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Contra dance (also contradance, contra-dance and other variant spellings) is a form of folk dancing made up of long lines of couples. It has mixed origins from
English country dance A country dance is any of a very large number of social dances of a type that originated in the British Isles; it is the repeated execution of a predefined sequence of figures, carefully designed to fit a fixed length of music, performed by a g ...
,
Scottish country dance Scottish country dance (SCD) is the distinctively Scottish form of country dance, itself a form of social dance Social dances are dances that have a social functions and context. Social dances are intended for participation rather than ...
, and French dance styles in the 17th century. Sometimes described as
New England New England is a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts Massachusetts (Massachusett language, Massachusett: ''Muhsachuweesut assachusett writing systems, məhswatʃəwiːsət ...
folk dance or
Appalachia Appalachia () is a cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York State to northern Alabama (We dare defend our rights) , anthem = " Alabama" , image_map = Alabama in United States.svg ...
n folk dance, contra dances can be found around the world, but are most common in the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...
(periodically held in nearly every state),
Canada Canada is a country in North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering over , making it the world ...
, and other
Anglophone Speakers of English language, English are also known as Anglophones, and the countries where English is natively spoken by the majority of the population are termed the ''Anglosphere''. Over two billion people speak English , making English the ...
countries. A contra dance event is a
social dance Social dances are dances that have a social functions and context. Social dances are intended for participation rather than Concert dance, performance. They are often danced merely to socialise and for entertainment, though they may have Ceremo ...
that one can attend without a partner. The dancers form couples, and the couples form sets of two couples in long lines starting from the stage and going down the length of the dance hall. Throughout the course of a dance, couples progress up and down these lines, dancing with each other couple in the line. The dance is led by a caller who teaches the sequence of figures in the dance before the music starts. Callers describe the series of steps called "figures", and in a single dance, a caller may include anywhere from six to twelve figures which are repeated as couples progress up and down the lines. Each time through the dance takes 64 beats, after which the pattern is repeated. The essence of the dance is in following the pattern with your set and your line; since there is no required footwork, many people find contra dance easier to learn than other forms of social dancing. Almost all contra dances are danced to live music. The music played includes, but is not limited to, Irish, Scottish, old-time and French-Canadian folk tunes. The
fiddle A fiddle is a Bow (music), bowed String instrument, string musical instrument, most often a violin. It is a colloquial term for the violin, used by players in all genres, including European classical music, classical music. Although in many ...
is considered the core instrument, though other stringed instruments can be used, such as the
guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six string instrument, strings. It is usually held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or Plucked string instrument, plucking the strings with the dominant hand, w ...
,
banjo The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashi ...
, bass and
mandolin A mandolin ( it, mandolino ; literally "small mandola") is a Chordophone, stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is generally Plucked string instrument, plucked with a plectrum, pick. It most commonly has four Course (music), course ...
, as well as the
piano The piano is a stringed keyboard instrument in which the strings are struck by wooden hammers that are coated with a softer material (modern hammers are covered with dense wool felt; some early pianos used leather). It is played using a musica ...
,
accordion Accordions (from 19th-century German language, German ''Akkordeon'', from ''Akkord''—"musical chord, concord of sounds") are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free reed aerophone, free-reed aerophone type (prod ...
,
flute The flute is a family of classical music instrument in the woodwind group. Like all woodwinds, flutes are aerophones, meaning they make sound by vibrating a column of air. However, unlike woodwind instruments with Reed (instrument), reeds, a fl ...
,
clarinet The clarinet is a musical instrument in the woodwind family. The instrument has a nearly cylindrical bore (wind instruments), bore and a flared bell, and uses a Single-reed instrument, single reed to produce sound. Clarinets comprise a Family ...
and more. Some contra dances are even done to
techno Techno is a Music genre, genre of electronic dance music (EDM) which is generally music production, produced for use in a continuous DJ set, with tempo often varying between 120 and 150 beats per minute (bpm). The central Drum beat, rhythm is typ ...
music. Music in a dance can consist of a single tune or a medley of tunes, and
key change In music, modulation is the change from one tonality (tonic (music), tonic, or tonality, tonal center) to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature (a key change). Modulations articulate or create the structure or ...
s during the course of a dance are common. Many callers and bands perform for local contra dances, and some are hired to play for dances around the U.S. and Canada. Many dancers travel regionally (or even nationally) to contra dance weekends and week-long contra dance camps, where they can expect to find other dedicated and skilled dancers, callers, and bands.


