Regularly-Scheduled Contra Dance Series
BACDS operates four regularly-scheduled contra dance series on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. If you live in the greater San Francisco Bay area, one of our regular contra dances is close to you.
Berkeley Contra Dance (1st/3rd/5th Wednesdays)
This dance began its life in or around 1984, after Kirston's dance moved from Wednesday nights to Fridays. Numerous programmers, including current San Diego area dance leader Harry Brauser, Palo Alto series programmer Eric Black, and current Ashland, Oregon caller Ruth Lowengart, have contributed to high-caliber mid-week contra dancing in Berkeley throughout the years.
Since his bay area arrival in 1994, highly-regarded caller and dance author Erik Hoffman has been the programmer for this odd-Wednesday-evening series. Music is provided on most evenings by an open band led by groups whose genres range from old-time to New England to electric. Open caller evenings on most fifth Wednesdays complete this dance's reputation as an incubator for up-and-coming musical and calling talent.
San Francisco Contra Dance (1st/3rd Saturdays, 4th Friday)
The San Francisco contra dance began life in 1981 as a Thursday night dance run by the San Francisco Folk Music Club's Plowshares Cafe. This early series featured English country dances, old-time squares, New England contras, and open mic dances. It became a BACDS series in October 1982, and added the fourth Friday dances in October 1986, absorbing an early Marin County series.
Charlie Fenton has been the programmer of this series since its inception. His love of New England music and dance drives both his dance selection and the music. This dance also plays host to both regional and visiting callers and musicians.
On the first Wednesday of most months, this dance is preceded by an hour-long workshop at 6:30 pm, on varying topics: contra styling, couple dances like waltz, hambo, and swing, and choreographed couple dance sequences. Check the calendar or the dance page for current information.
Palo Alto Contra Dance (2nd/4th/5th Saturdays)
The Palo Alto contra dance, originally the Stanford contra dance, is the oldest continuous contra series in the Bay Area, perhaps in California. It was started in 1975 by Nick Harris, then a 1st year grad student, recreating the contra dances from western Massachusetts, southern Vermont, and New Hampshire he enjoyed as an undergrad. The house band eventually started calling themselves Blackberry Blossom and included Derek Booth on piano, accordian and concertina, Liz Dreisbach on flute and pennywhistle, Stan Kramer on fiddle and bass, Warren Nokleberg on banjo, Ben Dawson on fiddle and Ginnie Mickelson on piano. Nick called and played hammer dulcimer.
The series built up over 4 years from an initial 20 to 30 dancers to around 150 to 200, with lots of good dancing and great energy. Brad Foster took over when Nick left for a job in Oklahoma.
When Brad left the area in 1982 to become the CDSS Program Director, Susan Murphy took on the series and ran it until she decided to become a veterinarian in 1983 and work with a different sort of dancing animals. (Susan also helped run the BACDS American Dance and Music Camp at Mendocino for several years, through 1990.)
Eric Black became the programmer and chief caller for the Palo Alto contra dance in 1983, shepherding its moves to various locations including the Mountain View Masonic Temple and Cubberly Pavilion, before setting into the Peninsula YWCA for 17 years. In 2004 the dance moved to its current home at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Palo Alto.
In late 2009 a programming committee (which includes Eric) was formed, and Alan Winston is now booking coordinator for the dance.
The programming is selected to make contras fun for newcomers and old-timers alike (with a handful of squares to keep things interesting), danced to music drawn from traditions ranging from Celtic, New England and Quebecois to Southern, bluegrass and old time.
The dance features a wide variety of callers, both local Bay Area and visiting from other parts of the country.
Special thanks to Kirston Koths, Charlie Fenton, Erik Hoffman, Craig Johnson and Nick Harris for providing the historical information above.
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