Long lines go forward and back. Promenade across and shift one place to face a new couple. Ladies chain across, star left one and a quarter, allemande right your “shadow” and look for your partner to gypsy left one and a half around. Find your partner: balance and swing!
If this sounds familiar and your feet are already beginning to move just imaging the formations and the music, you alreadyknow Contra dancing is always wildly popular at Folklife with hours of dancing each day of the festival and many of the best contra dance bands from around the Northwest. And you’ve also begun to anticipate a Contra dance party unlike any other in the United States; one huge hall full of some of the best Contra dance bands, dancers and callers anywhere in the country.
But if you’ve never contra danced, why not give it a try this year at Folklife? It is riotous fun – and its basic steps are easy to learn. You’ll never find a better place to start Contra dancing than Folklife. A caller leads a “walk through” before the music starts and then prompts the dancers while the music is playing. The dance moves are nothing fancy, just simple walking steps in time to the music.
Contra dancing is derived from English country dancing and was brought to the American colonies by 18th century settlers. The “Virginia Reel” is an early example. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid contra dancers. Dancers dance to live dance bands, which may include fiddles, flute, guitar, piano, and bass. Occasionally you can hear drums, saxophone, or trombone.
This year, we are mourning the loss of Bob McQuillen, a contra dance musician who was well-known and loved nationally, but held a special place at Northwest Folklife. He had performed at the Festival for many years and was influential to generations of dancers and musicians. The Rhythm Rollers will be doing a special set honoring Bob McQuillen and playing many of his original tunes in the Roadhouse (Fisher Pavilion) at 7:00 pm on Friday, May 23rd. We also plan to have a tribute wall to honor Mac—a place for people to bring and share stories and photos about his life.
The full Contra dance schedule will be online soon. So whether you’re a beginner or a pro, plan to join us for a spin around the dance floor. We’ll see you in the Contra line!