Contra dancing is fun beyond words. Contra dance is Real People in Real Time with Real Music. It is Real Life. You cannot experience this while sitting on your duff.
Definition 0: the only real one
Contra dancing is social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music.
The rest is just details.
Otherwise, the only real answer to the question "What is contra dance?" comes when you try it. If you can't make it to the Cityfolk Contra Dances, check out Charlie Seelig's Contra Dance Links to find a dance in your neighborhood. So find a dance, close this window before reading any more, go to the dance, then come back here and see how the event compares to the description below.
Oops, you're still reading!
There's a danger in that. You are probably already feeling a little afraid to try something new. Below you will likely find some little tiny detail that will give you an excuse to not try contra dancing. And thereby deprive yourself of something that could give you decades of a joyful activity.
Definition 1: an earnest attempt
A caller, usually working with a group of live musicians, guides new and experienced dancers alike through a variety of dances.
A dancer and his or her partner dance a series of figures, or moves, with each other and with another couple for a short time. They then repeat the same figures with another couple, and so on. The figures are similar to those of old-time square dancing. The figures are combined in different ways for each different dance.
The caller teaches each dance before it is actually done to the music. This gives everyone an idea of what to expect so the movements can be easily executed. The caller leads the dances while they are being done to music, so dancers are able to perform each movement to the music. Once the dancers appear to have mastered a particular dance, the caller may stop calling, leaving the dancers to enjoy the movement with music alone.
People of all ages and lifestyles, including children, are welcome. Contra dances are a place where people from many walks of life come together to dance and socialize. Dancers often go out to a restaurant after the dance, have a potluck before or during the dance, or hang out with musicians in jam sessions and song circles. Children as young as seven can participate in adult dancing; your mileage may vary. As long as parents are responsible for keeping non-dancing children out of harm's way, everyone will enjoy everyone else's presence.
First-time dancers will likely find experienced dancers extremely friendly and helpful. If this does not seem to be the case, talk to the dance organizers. They need to know!
Most contra dance events will include a few dances of other kinds: traditional squares, waltz, swing and other types of couple dance.
At most dance events in North America, we dance with a different partner for each dance, although dates who attend together and significant others might dance with each other more than once.
This is [insert current year here]. Women can ask men to dance. At a contra dance this is certainly true and has been for some time. 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). 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.
Definition 2: what contra dance is not
Contra dancing is not the same as country line dancing.
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.Definition 3: whimsical
Contra dance is a form of dance that thrusts a different person of the opposite sex into your arms every 30 seconds or so.
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.Definition 4: an analogy
"A contra dance is like an amusement park ride we make for ourselves." --Unknown
If I didn't convince you last year, I'm sure Gary has convinced you by now. No? What about all the smiling faces on this video, and the other contra dancing videos on our YouTube Channel?
Seriously, this is one of the most things I've ever done. Contra dancers are a bunch of fun-loving, friendly and energetic folk. It's inexpensive too, so what are you waiting for? Join us next Friday!