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To Clap or Not to Clap

I am about to step into a minefield: the controversy that surrounds the double clap that occurs after one finishes each “Petronella” spin.

Some people hate the clapping, absolutely hate it.  Colin Hume has written a dance entitled “No Clapping” which, theoretically, has such rapid Petronella turns (or confusing-direction Petronella turns) that dancers have no chance to Clap-Clap.

And Colin is one of many, many-many, who hate what they feel is an intrusive, uncalled for, punctuation of the dance tune, what they feel is a staccato interruption in the flow of a dance.

For years I have been absolutely neutral.  I refused to take sides because I did not hate the claps, nor did I love the claps. I think the trite saying “I could take it or leave it” seems totally appropriate. I didn’t care (except, of course, when I was told “No Clapping”: then I had to clap, & did find time to do so).

But I am here to tell a tale. I was at an evening dance that contained a fair number of total beginners. I came across many of them as I danced up & down the contra lines. They weren’t bad dancers, but this new form had them totally befuddled: they were earnest, they were able, but they were not having fun. They were concentrating too hard to have any fun.

And then I came across them when they all, suddenly, discovered the Petronella turn with a clap-clap. They tried it, they got it, they loved it. They had a sense of rhythm, they were able dancers, but this new dance form was tough. Up until now they couldn’t show their innate ability.

They loved the Petronella spin, clap-clap. I came across two-three new-to-contra-dancing couples, and they were clapping up a storm, a wicked, sly grin on their faces. They got it. They were having fun. What a great dance, balance in, balance out, spin, clap-clap, balance in, balance out, spin, clap-clap.

You could see what simple mastery of what was heretofore a befuddling dance form was doing for them: they could spin, they could clap-clap, and they could do all that in time to the music.

I suddenly decided I loved the clap-clap. I suddenly remembered how much I loved doing it when I first learned it. You, a dancer, become part-musician with this percussive clap-clap.

I know why some musicians hate it (WE are the musicians, you stick to dancing….), and why some callers hate it (I DIDN’T write that noise into my dance….), but I go for whatever gives the dancers most pleasure (Without unduly disturbing the lovely music we dance to) -- and many dancers derive pleasure from, balance in, balance out, spin, clap-clap.

I am sure I have not laid the controversy to rest, but one needs to see that what is hateful to some is pleasurable to others.

Copyright 2006   Henry Morgenstein

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