What is Contra?


What is Contra dance?

Easy to Learn * Welcoming * Modern * Traditional * Informal * Open to All

Community * Evolving * Live * Intergenerational * Aerobic * Fun

It is also:

  1. “An amusement part ride that we create for ourselves.”

  2. “Reliable joy.”

  1. Not the same as country line dancing, square dance or re-enactment dance.

Listen to a recent National Public Radio piece on contra dance.

Contra has the same roots as square dancing, the English and French court dances of the 1700s but it is most definitely not ‘old-fashioned’ or an attempt to re-enact the past. The music is new and alive, being created right there while you dance and new dances, dance moves and combinations are being created all the time by inspired callers and dancers.

If you ever did square dance in grade school you’ll hear some familiar terms like ‘do-si-do’ and ‘swing your partner’ but unlike Square Dance, there are no classes, no special clothes or boots (lots of people dance barefoot or wear simply soft-soled shoes) and improvisation is expected rather than discouraged.

Do callers say “ladies” and “gents” sometimes? Yes, but the dances are only nominally gender specific - meaning LOTS of people dance either role, and their are ‘gender-free’ dances that don’t use the traditional terms at all. The ‘gender’ roles are very similar and equal unlike in various types of ballroom or couple dancing. I recommend picking one role and getting comfortable with it before trying out the other one.

How easy is it to learn?

Most contra dance moves involve walking to or with another person or group, often holding hands. When the music is playing the entire run-through of the dance lasts about 30 seconds and is then repeated, usually 12-24 times (for a total of 8-12 minutes). So, if you don’t get it right away you get a new chance every 30 seconds and your partners and fellow dancers are there to help you (and they will, it’s very friendly and supportive).

How do I Learn to contra dance?

Two things:

  1. 1.Go to the Beginner Lessons offered before many dances

  2. 2.Dance with other dancers there who are more experienced

Many dances have a Beginner or Intro lesson prior to the start of the dance. I recommend getting there on time and doing the Intro lesson, each time you go even, you’ll learn something new every time. And, dance with people who look like they have some experience. Most people dance with a different partner for every dance (meaning every 8-12 minute dance cycle), so notice who looks like they know what they are doing and ask them, even before the next dance starts to get organized.

Keep breathing, keep moving, and have fun! It won’t be long before you’ll be in the flow and having a great time.

Will Loving

Amherst, MA