The only thing you need to know before your first contra dance is how to get to the venue. But we know that some people might be more comfortable with some background knowledge.
What is a Contra Dance?
Contra dancing is an evening of community dance. There will be around 12 dances in an evening, with a break in the middle. Technically, each dance is a 64 count repeating sequence of 4, 8, and 16 count figures that seamlessly flow into each other. Its danced to traditional, live, “fiddle tunes.” Each dancer has a partner that they keep throughout the dance, while interacting with other couples and individuals in their “set”. After each dance, couples progress to new “neighbors”, so by the end of the dance you’ve danced with all the people in your set. Everyone gets to interact with everyone. Everyone helps everyone. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone laughs and smiles.
What Kind of Music Will I Hear?
The music can vary from American fiddle tunes, Irish jigs, French Canadian reels, and British marches. Often the bands will be creative and introduce hints of classical, jazz, rock and roll, or even middle eastern traditions. Nothing is off the table.
What Should I Wear?
Dress down. Dress up. Or both. Or neither. You will see many different styles of clothing at the dance, from conservative, to whimsical, to alluring.
Dancers often wear shorts, comfortable pants, or jeans. A short sleeve shirt or T-shirt is the norm, since contra dancing is an active, sometimes sweaty, kind of activity. If you are a sweaty kind of guy, you might consider bringing an extra shirt or two. It’s common to see guys change shirts on the sidelines between dances. You will probably see some of the experienced male dancers actually wearing skirts or kilts. This has nothing to do with gender identity and everything to do with keeping cool and the joy of flowing fabric accentuating every movement.
See above. Women often wear shorts, pants, jeans, etc. But most dancers enjoy wearing short to medium length, full (A-line, gored, tiered, etc.) skirts or dresses. It’s great fun to twirl in a skirt. It’s also cooler. Many women wear “bicycle shorts” (stretchy, close fitting, lycra) for modesty and comfort as those skirts twirl.
Both women and men should wear VERY comfortable shoes. Spiky high heels are inappropriate for both your feet and the feet of those around you! In order to save our beautiful wood floor, clean soles are required. Grit, dust, and dirt ruin the surface of the dance floor. Brush them off at home, then change into your dance shoes once you arrive at the venue. Only wear your clean shoes on the dance floor. Experienced dancers often prefer suede or leather bottom shoes, but non-marking sneakers or any comfortable casual shoes are appropriate.
Do I Need to Bring a Date or Partner?
No! All of us change partners every dance. Experienced dancers will happily ask you to dance. They will help you get through the figures more smoothly. If you do come to the dance with a partner who is also a beginner, we encourage you to split up and dance with experienced dancers for at least the first few dances.
Do I Need to Study-up on Figures Before I Arrive?
No. The only step is walking. A pattern of various figures (circle left, circle right, right hand star, etc) make up each dance, and are repeated over and over until the dance ends. All the figures (really-ALL of them) will be taught before the dances. There is a “walk-though” before each individual dance, to help get the figures into your muscle memory, then the dances are “called” for at least the first 5-6 times through the dance (longer if the dancers seem to need it).
It’s best to arrive early for the beginners session, usually a half hour before the dance. Here you will be introduced to the most common figures and other aspects of the dance. Everyone will be really happy to see you and meet you. we LOVE new dancers!