History

Contra dancing is a popular form of recreation enjoyed by people of all ages in over 200 cities and towns across the United States (), yet it also has a long history that includes European origins, and over 100 years of cultural influences from many different sources. At the end of the 17th century, English
country dance A country dance is any of a very large number of social dances of a type that originated in the British Isles; it is the repeated execution of a predefined sequence of figures, carefully designed to fit a fixed length of music, performed by a g ...
s were taken up by French dance masters. The French called these dances ''contredanses'' (which roughly translated by sound "countrydance" to "contredanse"), as indicated in a 1706 dance book called ''Recueil de Contredances''. As time progressed, these dances returned to England and were spread and reinterpreted in the United States, and eventually the French form of the name came to be associated with the American folk dances, where they were alternatively called "country dances" or in some parts of New England such as New Hampshire, "contradances". : ''(as access to the'' OED ''online is not free, the relevant excerpt is provided)'' "Littré's theory, that there was already in 17th c. a French ''contre-danse'' with which the English word was confused and ran together, is not tenable; no trace of the name has been found in French before its appearance as an adaptation of the English. But new dances of this type were subsequently brought out in France, and introduced into England with the Frenchified form of the name, which led some Englishmen to the erroneous notion that the French was the original and correct form, and the English a corruption of it." Contra dances were fashionable in the United States and were considered one of the most popular social dances across class lines in the late 18th century, though these events were usually referred to as "country dances" until the 1780s, when the term contra dance became more common to describe these events. In the mid-19th century, group dances started to decline in popularity in favor of
quadrilles The quadrille is a dance that was fashionable in late 18th- and 19th-century Europe and its colonies. The quadrille consists of a chain of four to six ''Country dance, contredanses''. Latterly the quadrille was frequently danced to a medley of ...
,
lancers A lancer was a type of cavalry Historically, cavalry (from the French word ''cavalerie'', itself derived from "cheval" meaning "horse") are soldiers or warriors who fight mounted on horseback. Cavalry were the most mobile of the comb ...
, and couple dances such as the
waltz The waltz ( ), meaning "to roll or revolve") is a ballroom dance, ballroom and folk dance, normally in triple (3/4 time, time), performed primarily in closed position. History There are many references to a sliding or gliding dance that w ...
and
polka Polka is a dance and musical genre, genre of dance music originating in nineteenth-century Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. Though associated with Czechs, Czech culture, polka is popular throughout Europe and the Americas. History ...
. By the late 19th century, contras were mostly confined to rural settings. This began to change with the square dance revival of the 1920s, pioneered by
Henry Ford Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was an American Technological and industrial history of the United States, industrialist, business magnate, founder of the Ford Motor Company, and chief developer of the assembly line technique of ...
, founder of the
Ford Motor Company Ford Motor Company (commonly known as Ford) is an American multinational corporation, multinational automobile manufacturer headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan, Dearborn, Michigan, United States. It was founded by Henry Ford and incorporated o ...
, in part as a response in opposition to modern jazz influences in the United States. In the 1920s, Ford asked his friend Benjamin Lovett, a dance coordinator in Massachusetts, to come to Michigan to begin a dance program. Initially, Lovett could not as he was under contract at a local inn; consequently, Ford bought the property rights to the inn. Lovett and Ford initiated a dance program in
Dearborn, Michigan Dearborn is a city in Wayne County, Michigan, Wayne County in the U.S. state of Michigan. At the 2020 United States Census, 2020 census, it had a population of 109,976. Dearborn is the List of municipalities in Michigan, seventh most-populated ci ...
that included several folk dances, including contras. Ford also published a book titled ''Good Morning: After a Sleep of Twenty-Five Years, Old-Fashioned Dancing Is Being Revived'' in 1926 detailing steps for some contra dances. In the 1930s and 1940s, the popularity of Jazz, Swing, and "Big Band" music caused contra dance to decline in several parts of the US, and they were primarily held in towns within the Northeastern portions of North America, such as
Ohio Ohio () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. Of the List of states and territories of the United States, fifty U.S. states, it is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 34th-l ...
, the Maritime provinces of Canada, and particularly in
New England New England is a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts Massachusetts (Massachusett language, Massachusett: ''Muhsachuweesut assachusett writing systems, məhswatʃəwiːsət ...
. Ralph Page almost single-handedly maintained the New England tradition until it was revitalized in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly by Ted Sannella and Dudley Laufman. The New England contra dance tradition was also maintained in Vermont by the Ed Larkin Old Time Contra Dancers, formed by Edwin Loyal Larkin in 1934.Alt URL
/ref> The group Larkin founded is still performing, teaching the dances, and holding monthly open house dances in Tunbridge, Vermont. By then, early dance camps, retreats, and weekends had emerged, such as Pinewoods Camp, in
Plymouth, Massachusetts Plymouth (; historically known as Plimouth and Plimoth) is a town in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, United States. Located in Greater Boston, the town holds a place of great prominence in American history, folklore, and culture, and is known as ...
, which became primarily a music and dance camp in 1933, and NEFFA, the New England Folk Festival, also in Massachusetts, which began in 1944. Pittsburgh Contra Dance celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015. These and others continue to be popular and some offer other dances and activities besides contra dancing. In the 1970s, Sannella and other callers introduced dance moves from
English Country Dance A country dance is any of a very large number of social dances of a type that originated in the British Isles; it is the repeated execution of a predefined sequence of figures, carefully designed to fit a fixed length of music, performed by a g ...
, such as heys and gypsies, to the contra dances. New dances, such as ''Shadrack's Delight'' by Tony Parkes, featured symmetrical dancing by all couples. (Previously, the actives and inactives – see Progression – had significantly different roles). Double progression dances, popularized by Herbie Gaudreau, added to the aerobic nature of the dances, and one caller, Gene Hubert, wrote a quadruple progression dance, ''Contra Madness''. Becket formation was introduced, with partners starting the dance next to each other in the line instead of opposite each other. The Brattleboro Dawn Dance started in 1976, and continues to run semiannually. In the early 1980s, Tod Whittemore started the first Saturday dance in the
Peterborough Peterborough () is a City status in the United Kingdom, cathedral city in Cambridgeshire, east of England. It is the largest part of the City of Peterborough unitary authority district (which covers a larger area than Peterborough itself). It wa ...
Town House, which remains one of the more popular regional dances. The Peterborough dance influenced Bob McQuillen, who became a notable musician in New England. As musicians and callers moved to other locations, they founded contra dances in Michigan, Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, and elsewhere. Many Dances require proof of covid vaccination to prevent the spread of covid.


