What is Contra Dancing?
Contra dancing is a social dance. Traditional jigs, reels, and hornpipes from the Scots-Irish tradition of both sides of the Atlantic form the basic repertoire of the band, with fiddle being the usual lead instrument. There are long lines of couples, couples number 1 and 2. The caller repeats six and so "figures" over and over. One of the figures causes the couples to progress, ones going down the hall and twos going up the hall, causing couples to dance with successive neighbors. The caller walks dancers through the figures at the beginning of each dance.
Then, as the dancing part of each individual dance begins, the caller continues to prompt as necessary. When a couple gets to the end of a line, they wait out the six or so figures and then return to the dance, but as the opposite number couple. This up and down the line of each individual dance lasts approximately fifteen minutes, with a short break in between individual dances.
Contra dances have a relaxed atmosphere where the emphasis is on dancing. Smoking and alcohol are prohibited. Most people dress for comfort and in anticipation of exercise. Soft-soled, comfortable shoes are essential. Many people come to a contra dance alone, and dancers are encouraged to dance with many different partners throughout the evening.
Above all, contra dancers are a community of friendly, active people who happily welcome newcomers to this tradition of dance and music.