“Is Contra Dancing Similar to Square Dancing?” is often asked.
Contra dancing is an ancient and special art form accompanied by live music.
Contra dancing is an enjoyable social activity and all levels of experience are welcome to enjoy it – all that is necessary to begin is smooth-soled shoes for dance nirvana!
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Contra dance is a form of traditional American folk dancing performed to live music. While various forms of music may be used for contra dancing, old-time fiddle music remains the most widely utilized. Bands that specialize in contra dance music can often be found performing at these dances across the country and its members may also perform themselves; other instruments such as guitar, mandolin and banjo may also feature prominently at dances as the fiddle remains the primary instrument used during contra dances with lively and energetic beats to keep dancers moving and feeling the rhythm while moving their bodies along their music!
Contra dancing consists of parallel lines of dancers extending along a dance floor or hall. Each dancer partners up with another partner from their opposite sex; these couples are known as Couples; two adjacent Couples form Sets and all Sets form one Line at any one dance event.
At each turn in the Line dancers are guided by their caller as they respond by taking steps at the appropriate music. This allows the dancers to move in unison and present an impressive spectacle for audiences watching from behind a stage. Contra dancing involves many moves; some complex while others simple such as butterfly whirl, courtesy turn and do-si-do.
Contrasting with square dancing, contra dancers don’t necessarily need to know all of the steps beforehand in order to join in a contra dance. Beginners are warmly welcomed at these events and taught the basics by the caller – generally there’s usually an informal workshop beforehand which covers basic figures and courtesies before music begins; then once dancing commences the caller goes through each pattern several times to ensure everyone understands.
A caller leads dancers in simple movements based on walking that are easy for anyone to pick up and learn. Most callers “walk through” the dance several times before music starts and continue prompting dancers as the dance progresses. Experienced dancers are very willing to assist beginners enjoy and succeed at this dance; dancers should regularly switch partners so as to gain all possible benefits of dancing together.
Contra dances are traditionally set to live music from Scotland, England, American old-time or French Canadian folk music as well as Irish jigs and reels. Contra dance musicians use instruments such as fiddles, acoustic guitars and banjos.
Not unlike square dancing, music dictates the pace and mood of Latin dancing. It can be an exciting experience with musicians creating rhythmic energy while dancers match it with their own vibrant energy and enthusiasm.
Not only is music an integral component of dance party fun; so is forming friendships among fellow dancers and engaging in friendly interactions with strangers. Smiling is part of culture; dancers should respect personal space of others as part of this cultural norm; predatory behavior will not be tolerated by dance organizers who will take measures against it immediately.
The contra dance caller is a key figure. Their task is to facilitate a smoothly flowing dance that keeps in time with music, prompting dancers when necessary, and teach various figures used during a contra dance; these may resemble those found in square dancing but with slight modifications; for example a ladies chain in contra hands-four would be considered women’s grand chain while four steps left is called circle left one half in square dancing.
Last, but certainly not least, a caller must know when it is time to end a set. This decision must be a subjective one that often depends on how many couples started at the top. A good rule of thumb would be waiting until one couple who began at the top has completed all five dances before stopping.
Contra dancers take great pleasure in finding “the groove”, the sweet spot when everything works together as one and moves along as planned. Partly this comes from dance being written properly and calling skillfully conveying beats of music; partly also because dancers must move perfectly in time with one another moving precisely with time (not late, not early) feeling out its emotions through movements; it is truly spectacular to witness when everything comes together like this!
Contra dancing typically involves long lines of couples dancing in groups of four or six people who execute one figure for 64 beats of music before passing to another couple along the set. Contra dancing provides much more social engagement than more formal and structured square dancing where dancers only see each other briefly throughout their dance experience.
These dances vary in difficulty, yet are all designed to be accessible and enjoyable for novices as well as more experienced dancers alike. Footwork mainly consists of walking steps while figures typically incorporate common moves seen in square dancing such as allemands, do-si-dos and promenades. A caller typically walks dancers through it prior to starting it off; many experienced dancers are happy to assist beginners as well!
Contra dance differs slightly from other forms of line dancing; however, it has many similarities to both traditional old-time square dancing and its modern club form that became popular during the 1950s. All forms are part of an Anglo-American folk tradition which also encompasses country dancing, English folk songs/songs/jigs/reels etc.
Contra dancing is an enjoyable and accessible way to experience live music, meet people and get exercise simultaneously. Most dances are family friendly; people of all ages and lifestyles attend them from families with young children as young as seven to seniors in their 80s who still swing their partners around! Dancers may go out for dinner after dancing or host potlucks before or during it before joining musicians later for jam sessions and song circles afterwards.
Contra dancing offers many social benefits. It is common to dance with multiple partners during an evening of dancing; dancers are generally friendly and welcoming of newcomers who need help learning the ropes of contra dances from experienced dancers.
Music and energy of dancers creates an amazing sense of community. Dancing together with a large group, following rhythm of music and responding to caller instructions is both enjoyable and fulfilling; you feel as if you are part of one giant merry-go-round full of smiling couples enjoying themselves immensely!
Contra dancers are also focused on gender equality, and regularly have open discussions at every dance. While traditional social dance etiquette remains in effect, male and female leadership at dances, organizers, callers and musicians is on equal terms.
Contra dancing differs from modern western square dancing in that its moves are easier to learn; learning the basic 50 calls of square dancing may take months while just weeks of practice in contra dancing can get them perfected. Most dances provide a 15-30 minute session at the beginning of every evening to teach newcomers basic moves.
Once dancers have learned the basic movements, they can perform patter square dances with their partner as well as two or three other couples. Contra dancing features more lively swinging movements than square dancing with much faster beats per minute.
Dancers wear comfortable clothing and shoes that won’t scuff the wood floors of a dance hall. Women typically don lightweight dresses or skirts while men usually don slacks or jeans, and some even sport hats! Water should always be brought along so as to stay hydrated throughout a night of dancing; you might also consider packing a small towel and breath mints as additional necessities after each dance.