Events

Contra dance events are open to all, regardless of experience unless explicitly labeled otherwise. It is common to see dancers with a wide range of ages, from children to the elderly. Most dancers are white and middle or upper-middle class. Contra dances are family-friendly, and
alcohol Alcohol most commonly refers to: * Alcohol (chemistry) In chemistry, an alcohol is a type of organic compound that carries at least one hydroxyl () functional group bound to a Saturated and unsaturated compounds, saturated carbon atom. The ...
consumption is not part of the culture. Many events offer beginner-level instructions prior to the dance. A typical evening of contra dance is three hours long, including an intermission. The event consists of a number of individual ''contra dances'', each lasting about 15 minutes, and typically a band intermission with some
waltz The waltz ( ), meaning "to roll or revolve") is a ballroom dance, ballroom and folk dance, normally in triple (3/4 time, time), performed primarily in closed position. History There are many references to a sliding or gliding dance that w ...
es,
schottische The schottische is a partnered country dance that apparently originated in Bohemia. It was popular in Victorian era ballrooms as a part of the Bohemian folk-dance craze and left its traces in folk music of countries such as Argentina (" chotis" ...
s,
polka Polka is a dance and musical genre, genre of dance music originating in nineteenth-century Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. Though associated with Czechs, Czech culture, polka is popular throughout Europe and the Americas. History ...
s, or Swedish hambos. In some places,
square dance A square dance is a dance for four couples, or eight dancers in total, arranged in a square, with one couple on each side, facing the middle of the square. Square dances contain elements from numerous traditional dances and were first documente ...
s are thrown into the mix, sometimes at the discretion of the caller. Music for the evening is typically performed by a live band, playing jigs and reels from Ireland, Scotland, Canada, or the USA. The tunes may range from traditional originating a century ago, to modern compositions including electric guitar, synth keyboard, and driving percussion – so long as the music fits the timing for Contra dance patterns. Sometimes, a rock tune will be woven in. Generally, a leader, known as a caller, will teach each individual dance just before the music for that dance begins. During this introductory walk-through, participants learn the dance by walking through the steps and formations, following the caller's instructions. The caller gives the instructions orally, and sometimes augments them with demonstrations of steps by experienced dancers in the group. The walk-through usually proceeds in the order of the moves as they will be done with the music; in some dances, the caller may vary the order of moves during the dance, a fact that is usually explained as part of the caller's instructions. After the walk-through, the music begins and the dancers repeat that sequence some number of times before that dance ends, often 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the length of the contra lines. Calls are normally given at least the first few times through, and often for the last. At the end of each dance, the dancers thank their partners. The contra dance tradition in North America is to change partners for every dance, while in the United Kingdom typically people dance with the same partner the entire evening. One who attends an evening of contra dances in North America does not need to bring his or her own partner. In the short break between individual dances, the dancers invite each other to dance. Booking ahead by asking partner or partners ahead of time for each individual dance is common at some venues, but has been discouraged by some. Most contra dances do not have an expected dress code. No special outfits are worn, but comfortable and loose-fitting clothing that does not restrict movement is usually recommended. Women usually wear skirts or dresses as they are cooler than wearing trousers; some men also dance in kilts or skirts. Low heeled, broken-in, soft-soled, non-marking shoes, such as dance shoes, sneakers, or sandals, are recommended and, in some places, required. As dancing can be aerobic, dancers are sometimes encouraged to bring a change of clothes. As in any social dance, cooperation is vital to contra dancing. Since over the course of any single dance, individuals interact with not just their partners but everyone else in the set, contra dancing might be considered a group activity. As will necessarily be the case when beginners are welcomed in by more practiced dancers, mistakes are made; most dancers are willing to help beginners in learning the steps. However, because the friendly, social nature of the dances can be misinterpreted or even abused, some groups have created anti-harassment policies.


