What is Contra Dance?

Contra is a traditional form of New England social dance dating back to Colonial times. It was often done in a barn in the country. It is similar to Barn dancing and Country dancing. The name Contra comes from the French word meaning “opposite,” as the dancers start the dance facing their partners who are opposite them. It’s a cousin of English and Scottish country dances and father of the American square dance. It is not line dancing or Western square dancing.

It has a caller who prompts the dancers with figures like “do-si-do,” “Allemande,” and “swing your partner.” It’s is a great way to have fun, meet people and get in a little aerobic exercise as well. In contra dance, couples form two lines, partners facing each other. Prompted by the caller, they perform a sequence of figures that causes them to progress up or down the line, meeting other couples with whom they repeat the sequence. Eventually every couple dances with every other couple.

The music is performed live. The music consists mainly of Irish, New England, and Quebecois jigs and reels. There may be an occasional waltz or Scandinavian dance during break time. The band’s structure is wildly variable, typically including fiddle, piano, and guitar/mandolin. We typically have refreshments during the mid-dance break, around 9pm. Dances are smoke and alcohol free.

What if I don’t know how to dance?

No experience is necessary (except for our occasional 5th Saturday Experienced Dances)! We welcome and encourage newcomers. The dances are fun and easy to learn. The dances don’t require fancy footwork – if you can walk, you can contra. A workshop 15 minutes before the dance will teach you what you need to know to get started.

What should I wear?

Clothing: Dress is very casual (e.g., shorts and t-shirts are not out of place). Wear cool comfortable clothing.- NOT square dance outfits, hats, boots, high heels, or footwear that will mark the floor. Contra is aerobic exercise, so be prepared to work up a sweat. Experienced dancers often bring a towel and a spare dry shirt.

Shoes: Wear clean soft-soled comfortable shoes. Some dancers bring a clean pair of shoes to dance in. Grit lodged in the sole of street shoes can mar and gouge a floor.

Do I need to bring a parter?

No. Contra dancers are of all ages. Come alone or with a friend, and you’ll meet a lot of new people. Some dancers dance with each other all the time. Our convention is to switch partners for each new set. Newcomers are encouraged to dance with experienced partners. This will help you master contra dancing in the fastest, most enjoyable way. You’ll find contra dancers to be very helpful and friendly.

How do I learn all the dances?

The caller teaches every dance. The caller walks everyone through the moves of the dance before the music starts. Once the music starts, he/she prompts the moves until no more prompting is needed.

Who runs the dance?

Our contra dance is a community dance run by volunteers. Volunteers are the backbone of each dance series. Many people become more involved by volunteering to work the admissions table, bringing refreshments to share, sweeping the floor, or helping move chairs. Your involvement can be as simple as spreading the “word” about contra or putting up a flyer on a community bulletin board.

Where else can I dance contra?

For the most up-to-date information on all contra dances in Connecticut, we suggest you sign up for Steve Holland’s CT Contra Calendar email list using the form below. The CONNtra CONNection is also a great resource.