Contra Dancing

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Contras are folk dances in which people are in two facing lines, a circle, or a square, usually starting with one partner and often rotating to other partners. Contra dances are especially popular in New England, the Pacific Northwest, and other places in North America. Contra dance music is usually Irish, Scottish, French Canadian, and Old-timey. Compared to square dancing - some describe contra as "more flowing, more varied, and less macho."


Fun, cooperation, getting to know each other, physical exercise, practice following directions to learn new skills . . .

Group Size

At least 12 dancers.


A caller. A contra dance band - live music is preferable, and many small bands specialize in contra dance music. If necessary, supply appropriate recorded music and someone to manage it. Contra callers and bands can usually recommend each other. An experienced "caller" is necessary. (Some bands include a caller.) A large hall, with room and a hard smooth floor surface for dancing. Comfortable dancing shoes. Some halls require certain types of shoe-soles, or brushes for cleaning shoes, to keep the floor surface smooth. Clothing should be in removable layers (dancers can get hot). Many dancers report that it is more fun to dance in a skirt that twirls well. (Some experienced male contra dancers prefer to wear skirts for this reason.) A source of drinking water (dancers get thirsty). Fans for cooling the hall, if necessary (a hall full of dancing heats up). Breath mints are often provided to help dancers prepare for close contact! When there may be more of one gender, sometimes clothing props are provided to distinguish the "lead" in each couple - e.g., ties, so that each women who is leading puts on a tie. Name tags can be helpful for people not familiar with each other.

Set Up

People do not have to attend as couples. Men and women can interchange in the roles of "lead" and "follower." Most callers begin a dance with a 15-30 minute teaching session for beginners, to demonstrate the basics and have people practice common contra dance positions and moves. As examples, you will learn to identify your corner, and to promenade, do-Se-do, swing, alamand, and right-hand star. Dances can range from quite easy to more complicated.


The caller gives all directions throughout each dance. More experienced dancers also help others, so no one has to worry about knowing or memorizing. The object is to have fun! After each dance, people have the opportunity to find a new partner; individuals occasionally sit out torest, and watch [assuming there are enough people to continue the dancing].


Discussions afterwards can be about what it was like to learn new techniques together, to be lead/follower, and such.


Other types of folk-dancing from any of a variety of cultures.

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