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What is Contra?  

"Contra dance is a form of dance that thrusts a different person of the opposite sex into your arms every 30 seconds or so."  Gary Shapiro

A Contra dance is a folk dance that features a sequence of square-dance-like moves (figures) performed in  long, opposing (hence contra) lines.  Did you do the Virginia Reel?  That's the idea.  

Music is live and lively.

Dance figures are called out by the very helpful Caller.  

Sequences are performed in groups of four with one couple progressing at the end of each sequence of figures toward the band and the other couple progressing toward the other end of the hall.  

The sequence of figures is repeated for about 10 minutes and then dancers change partners for another dance.  

Contra Dance Figures more or less in order of their prevalence:

    • Ladies Chain and Courtesy Turn
    • Swing your Partner
    • Allemande Right/Left
    • Circle Left/Right
    • Star Right/Left
    • Hands across Star Left/Right
    • Promenade
    • Do-si-Do
    • Gypsy
    • Petronella Twirl
    • Hey for four/Half Hey
    • Box the gnat
    • California Twirl
    • Contra Corners

When a couple reaches the end of the line, they are usually out for one sequence before they are replaced by another out-couple.

What if I have Never Danced Before?

Experienced dancers are very pleased to help beginners.  

Persistent beginners become good dancers and good dancers are even more fun to dance with.  

One or two evenings are generally sufficient to learn the basic figures.  

Many contra dances have a 30-minute beginners' lesson before the regular dance.  

Contra Dance camps are an excellent place to begin.  They feature several days of workshops, tips for beginners and experts, and lots and lots of dances.  Start as a beginner and end as an expert!  

Do I need Rhythm??

There is always plenty of extra rhythm at a Contra Dance.  

Contra is a walking dance anyway.  If you can get where you need to be at about the right time, you can contra.   And you get better dance after dance.  

Any dance experience you already have is a plus.  

What if I don't have a Date???

No one will noticeAmerican Contra Dancers change partners with every dance!  Many come single.  

By the end of the evening, you will have danced with everyone!  

Come alone or bring your own!   

Dances are excellent places to meet people.  

Beginners should dance with experienced dancers.  That way, beginners have an experienced coach.  

Where do I start??  

Most of the larger cities in the US and Europe have regularly scheduled contra dances!  

Google Contra Dance and check it out.  

San Francisco  Bay Area

SF Bay Area Country Dance Society Contras

North Bay Country Dance Society

Santa Barbara

The World

What other kinds of Dance can I expect at Contra Dances?  

The band generally plays a waltz or a hambo or a schottische before intermission and at the end of the evening.  Some callers squeeze in a couple of squares during the evening.  

Dance camps often offer workshops in the Waltz, Irish Set, Irish Step, Morris, Clogging, English Country, Cajun, or other folk dances. 


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