What is Contra Dancing?
Contra dancing is an old-time community dance form that has experienced renewed popularity since being "rediscovered" in the 1970s. Couples face each other in long lines up and down the dance hall, dance together for 32 bars of music, and then each couple moves on to the next couple up or down the hall. By the end of the dance, each couple has danced with every other couple in the line. Partners are typically changed after each dance. Half or more of dancers come to a dance without a partner.
The figures, or dance moves, are simple, with an emphasis on patterns and connection with others, rather than fancy footwork. The dancing is easy to learn, and beginners are always welcome. Indeed, contra dancing evolved in 18th- and 19th-century New England as a dance form in which the entire community could participate. Each dance is taught before music begins, and the caller gives cues during the dance itself. Preceding the dances are free lessons for beginners or anyone who would like more practice. Even though the basics are easy to learn, contra dancing offers endless opportunities for expressing your creativity and improving your skills.
The music is an integral part of the dance experience. It is always played by live musicians, typically on fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and piano. The tunes are both traditional and contemporary, but mostly reels and jigs based in the Celtic and southern mountain "old timey" traditions. The dance figures flow in sequence with the music, with each figure linked to one or two measures.
Many dancers all over the US and Canada have put their definitions and descriptions of contra dancing on the Internet. Here are a few: