Gender Free Contra Dancing


If you've Contra or Square danced in the years prior to 2019 or so, you probably danced with the terms "Ladies and Gents." This terminology has been in process of undergoing changes. Below is our attempt to explain the "new" terminology and to provide explain the reasoning behind the change. Contra dancers around the country and beyond, have been making this change. It is a learning process for all of us. Hang in there!

What does “gender-free” mean?

Gender-free means you can dance with all of your fellow dancers! Our contra dance group use the gender-free dance role terms “Larks and Robins.” (Larks are on the Left, Robins are on the Right when you take hands four improper and after a swing). It is important for new dancers to  

The calling is gender neutral, making it easy to try either role. Everyone is encouraged to dance with anyone they choose, in any role, regardless of their gender.

Why gender-free?

Even before we switched to non-gendered calling terms, many community members were welcome to (and did) dance any role they liked and to dance with partners of any gender they wished. We realized that our former gendered terms (“Gents and Ladies”) often felt inaccurate, and often confused other dancers.

Many contra dance groups and dance events across North America are moving to gender-free dance role terms. Reasons for going gender-free include:

I only want to dance one role. Is that okay? How do I know who dances the other role?

If you want to dance only the left-hand (Lark) role, for example, you certainly can. Just ask your prospective partners whether they dance the Robin role. (If they say no, thank them graciously and look for someone else. If they say yes, great! While you’re at it, ask how fast they like to swing, and whether they like twirls. We’re all about consent at TCD!) During the dance, notice the people who are your opposite-role Neighbors and ask them to dance next time.

How do I know if my Neighbors are in the wrong spot if I can’t tell by their gender presentation?

If they look confused, you could ask if they’re dancing Lark or Robin. Or, just keep dancing – even if they have accidentally switched roles, they will automatically switch back at the next partner swing without disrupting the flow of the dance.

Why this particular set of gender-free terms?

“Larks and Robins” is the most frequently-used set of gender-free role terms in contra dance communities across North America. Many callers and dancers have already adjusted to these terms. Learning a different set for each city would be difficult.

Who else is using “Larks and Robins”?

Back in 2019, 24 dance series (monthly/weekly) across North America have made the switch or use those terms at least some of the time. Here is an up-to-date list of the dance series that use gender-free role terms (almost all are using “Larks and Robins”):

An increasing number of dance weekends and week-long dance camps are also gender-free. Here’s an up-to-date list:

What if I’ve only ever danced to “Gents and Ladies”?

Welcome!!! We are delighted to have you here!!! We find that people find it a little challenging at first, but catch on very quickly (usually getting pretty comfortable the first evening they try it). Remember to “dance with who’s coming at you” and you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Meanwhile, we are a friendly, cheerful group, and we will laugh along with you while you are getting your bearings!