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Home > Magazine > Music > Contra Dance: Dance with Everyone!

Contra Dance: Dance with Everyone!
December 04, 2009

I'm sure glad that I bumped into the Contra scene back in the early 80's, basically as soon as I was old enough to appreciate it on my own. But we can all use a little help from time to time, so maybe this note will help you shorten your time-to-contact with this classically-radical social form!

Contra dancing means live music that won't break your ears. Before the official dancing starts there's usually a half hour of easy how-to walk-thru. Then you get a couple hours of nonstop musical socializing. You get to dance with everyone. There's no segregating or hiding out. Well, sure you can take a break. But young and old and every other kind all dance to together. It's great exercise. Wonderful movement. More or less foot and body movement---beginners and experts can work together, no problem. Lively music of a wide variety. A fine time. What's not to like? Heck, there's often food, or a potluck. And it's thrifty!

I've been trying to get our family -- our kids in particular -- out to the dances for quite awhile now. How often do kids get to do "grownup" things in WITH the grownups? But "events conspire" -- things get in the way. One of these days we'll do it! Then hopefully do it some more. In the meantime, there's no reason why YOU can't!

Ya know, if you're young, maybe you know that many erstwhile social settings today aren't actually conducive to you finding someone you like and getting to know them. If the set-up actually worked then you couldn't be hooked into keeping on coming back in the hopes of a chance of... I'd think that loud, dark clubs and bars can easily keep you APART from your peers. Not that clubs don't have their places...

One neat thing about Contra is that you CAN gravitate to a particular square of folks, if you like, but then the whole hallful of squares regularly gets merged into big, long lines. And even in the small squares, you share. Nobody gets too much of anyone else.

We here in Lansing, MI, are lucky in that we're home to the world's biggest folk music store, Elderly Instruments, www.elderly.com. This shop spins off a huge variety of local music scenes, including one of the biggest folk music scenes in the country. (Tie with Boston?)

Heck, it even seems possible that Elderly was a big factor in the spread of the many, big, vital folk fests throughout our fair state. The seeds start there then wander outward... Then, again, maybe most states have plenty of such things? Folk music is EVERYWHERE, after all! ...Every place with its own flavor and style. Anyway, we have a good half dozen major fests, some over 30 years old, ranging from 300 to 10,000 attendees, held in both cities and on farms: *Wheatland, *Bliss, *Hiawatha, *Dunegrass, *Harvestfest, *Hollerfest, *Hoxeyville, *E. Lansing, *Ann Arbor. Whew! (I know I'm missing some biggies, and especially a lot of venues like The Ark in AA and the Ionia Theatre.)

Of course there are other dance types out there. Swing is big. Line-dancing is big. Club dancing rocks. Traditional square is big (seemingly among older country and retired folk). Ethnic dances abound. The Celts are out there... And they all show up at the bigger fests.

Here are some mid-Michigan Contra dance contacts, FYI...

*A mainstay of the Lansing folk music and dance scene, with bimonthly dances and regular concerts:
www.tenpoundfiddle.org/sv.asp?cid=5

*The Looking Glass folks, the other mainstay, which seems to do dances, fests...and livingrooms:
lgmaa.org

*A popular venue near Ann Arbor, MI:
www.pittsfieldgrange.org/news.html

*The greater Great Lakes network is easy to track down:
www.contradancelinks.com/greatlakes.html

*Contra is radical, as everybody knows. Here's an article on dance and social revolution. Basically, the people in power often try to prevent the plain folk from getting together for free, bonding fun where chat can't be overheard:
www.indymedia.org/en/2005/12/829144.shtml

*Even the hipsters know it's cool:
newyork.timeout.com/articles/i-new-york/75296/you-asked-for-it-contra-dancing

*Here's a scholarly Contra book set up in a very snazzy web-display with dandy pics of the culture:
www.cdss.org/elibrary/dart/appendix_d.htm


Dance!


Lots of musicians!


What a scene!


Even the hipsters dig it.

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