What the 'hey' is Contra Dance?

Imagine walking in to a room ringing with high-energy live fiddle music. A smiling stranger asks you to dance. You greet everyone in the room, whether they're eight or eighty, and they greet you. Suddenly you're spinning, stomping, clapping, flying on a human tilt-a-whirl. And all this friendly, lively interaction happens without booze.

Contra is a community dance form that's been generating joy for more than two centuries, and is still evolving today. At the heart of our tradition is live music - if you're not up for dancing, $8 is a tidy price for a 3 hour concert, and we have comfy couches! And should this music make you want to dance, it's as simple as walking at a gentle aerobic pace of about 60 strides per minute. The only footwork necessary is a simple forward-and-back step called a "balance," though you're welcome to add more if you like.

Each contradance sequence is made up of figures that rely on different hand holds or eye contact between dancers, and many common figures are repeated from one dance to the next, so it's easy to learn.

Arrive alone, or in a flock of friends! Dancers often choose a new partner for each contra. Ask anyone to dance, or accept someone's invitation, then together join a double line of dancers, taking "hands four" with this partner and a pair of "neighbors," and you're ready to begin. A caller will walk you through the figures and, once the music starts, prompt them several times through. The sequence is repeated about every 32 seconds, so the figures gradually become automatic, and you dance with new neighbors each time. After perhaps eight minutes, the dance will end, at which point folks will find new partners and line up again.

A typical evening will include eight to ten contra dances and a circle dance, along with two waltzes and a break for potluck snacks. All you'll need is a pair of smooth-soled, non-street shoes; some dancers choose bare feet. A water bottle is helpful, and if you like, bring a snack item to share.

As for what the "hey" is, come dance and you'll find out!

What should I wear?

The hall is usually kept cool because you generate a lot of heat while dancing. Dress in layers so that you can remove items as you get warmer. Many women (and some men!) like to wear full skirts that flare out when twirling. Shoes should be comfortable and easy to move around in.