Contra Dances


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Contra Dances

Two Kinds of Slides. Star : The star left right is performed by four dancers, who place their left right hands together in the center of their little circle and walk around counter-clockwise clockwise. The hand hold used will vary regionally, the most common holds being the handshake hold with the person opposite in the star, and the wrist hold in which every dancer takes the wrist of the dancer ahead. To star once around brings one back to where one started. Fractional stars are also used in contra dance:.

The Star. Swing : The swing is performed by two dancers, who most commonly hold one another in ballroom position the woman's left hand behind the man's upper right arm, and his right hand on her lower back, their other hands joined , and turn clockwise together. A walking step may be used with the swing, but the buzz step is more popular in modern contra dance.

The buzz step is a scooting motion in which the dancers' right feet stay close to their center of gravity, while their left feet scoot them around in a tight circle. Dancers lean back slightly as they swing, "giving weight" see Dancing Style below. There are alternate holds for the swing, particularly for same-gender swings. When a man and a woman swing, the swing ends with the woman standing to the right of the man:. The Buzz Step Swing. Twirl : The twirl is not a contra dance figure, but it is a popular variation used in place of the courtesy turn in the ladies chain figure.

Contra Dance

Instead of the man putting his right arm around the woman and turning around with her, he takes her left hand in his and she turns clockwise under his raised left arm, revolving one or more times, while he turns counter-clockwise in place, guiding her all the way around him and facing her as she goes. Another kind of "twirl" happens when dancers turn themselves around solo as they execute a dosido or a hey for four:. The Twirl. Contra Dance Formations B. Contra Dance Figures C. Dancing Style D. Biographies of Informants E. The Allemande Balance : The balance has many variations, but the most common one is a move performed by stepping on the left foot and kicking up the right or vice versa , and then stepping on the right foot and kicking up the left or vice versa , in a four count sequence.

The balance is found in three settings in contra dance: two dancers may take one hand or both and balance facing one another, usually preceding a swing; four dancers may take hands in a circle and balance together; or four dancers may take hands in a wavy line adjacent dancers facing opposite ways and balance together: Figure The Balance Box the gnat : This is a figure borrowed from western square dance, and is a means by which two dancers change places.

CCD - What is Contra Dancing?

The two dancers face one another and take right hands; the woman turns and backs under the man's right arm while the man crosses to her place, turning to face back the way he came; the dancers end the move each occupying the original place of the other: Figure Cast Off and Cast Around Circle left right : Four dancers or six in triple formation take hands in a circle and walk to the left right one full turn and back to place.

The Circle Contra corners : Contra corners is a traditional figure in which the active couple performs a series of allemandes with the couples on either side of them, and with each other.

This completes the contra corners, and the active couple will usually come together again in some fashion as they finish the figure: Figure Today's contra dancers often dispense with the courtesy turn and accomplish the turn with a twirl instead see "twirl" : Figure The Courtesy Turn Dosido : The basic dosido figure is executed by two dancers who pass right shoulders with one another, pass back to back, and back up passing left shoulders and returning to place.

Many of today's contra dancers like to twirl themselves around as they do the dosido: Figure The Dosido Down the center and back : Active couples go down the center and back while the other dancers watch. The caller will usually specify which way to turn, since the method of turning affects the dancers' positions for the next figure: Figure The caller will specify whether the four dancers should turn individually or as couples before coming back up the hall, since the method of turning affects their positions for the next figure: Figure Down the Hall Four in Line and Back Figure eight : This figure is usually executed by the active couples around the inactive couples.

Often the inactives will move slightly to facilitate the movement of the actives: Figure The Figure Eight Four-leaf clover : This figure is from square dancing, and is performed by four dancers. Two dancers walk under the arch made by the joined hands of the other two, and then turn back to back bringing their own joined hands over their heads and into the center of the circle: Figure The Four-Leaf Clover Grand right and left : This figure is used only rarely in contra dance, and is from the square dance tradition. Dancers walk around the circle taking right hands and then left hands alternately with successive dancers as they pass: Figure The two dancers circle, facing one another and without touching one another, and eye contact is maintained continuously: Figure The contra dance hey differs from the English country dance hey in that it is done in a smaller space and does not have the expansive elegance given to it in the English country dance tradition: Figure The Hey for Four Ladies chain : The two women take right hands and cross the set, where they are turned with a courtesy turn by the man on the opposite side.

