Gypsy

“To gypsy around someone” is a common English country and contra dance call meaning to look at the other dancer and walk around them. It is a smooth, flirty move and is often paired with a swing after. 

The Problem

The term is offensive to many Roma/Romani people, and it used in ignorance, carelessness, or downright hate by non-Romani people. Here are some educational links:

The Figure

The figure itself was undoubtedly invented in connection with Western ideas of Romani dancing. However any video I found with Romani folk dancing do not show this figure, and indeed the dancers rarely make eye contact, much less walk or dance around each other. I found European and American “Gypsy dance” performances which were exclusively belly dancing and did not reflect the moves the folk videos show.

Here are some videos which I presume are authentic, varying from archival to modern.

Dr. Hancock informs we the figure was probably related to Spanish flamenco dancing. Here are some examples that show the figure.

I would love to find more examples of Romani people folk dancing, as well as examples of appropriation by non-Romani people.

Alternative Phrases

Most folks would welcome or at least accept a replacement phrase for the figure. However, I have not found any altervative phrase that suits my own directives, in all choreography. When discussing alternatives these considerations matterto me, in descending order of my priorities.

  1. Fits the timing of the choreography. Too many syllables won’t work.
  2. Fits the cadence of the surrounding figures. A leading or penultimate accent works best.
  3. No confusion as to what I said. It does not sound like other calls.
  4. Naturally directive. Ideally it makes some sense as an instruction, at least on reflection or explanation. 
  5. It’s nice if it has a kind of poetry. It’s bad if it sounds ugly, or precious.

As a new caller, all the alternatives I have seen (and used) are awkward. Here they are in no specific order.

  • Right shoulder aroundright ‘round (popular but awkward)
  • Right (Left) Shoulder (without the G-word)
  • Gyre (suggested by Linda Leslie) (See email [Callers] A new(?) dance, written with a gyre by Luke Donforth)
  • Look-See
  • Swoop
  • Mesmerize → mesmer
  • Two-eyed turn
  • Right (Left) eyes-only
  • Look-see → Looksy
  • Spiral
  • Bine (binary stars)
  • No-hand turn
  • Dance around
  • Face-to-face
  • Eddy
  • Swirl
  • No Hand Allemande
  • Walk Around
  • Face to Face Do Si Do
  • Nose-to-Nose Do Si Do
  • Dance About
  • Orbit Around/About
  • Loop
  • Vortex
  • Eyes or "Take Eyes”
  • Holding Eyes
  • Eyeballs
  • Facing
  • Maypole
  • Hands Off
  • Face à Face (facey-face…)
  • Cyclone (though mentioned with a complaint - too "violent")

The topic is highly controversial and highly-charged. There have been many threads and articles on the topic. I tend to give more weight to the opinions of a Romani person than to a non-Romani who is being offended by proxy (not an unworthy position but also not an origin).


Other points

As written in lowercase, gypsy, it describes a behavior and not a people. However, either way it is construed as a behavior of the people, and becomes racist. There are many other examples you can think of where behaviors are incorrectly associated with a people (whether for good or ill intent).

Callers can be thoughtful. Explaining the term you’ll use in advance helps. Callers make mistakes, and it is worth making an apology in advance if you slip up.

As there is much furor about keeping or changing the term, it's best to stay subtle and low-key about this. Consideration #4 helps here.

Dance organizers should inform the prospecive caller of the desired term before agreeing to hire the caller. The corollary to this is to never spring this on the caller at the dance. 

The modern square dance organization CALLERLAB officially renamed the call “half-breed through” for the same reasons. It is now called "Brace Through”. This meets considerations 1, 3, and 5-ish above, but suffers on 2, and 4.

Many ungendered contra dance communities now use Larks and Ravens instead of Gents and Ladies, or Men and Women. These meet considerations 1, 2, 3-sih (ish, Lark starts with L like Lady), 4 (alliteration with Left/Right), and 5.

Ultimate decsion

Ultimately the dancers and the caller decide what they want. Just be aware it will cut off some people from coing back to your dances. Nor is it up to them to let you know you’ve made them feel unwelcome.

Feedback

I welcome calm, informed feedback coupled with references, particularly from Romani people, callers, and contra dancers. http://www.musicwithease.com/music-dictionary-b.html