Contra Dance Terminology

There are certain differences in square and contra dance terminology which you must know to interpret contra dance descriptions.

Partner means in contra dance the person who came with you into the lane, no matter where he/she is at the moment.

Neighbor is in your subset of two couples the person of the opposite gender which is not your partner.

Corner is no contra dance term. However, many use it in contra dancing in the same way as it would apply in square dancing for an eight chain thru formation or for half-sashayed lines of four. Usually this is synonymous with neighbor. But corner refers to a certain position, while neighbor means a certain person.

But there are Contra-Corners. (I write this with a hyphen; many do not.) When you stand in your line, the partner is opposite from you. To his right is the first contra-corner; to his left is the second contra-corner.

Allemande means any hand turn. (Mind you, a hand turn, not a forearm grip.)

Fractions are counted from the starting point, not from the point of contact, as in square dancing. E.g. swing thru for facing couples would be described as: "With your neighbor allemande right 3/4 to a wavy line; gents (in the center) allemande left 1/2."

I myself use the term "allemande" very rarely, and am cautious with fractions. But you must know these rules if you e.g. search the internet for contra dances.

Same topic, different approach (for the EAASDC Bulletin August 2007):

Differences between Square and Contra Dancing

Between Square and Contra Dance there are small but distinctive differences, e.g.:

Partner is always the person which came with you into the lane, no matter where she is at the moment.

There are no corners in a contra lane. Nevertheless, the term Corner is often used in the same sense as in Square Dancing for an Eight-Chain-Thru Formation or facing lines. But recently another term is often used, which fits contra dancing better: Neighbor. Your neighbor is within your actual group of four the person of the opposite gender which is not your partner - again, no matter where she is at the moment.

You see, contra dancing is more about persons than about positions.

In the Fiftieth, MWSD changed the Allemande from a handhold to a forearm grip, and restricted it to the Allemande Left with the Corner. In Contra Dancing, an Allemande may be danced between any persons, and still should be danced with a handhold: palm to palm, fingers up, elbows bent. (I myself therefore prefer the term hand turn.)

In Square Dancing you swing four steps, and then wait for the next call. In Contra Dancing you swing at least eight steps, sometimes more - the music will tell you. If e.g. the sequence is "swing ... circle left" and you swing four steps, then stand and wait for the next call, it becomes boring. But if you swing eight steps, and open up for the circle with the last step, it becomes exciting. Overcome your apprehension, and do it!

For further questions, mail me at, or call 0511 - 601154.

de  Deutsche Fassung
Back to
Zurück zur
the Start
to the
Contra Dance List
Contra Dance Liste
Read and sign the
Eintrag ins

Published 2006-11-24   /   amended 2007-09-20   /   Heiner Fischle, Hannover, Germany