Ahhh, dancing. One of the things I absolutely love to do! I’m not too picky about the type of dancing either (unless it’s dirty, which I will NOT tolerate). But there are some types that I like above others. One of those types is contra-dancing. If you don’t know what that is, then you’ve come to the right place! For those who’ve seen movie versions of Pride and Prejudice, visualizing it will be easy: it’s just like what they do in those movies, except a lot more lively.
For those who haven’t, I’ll explain (and give you a lovely YouTube video in case I explain badly, as I probably shall).
Every person has a partner, and each couple lines up, one behind the other until you have two straight lines. During the dance, the couples move up and down the lines; essentially, they do some moves, then take the place of another couple, and move toward one end of the hall, until they are out of the dancing line. After a few beats, they get back in. Now what kind of dancing is it precisely? Well, lots of twirling the girl around, and allemandes, and do-si-do’s, and swinging your partner. But if you don’t understand what I just said don’t worry: at every dance there is a caller who goes through the moves before the dance, and even calls out the moves you’re supposed to make while you’re dancing.
Contra communities are really close-knit but also extremely friendly. They love to have people join and welcome beginners. Usually, about a half hour before the dance starts, they have a little practice session for beginners, where they teach you the basics of contra. Each dance is several minutes long, so be careful: if you haven’t danced much or haven’t been dancing in a while you might get dizzy! But they always have water there, and it’s good to bring water with you too. Because you WILL sweat, and you WILL sleep very well that night. They have breaks between contra dances, sometimes to have a square dance, usually to have a waltz as a cool down, since contra is so high-energy.
It doesn’t matter who you dance with: guys can dance with guys (though that doesn’t usually happen) and girls can dance with girls (which actually happens often because there’s usually a shortage of guys). Usually there’s a basket of ties around. Whoever is dancing the guy part wears the tie so that the rest of the dancers don’t get confused. Oh and typical dance etiquette: if you refuse to dance with one person (as long as you are not previously engaged by another person), sit that dance out. It’s unkind to the other person to do that. Also, apparently you’re supposed to make eye contact while you’re dancing–I do that SOMETIMES, but other times it can be just plain awkward. And sometimes other people just look away from you, so you can’t really look them in the eye. I recommend looking at their nose, if you become too uncomfortable. Supposedly if you look at someone’s nose, they’ll still think you’re looking them in the eye. Let’s hope that works…..
Dances typically last from 7PM to 11PM. There is a cost, but it’s not too steep: somewhere between $8 and $10 (and most places have student rates, usually $5).
There’s no big national contra-dance organization that I know about; it seems to be mostly local. However, this site looks like it would be helpful: it has links to different contra communities throughout the U.S. And if you Google contra dancing in your area you’re bound to find something.
So if you love dancing, check contra out! It’s really fun! And even if you don’t love dancing you should still try it. You might find you like it.