Closing Contras


Whether you’re calling a regular evening dance or a block at a larger dance event, you want your dancers to leave the hall grinning. What might you look for in a last dance to end your session on a high note? Predictably, I have some thoughts! Here are my criteria for a good closer, and some of my favorite dances that fill this programming niche.

What makes a good closer?

Nothing too think-y

At the end of a session, and especially at the end of an evening dance or a longer event, people’s brains are fried and they just want to groove out. You don’t want to spend too much time teaching or to make the dancers think too hard. This is also not the time to take a programming risk or push the skill level of your dancers, lest you end on a gnarly dance where the hall struggles to keep it together. Instead, go for something tried and true, so you’re sure to end the evening on a high note. This is the time for choreography that is easy to grasp and satisfying to dance—you know, those magical choreographic combinations that “just dance themselves”.1

Let the band shine

The last dance is also, IMO, the time to let the band shine. They’ve been working super hard this whole time, so pick a dance where you can get out of their way as soon as possible and let them do their thing. (I know some folks like to end on no-walkthrough dances or medleys, but I’ve stopped doing this unless I’m truly in a time crunch, in the interest of dropping my calls as soon as possible and letting the dancers enjoy the music.) While I can certainly imagine a band choosing to play something smooth and sweet, most often they’ll close with a barnbuster, so I will tend to pick dances that are balance-y or otherwise high-energy.

Good partner connection / high hall interaction

Many people choose to dance with someone special to close out an evening, festival, etc.; I want to give them lots of partner interaction time, and let them end the session/evening with their partner, which is why I strongly prefer closers that end with a partner balance and swing.2 However, in addition to the partner focus, you’ll want to say your goodbyes to as many folks as possible,3 which is why my ideal closer includes a neighbor swing, and why I steer clear of multiple progressions (which run the risk of dancers missing out on half of their neighbors).

No one is bored

For everyone to get their money’s worth on the last dance, you should maximize active time and minimize standing around. I will avoid any dances with only the 1s (or 2s) doing something while the other half of the hall waits for their turn. I’ll also avoid dances with 16+ beats of action for one role—e.g. a dance with two different 8-count lark allemandes.4 This is another reason I avoid multi-progression dances, in which you go through the line faster and potentially spend a higher proportion of the dance waiting out at the end.

A chance to move as a hall… maybe?

Some callers prioritize closers that let the whole hall move together and feel connection as a dance community. (This isn’t something I feel strongly about, but as other callers do, it seemed worth mentioning.) The extreme version of this is the whole set oval-ing left and then right, and a more subtle take that gets at the same theme would be “down the hall in lines of four”. Potentially even “long lines forward and back” can satisfy this consideration!

I also know callers who end their sessions by getting everyone up at the front of the hall cheering for the band—often by co-opting the end of a “lines of four up the hall” (“come alllll the way up the hall and let’s hear it for the band,” etc.) I don’t tend to do this, as I prioritize the considerations listed above, and in particular want to let the dancers vibe all the way to the end of the dance. Still, this thank-the-band maneuver can be a great way to give the band some extra special love, and to emphasize a feeling of community at the end of the evening or event.5

My favorites

Given all the considerations above, here are some of the dances I tend to reach for when I’m ending an evening (listed roughly in order of complexity).

  • A1 Reel (Chris Weiler) — super simple, just let the band rock out.
  • Tica Tica Timing (Dean Snipes) — dead easy Petronella dance, good for getting the dancers moving together.
  • Still More O’Moore (Jim Kitch) — ends with a full Rory O’Moore into partner balance and swing; lots of balances and energy, hall moving together, low piece count with a B that basically dances itself.
  • Maliza’s Magical Mystery Motion (Cary Ravitz) — accessible Petronella dance with “one weird trick” (i.e. Petronella to face new neighbors) that keeps it interesting for experienced dancers.
  • Hume Fogg Reel (Susan Kevra) — the asymmetrical phrasing/fast allemandes in B1 can add a lot of great energy.
  • Maid Marian’s Fancy (David Smukler) — a riff on the fabulous Mary Cay’s Reel, but with a full hey (and therefore a lower piece count and more room to groove).
  • Mary Cay’s Reel (David Kaynor) — a classic. With future neighbor interactions and fast allemandes for the robins, it might confuse a hall with too many beginners, but it’s a high-energy, idiomatic dance that lets you interact with a lot of the hall.
  • Train Delay (Maia McCormick) — one of mine, a simple shadow dance. I particularly like the energy of a right-hand pull-by → dosido 1.5x → meet your partner to balance and swing.
  • Winter in Summerland (James Hutson & Jeff Spero) — one of my favorite closers! It’s got some waves balancing together, the transition into the hey is oh-so-satisfying, and then dancers get to groove out on a full hey before partner b&s. It’s on the tricky side if your hall has many beginners, but an excellent festival closer!6

Those are some of my go-to closers; what are yours?

Thanks to Bret Casey for thorough and insightful edits!
  1. Often (though not always), this will point to something with a higher piece count: sixteen counts of e.g. a hey or a Rory O’Moore is sixteen counts where the dancers don’t need to be thinking about what comes next, whereas in a dance with more moves, there’s more to remember. 

  2. Yes, you can always modify the last time through some other dance to be “long lines, and swing your partner again” or what have you, but the caller butting in like that interrupts the dance trance, sometimes people aren’t paying attention and then the floor gets messy, etc. 

  3. Not a choreographic consideration, but worth mentioning that when I’m calling a closer, I’ll err on the side of fewer, longer lines over more, shorter lines if I have the choice (and can do so safely), to increase the number of folks that everyone gets to interact with. 

  4. As a rule of thumb, I don’t tend to call dances with 16+ counts of dead time for one role/one couple, except for very specific cases and ideally where I can at least alternate who gets to be active and who stands around (e.g. Alternating Corners, or this gimmicky dance I wrote with alternating same-role swings). 

  5. I would personally only do this if the band were especially hot. All dance bands work hard and deserve the love and appreciation of their communities, but interrupting the end of the last dance for 20 seconds of cheering feels excessive to me unless the band has really gone above and beyond. IMHO this move is most appropriate at the end of a weekend/other Big Dance Event™, or maybe at the end of a regular dance series evening if the band is really spectacular; I would be particularly confused to see it employed at the end of a session in the middle of a weekend/event, where there’s a lot more of this same band in store for the dancers. 

  6. I collected this dance from Frannie Marr, who closed out Contracopia 2016(??) with it. This was my closer at Queer Contra Dance Camp ‘23, and Lisa Greenleaf’s at Beantown Stomp ‘23; what more recommendation do you need?!