What to expect from your first contra dance
Contra dancing is an American folk dance.
But, what does that mean. What is it . . . ?
- Is it hard? No, not hard to learn.
All moves are moderately easy. Many are just walking. For every dance, the caller talks the dancers through a series of moves like “circle left”, or “lines go forward and back”, or “swing your partner”.
- Is it just like square dancing? No, but it is similar.
Some of the moves seem just like square dancing, while others are unique to contra. Despite some similarities – contra is real different than most people’s ideas of square dancing. Also, no one wears special costumes.
- Is it like line dancing or swing dancing? Not really
Dancers are in groups of four that are part of a line. Each couple dances with the other dancers in their line. Everyone dances with nearly everyone. Most people switch partners during the evening – even if they arrive and leave together.
- Is it sort of a workout? Yes. Dances are energetic – it is best to wear soft-soled shoes and comfortable clothes. Expect to get warm and a bit of exercise.
- Is it strange for someone like me to come by myself? Not strange.
Some dancers start in their twenties. Others start dancing who have grown children. Men ask women to dance, women ask men, its okay to dance with someone of the same gender. Some dance most of the time – others sit to rest for some dances.
- Is it for people who are all real similar? No, there are all sorts of people.
For younger people it is somewhat retro. For boomers, it is an odd mix of cool and square. Contra appeals to lots of people: Social folks like talking to lots of people. Shy people like meeting others with no need to talk much. Athletic people like the energetic style of dance. Other people like getting in shape without trying.
- What is the best way to start?
Although the dances are easy, most first-timers appreciate a chance to learn the basic moves and gain a little confidence. Your best bet is to arrive early and attend the newcomer’s workshop. Bring a friend (who can be a partner or not) if that makes it easier.
What is contra dancing – specifics?
- Contra dances are done in long lines with your partner opposite you (hence the name “contra” or opposing lines).
- Before the dance starts, you and a partner join a line of couples and face a couple that’s next to you creating a group of four.
- A caller will walk through a series of moves to do in your group of four.
- After a couple minutes of preview, the dance starts.
- After you’ve danced the series of moves once, you and your partner move to the next place to meet another couple.
- In each dance, you and your partner dance with each couple in your line.
- You dance the same moves with that couple. Then, you progress to the next couple, etc. Most dances last about 10 minutes.
Are there things to avoid that could be a problem? – yes, some.
- Shoes not designed for lots of walking can be real tough on feet or ankles.
- Any cologne or scent would be really magnified, it is best to go “light” or avoid.
- Alcohol is not part of a contra dance, although some people go out for drinks afterward.