to remove the progression -- removing the shift before a circle left, balancing and swinging the same neighbor rather than a new one, or just facing across rather than going on a diagonal. You can also search to exclude certain figures, like "neighbor swing".

Why not squares?

A couple reasons. I don't have enough time. They don't fit as nicely formatting-wise or phrase-wise. And singing squares are their own kettle of worms.

Should I use the dance instructions as is?

I strongly recommend against this.

First, you probably want to use your own terms for many things -- especially gender roles and "gypsy." But even something as simple as "In long lines, go forward and back" has many better ways to state it while teaching or calling. In this database, it's only written that way so it's in the format of [formation], [verb] [direction]. On stage, you don't need or want that specificity.

Also, writing it in your own words helps you understand the dance before the gig, rather than trying to figure it out from the database's dance instructions as the dancers are waiting for you.

Why is Becket Reel double progression?

The progression out of Becket Reel is, starting with partner on the side of the set (in Becket formation, naturally):

On left diagonal, right and left through with partner
Across the set, right and left through with partner

It feels like single progression, because at the start of this, you're across from one neighbor, and after this, across from the next. But it's actually double progression. There's two ways to tell this.

What do the numbers in the phrase structure field mean?

Chances are you won't see this field in a dance record. It only appears in unusual-length tunes, like a waltz contra (4*8*3), or a 48-bar contra (6*8*2).

Typically it's a string of three numbers separated by asterisks representing multiplication.

The first number is the number of phrases in the dance/music. A1 is a phrase, as is A2, B1, or B2. The second number is the number of musical measures in a phrase, and the third is the number of beats within a phrase. Thus, the phrase structure of a standard contra is 4*8*2 (4 phrases, each of 8 bars, each bar having 2 beats). This is the default for this database; that is, if a dance page doesn't show a phrase structure, you can assume it's 4*8*2.

To determine the number of beats within a phrase, multiply the last two numbers together. To determine the number of beats within the entire dance, multiply all three numbers together.

Occasionally the phrase structure can be more complex. For instance, the phrase structure of "Walpole Cottage" is 1*8*1+3*8*4, which is one introductary phrase of eight measures of one beat each, and then three long phrases of eight measures each with four beats each, giving a total of 80 beats for the entire dance.

What does "Download as JSON" mean?

This link can be found in the upper-right corner of individual dance pages. This is a way of "exporting" the dance's information in a way that makes it easier for other software to handle. So, unless you're using (or writing) such software, you can just ignore it.

Who did this?

This database project was brought to you by a several-year collaboration between Chris Page and Michael Dyck. The data is all extracted from Chris's personal database of dances, which he's been compiling and standardizing since 2010. Michael handled the coding and standardization, found typos and inconsistencies in the data, wrote the search algorithm, and put the whole thing on the web.

We'd like to thank the authors of dances in the database, especially those who gave us permission to show the figures of their dances.

(And a thank you to Seth Tepfer for letting us use his name "The Caller's Box".)

How do I reach you?

Email here.

Why are you taking so long to respond?

This is a volunteer project with a small number of volunteers, so please be kind.