Role Terms at BFS Contras

All of the BFS board members take an active role in producing our events and outreach programs, we have fiduciary responsibility for our nonprofit, and we operate by consensus to make countless decisions about BFS. Some of these decisions are trivial, some merely involve logistics, and some require time for us to explore fully.

After extensive discussion and deliberation, the BFS board has decided to retire the contra dance role terms Gents and Ladies*, in favor of the gender-neutral terms Larks and Robins. We’ve come to believe that the new terminology better represents our values as an organization, better reflects the character of Belfast Flying Shoes dances, and offers us all an opportunity to grow as contra dancers, individuals, and a community.

We officially adopted this decision at our March 8 meeting. We intended to share the news in April or May, and planned to start using Larks and Robins as the role terms at our June 5 contras (when BFS board member and co-founder Chrissy Fowler would have been calling with the Gawler Family), but those plans got waylaid. At our July 6 board meeting, we agreed that we want to share our decision now, even though we don’t expect to be dancing together for quite some time yet.

Why We’re Switching to Gender-Neutral Terminology for the Contras

  • It’s inclusive: Not all contra dancers identify as a gent or a lady; some identify differently than others expect. While “gents” and “ladies” may sound quaint or arbitrary to some of us, for others they carry a lot of cultural freight.
  • It reflects reality: Lots of Flying Shoes contra dancers are already comfortable dancing both roles.
  • It’s liberating: There’s no particular side you’re supposed to line up on; it depends on the role you’re dancing, and that choice is up to you and your dance partner.
  • It can make us all better dancers: Occasionally taking a less-familiar role allows us to see the dance through our partners’ eyes, helping us become more intuitive and responsive partners.
  • It’s fun: Dancing a less-familiar role is like stepping through the looking glass or driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s a fun challenge (like our own first contra dance experiences!), and that sort of thing is very good for your brain.
  • It’s totally flexible: If you’re most comfortable choosing the same role and lining up on the same side for every dance, feel free to do so. Same if you like to alternate your role throughout the evening. It’s all up to you and your dance partner.

What Changes

  • Contra callers will refer to the dancers on the Right of the dance couple as Robins and those on the Left as Larks.*
  • That’s all!

What Stays the Same as Before

  • Anyone can ask anyone else to dance.
  • Anyone is free to accept or decline an invitation to dance.
  • Each dance couple decides which dancer takes which role.
  • Each role is equally empowered to simultaneously lead & follow.
  • Both partners are equally responsible for ensuring that everyone ends up in the correct position, ready to dance with whomever they next meet in the set.
  • We’re here to have fun, and to help others have fun too.

This final point is an important one. Together, we create the joy of BFS for ourselves and for others.

We look forward to our shoes flying–eventually!–and we also look forward to stretching our Lark & Robin wings in flight.

With love,
BFS Board of Directors: Bruce Snider (president), Christina Barstow (treasurer), Chrissy Fowler (secretary), Raelin Callahan, Alex Mann, and Margo Burnham

* October 2022 – If you are accustomed to gent/lady role terms, but you can’t remember where the gent and lady roles stand in relation to their dance partner, whether at the beginning of a walk-through or after a swing, the gent is left and the lady is right.