My parents invited me to come along and see my father's mandolin teacher play at a contra dance back in 2005. At first I said "No." I loved dancing, but wouldn't know anyone there and would feel like a wall flower.
Little did I know how that night would change my life!
First, a bit of an overview.
Contra dancing, in a nut shell, is a form of dancing that goes back about 300 years. Generally there is a caller, a band and sets of dancers. If you've ever square danced, contra will make a lot of sense. Each person has a partner -- men ask women to dance and vice-versa -- and two pairs of partners form a set. The lady is always on the right. Sets of four stand in a line. The music repeats after sixty-four beats, with eight measures of eight beats. A band plays music you'd call "Bluegrass" or "Appalachian" -- sometimes "Celtic" is common.
The dance itself is made up of "figures," movements that usually take eight to sixteen beats to complete. The last figure will send one couple one direction along the line and another couple the other. At the end of the line, you get 64 beats of rest and then come back the other direction. The caller will announce the steps in order and will usually give a quick walk-through of each dance. After a dance finishes, people catch their breath , then find a new partner, and a new dance commences.
As you might have guessed, I did end up going to hear my father’s teacher play. I danced every dance, with everyone there, and met a wonderful new community of people. Of course, it wasn't a trouble-free experience; I had been smiling so much that my face was sore the whole next day -- I was hooked!
Eventually I became a volunteer for the dance in Harrisonburg, and one day danced for the first time with the man I would marry two years later.
It's hard to imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't let my parents talk me into coming along that first night!
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