For years now, one of my pet favorites in contra dancing has been the “wowee,” a figure that involves rolling away with your neighbor across the set and immediately releasing the connection to catch your partner for a swing. It’s got good energy, flow, and when you successfully catch your partner on time coming out of the rollaway, it feels great. A couple of my favorite dances with the figure are Tavi Merrill’s “Soul Reversal” and Chris Page’s “Roll Twelve.”
When I first danced a dance with the figure, someone told me the term and figure were both borrowed from Modern Western Square Dancing. This is also the story I find when I search “wowee contra dance” on the internet. But MWSD dancers I came across said, “Nope, that’s not a figure.” (Being as MWSD figures and calling standards are more codified than contra, I trusted them to know.) At some point someone else told me it was a Maine-ism coined by a particular Maine caller, but I was fairly sure that wasn’t true either.
At a January Monday Contras dance, I called a dance with a wowee in it and someone there told me the figure came from Larry Jennings. A few quick internet searches later and I was able to seemingly confirm this with a PDF of Jennings’s book Give and Take, which includes a number of dances containing the figure and a note about the name (Jennings uses “W” for women, which was the common role term at the time, though most events I call use robin now.):
WOWEE by Larry Jennings
Becket formation (ccw prog): S
1. Bal in cir (of four); W roll R to swap with N & take sw pos 2. Sw pt 3. Cir L 4. Cir R 5. 1/2 W ch 6. Long lines: fwd & bk 7. 1/2 W ch & note cpl on L diag 8. 1/2 prom & loop to face noted cpl
Ph 8: The noted couple are your next neighbors, but the promenade is initiated by the current men passing by left shoulders.
The entry into the swing of ph 2 was suggested (independently, so far as I know) by Merilee Karr and Gene Hubert. I like to give it a snappy interpretation and call it “wowee” when so danced.
I didn’t actually procure a hard copy of the book to confirm (yet) just a rogue PDF floating around the internet, but I’m now confident enough that this is the origin of the figure name and now I’ve documented it on the internet to correct the record.
Also, ack! Chris Page’s “Roll Twelve” even notes that it’s based on a dance, “Roll Eleven,” by Sue Rosen and Larry Jennings! I should have followed that thread sooner.