Values and Guidelines

Statement of Values

The Madison Contra Dance Co-op welcomes people of all ages, genders, sexual identities, races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, abilities, and financial means to join us in carrying on the tradition of contra dancing to live music in Madison. We strive to cultivate a lively community where every dancer can find joy, respect, and safety. As such, we encourage dancers to practice good communication, be mindful of their contact with their fellow dancers, and dance with whoever is coming at them in a way that increases the joy of all involved. We are all here to have a fun time and create positive energy together, and we welcome all to join us in sustaining this wonderful dancing tradition!

Dance Guidelines

We rely on everyone attending our dances to help contribute to a community where every dancer can find joy, respect, and safety. Please take a minute to look over the following guidelines. If your experience falls short in some way or if you have an idea of something we could be doing better, please talk to someone at a dance with an “Ask Me” button, or email

Our Community

  • Welcome newcomers to the dance. We want people to feel welcome and have a good time. Introduce yourself to people you don’t recognize. Ask them to dance. Invite them to come again.
  • Be a part of our community. We are a community organization, and wouldn’t exist without people showing up to dance, play music, and call every week. We thrive when you engage with us.

Gender-Free Dancing

  • Anyone may ask anyone to dance. It is customary, but not mandatory, to change partners after each dance. So ask someone new! Seek out someone who has been sitting out. If you’re experienced, asking new dancers helps them learn and makes them feel welcome.
  • Anyone may dance any role. Ask which role your partner would like to dance, or request the specific role that you prefer dancing.
  • Ask people’s pronouns. These might include they/them/theirs (singular), ze/hir/hirs, he/him/his, she/her/hers. Avoid assuming people’s pronouns based on what they look like, what their name is, or what role they are dancing.
  • Dance with whoever comes at you. Don’t assume which role someone is dancing based on their gender presentation. If you encounter dancers who seem confused, you may kindly ask which role they are dancing and help them get back on track.


  • We don’t allow harassment. If a dancer is behaving inappropriately or in a way that makes you uncomfortable, and you don’t feel comfortable addressing it with them directly, please talk to someone wearing a blue “Ask Me” button or contact us at
  • Be aware of the space around you. Dances can be crowded. Avoid flying elbows, uncontrolled movements, flourishes there is no room for, and anything that puts those around you at risk.
  • Every flourish is an invitation plus an acceptance. You can decline the lead of a flourish. For example, to decline a twirl, pull your hand down. If you are attempting to lead a flourish, it is your responsibility to pay attention to your partner’s responses, and only proceed if your partner accepts.
  • If you would like to use flourishes, ask your partner if they are interested. Just because you see someone do a move with someone else doesn't mean they are comfortable doing it with you. Even if you have danced with someone on previous occasions, it is good to ask each time because they might have a new injury, for instance, of which you are unaware.
  • Be aware of how tightly you are holding people’s hands. An overly tight grip can be uncomfortable and unsafe. Aim for a secure handhold that doesn’t squeeze the other dancer’s hand. Communicate about what feels right.
  • Be respectful of peoples’ abilities and limitations, both chronic and temporary. Be aware of others’ needs and adjust your dancing style to suit them. When someone alerts you to a problem, do what you can to make dancing comfortable for them.
  • We promote a substance-free space. It is easier to learn dances and dance safely without the influence of drugs or alcohol.


  • You are always free to say no when someone asks you to dance. You don’t have to give a reason; you can just say “No, thank you.” If you ask someone to dance and they say “No,” take it gracefully and move on.
  • Communicate your needs to your partner so they know how to give you the most comfortable dance. You can always speak up if a dancer is doing anything that makes you uncomfortable. For example, “Please swing slower,” or, “I’d like your hand a little higher.” If you feel especially uneasy or are unable to communicate such an issue with your partner, please talk to someone with an “Ask Me” button — we are here to help!
  • Check in with your partner during the dance. Partners can have different experiences of the same dance. Ask your partner how things are going so you can make adjustments that will make them more comfortable.
  • Be cautious about flirting. Flirting can make dancers uncomfortable and is not an essential part of contra dance. Limit flirtation to dancers who are known to you and have returned your dance­-related flirtatiousness in the past. (If you’re at all unsure, avoid it or ask.)

Helping New Dancers

  • When the caller asks for hands-­four and starts teaching the dance, give them your full attention. Talking over the walk­through is impolite to the caller, and is distracting to others in the hall who are trying to listen.
  • If you are falling behind, skip moves to catch up. You don’t need to rush to do every move. If you find yourself falling behind, it is best to simply skip ahead and join everyone else.
  • Don’t fret if the dancers around you get mixed up; mistakes are OK. When helping other dancers, keep the atmosphere light: smile and use clear gestures. If you’re really mixed up, pause to think about where you need to be to dance with the next couple, move there, and wait for them to come to you.
  • Use gestures and physical demonstrations to show new dancers how something works. Keep verbal instructions to a minimum and avoid pushing or pulling people. It’s hard for newer dancers to listen to you, the caller, and the music all at the same time. If you notice your partner or neighbors are struggling, try to get in position for the next move early so they know where they need to go next.
  • Refrain from twirls, spins, and other flourishes with newer partners. Fancy add­-ons can be disorienting, and may slow the learning process for those newer to contra. Refrain from flourishes during walkthroughs as it is confusing to dancers who are trying to learn the basic steps.


  • Dancing happens close to other people. Consider sweat and smells that may bother others, such as body odor. Do what you need to do to smell fresh: shower, wear deodorant and consider your breath. If you are prone to sweating, consider bringing a bandana, sweatband and/or additional clean shirts to change into over the course of the evening.
  • Refrain from wearing strong-smelling products. Some people are sensitive to fragrances, and when bodies heat up on the dance floor, fragrances are more rapidly dispersed and quickly become overpowering.
  • Bring clean shoes to wear while dancing. Wearing clean shoes reduces wear on the floor, and keeps the floor grit-free and easy to dance on.