Contra Dance is a traditional American dance in which couples dance in two long facing lines or in groups of four. Affectionately referred to as an “entryway dance” by dancers, contra dance is by far the most accessible of all dances for beginners. Plus it is bodacious fun!
Derived from English and French country dancing, it’s led by a caller who supports dancers with a walkthrough, practice dance before the actual dance begins.
“Imagine being a kid on a merry-go-round with the lights spinning around and you’re just so happy! Multiply that by a million-gazillion times because your arms are wrapped around other people and they’re looking in your eyes with huge smiles on their faces, happy you’re there!” says Sherry Nevins, dance caller of contra dancing. “At a dance there’s a great cycle of energy; the musicians’ music, the dancers responding to it and the caller right in the middle of it. The energy just builds and builds! Every part of it is delightful.
The music played at contra dances includes, but is not limited to Irish, Scottish, Old-Time and French-Canadian folk tunes. Often anchored by fiddle, contra dance bands can include piano, flute, guitar, mandolin, accordion, and in some cases even brass instruments. Northwest Folklife attracts contra dance bands and callers from all over the country. So the quality of the bands is always high – and the callers easy to follow.
This contra dance floor is a friendly place too. Seattle dancers are great dancers but also very open to helping beginners. If you miss a move or mess up, don’t worry! An experienced dancer will be close by to help you out. Or, just pause until the next move and jump back in.
While dancing, you’ll hear the caller use terms like balance and swing or do-si-do. Relax. Other dancers will always help you. And the moves which go with contra dance terms are not hard. Plus once you learn these basic moves, they repeat throughout the dances.
Standard movements include balance: stepping forward and back in four counts to say hello to your partner; do-si-do: walking around your partner: swing: standing in waltz position but spinning faster in a circle with your partner; promenade: walking with your partner around a circle; and courtesy turn: gentlemen with one hand held behind a partner and one in front, walking in a small circle. One person in the couple is the lead and the other the follow. The follow is always held on the right-hand side of the lead. It’s as simple as that.
So come to the Roadhouse and grab your partner for a balance-and-swing. Once you’re tried this style of dancing, you’ll definitely be hooked!
Photos by Christopher Nelson.