Long Lines Forward and Back Pass through : This figure is performed by two couples who pass by one another as they walk in opposite directions. This figure may be done up or down the set or it may be done across the set: Figure The promenade hold varies regionally: Figure The Promenade Across Pull by : Two dancers take hands and pull by one another going opposite directions.


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This figure may use the right hand or the left hand depending on its context, and it may occur along the set or across the set: Figure The Pull By Right and left through : Two dancers on one side of the set change places with two dancers on the other side of the set by passing through passing right shoulders with the dancer directly opposite to the other side, and doing a courtesy turn; then in like manner the two dancers pass through again and return home to another courtesy turn.

It might be just as common as men asking women, or more so. Women will sometimes dance with women, and men will sometimes dance with men. In general, especially for the men, this happens only when a gender imbalance exists in the hall men tend to be real chicken about dancing with other men otherwise.

David Millstone, Dance Caller

The above notwithstanding, it is a good idea at some point to dance the opposite role. It's a real eye-opener! Be warned, however, that you'll need extra alertness and concentration. Contra dancers make eye contact whenever possible. This adds to the connectedness of the dance, and helps reduce dizziness, especially during the swing. It is also uncomfortable for some. Don't let anyone tell you that you must make eye contact, but give it a try even if it's a little uncomfortable. Expand your comfort zone. You might get used to it and even like it. Remember: they're gazing into your eyes not because they love you but because they want to make the connection, and they don't want to throw up on you.

Contra dance groups receive absolutely no funding from Oliver North. No classes are required, or even offered in general , except for a non-required half-hour or fifteen minute introduction to contra dance before the dance, at many regular dance events. We do not wear costumes except on Halloween or any particular style of clothes.

Some groups ask that you bring a separate pair of soft-soled non-scuffing shoes to protect the dance floor. Tennis shoes are quite adequate for the first-time dancer. Very little footwork is required in contra dance. The most common type of movement is a smooth walking step. Actually, this is only true sometimes. It might be more prudent, but less whimsical, to say that contra dance is one of the few dance forms where by the end of the evening you are likely to have danced with everyone.

The minor set dances one time through the dance. Each couple moves on to a new couple, forming new minor sets, and repeats the dance. Some slightly more advanced dances involve interaction with dancers who are not in the minor set. Other dances involve two minor sets each time through, and you move on to the third minor set. These dances are called "double progression. The dances are done to live music, usually reels or jigs.

The music consists of an A part and a B part, which are related much like a chorus and a verse. Each part consists of 16 beats, or steps, and is repeated twice. So a complete dance goes A, A, B, B, and consists of 64 beats total. Musicians will usually say 32 measures. The music is phrased in 8-beat sections, and to a lesser extent, in 4-beat sections. A typical figure takes up 4, 8 or 16 beats of music.

Or not. In a room full of strangers, you'll want to cling to the one you know. The short introduction that is offered at many locations is not a substitute for dancing with experienced partners, nor is it considered a prerequisite for joining the dance, but some people feel more comfortable having attended the introduction. Feel free to attend the introduction multiple times.

Different teachers will present it differently.

About Contra in the Couve!

Heck, the same teacher will present it differently. And you'll notice different things, and different things will sink in, especially after having experienced what they're teaching. Also don't hesitate to ask other dancers, or the caller, for help, but keep in mind you may not get the same answer from two different dancers, or two different callers!

Ultimately, the only way to learn contra dancing is to do it. In comparison, watching it, or reading about it, is not particularly helpful.

Conversely, if your partner is significantly shorter than you, looking down can also increase dizziness. There is no fancy footwork required, and a complete newcomer can be dancing along in a matter of minutes with the help of the dance caller, who gives instructions as the dance goes along.

About Our Dances

You can read all about the particulars at the Wikipedia page on the topic. Aside from being great fun and good exercise , contra dances are also a beneficial and therapeutic thing to do with all your neighbours and acquaintances, especially in the middle of winter on a very small island! As one person put it: "Contra dance [is a] community builder extraordinaire!!!

I highly recommend it as a precursor to every town hall meeting!

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