Form


Formations

Contra dances are arranged in long lines of couples. A pair of lines is called a ''set''. Sets are generally arranged so they run the length of the hall, with the ''top'' of the set being the end closest to the band and caller, and the ''bottom'' of the set being the end farthest from the caller. Couples consist of two people, traditionally one male and one female, though same-sex pairs are increasingly common. Traditionally the dancers are referred to as the ''lady'' and ''gent'', though various other terms have been used: some dances have used ''men'' and ''women'', rejecting ''ladies'' and ''gents'' as elitist; others have used gender-neutral role terms including ''bares'' and ''bands'', ''jets'' and ''rubies'', and ''larks'' and ''ravens'' or ''robins''. Couples interact primarily with an adjacent couple for each round of the dance. Each sub-group of two interacting couples is known to choreographers as a ''minor set'' and to dancers as a ''foursome'' or ''hands four''. Couples in the same minor set are ''neighbors''. Minor sets originate at the head of the set, starting with the topmost dancers as the ''ones'' (the ''active couple'' or ''actives''); the other couple are ''twos'' (or ''inactives''). The ones are said to be ''above'' their neighboring twos; twos are ''below''. If there is an uneven number of couples dancing, the bottom-most couple will wait out the first time through the dance. There are four common ways of arranging couples in the minor sets: ''proper'', ''improper'', ''Becket'', and ''triple'' formations. Traditionally, most dances were in the proper formation, with all the gents in one line and all the ladies in the other. Until the end of the nineteenth century, minor sets were most commonly triples. In the twentieth century, duple-minor dances became more common. Since the mid twentieth century, there has been a shift towards improper dances, in which gents and ladies alternate on each side of the set, being the most common formation. Triple dances have also lost popularity in modern contras, while Becket formation, in which dancers stand next to their partners, facing another couple, is a modern innovation.


Progression

A fundamental aspect of contra dancing is that, during a single dance, each dancer has one partner, but interacts with many different people. During a single dance, the same pattern is repeated over and over (one time through lasts roughly 30 seconds), but each time, a pair of dancers will dance with new neighbors (moving on to new neighbors is called ''progressing''). Dancers do not need to memorize these patterns in advance, since the dance leader, or caller, will generally explain the pattern for this dance before the music begins, and give people a chance to walk through the pattern so both new and experienced dancers can learn the moves. The walk through also helps dancers understand how the dance pattern leads them toward new people each time. Once the music starts, the caller continues to describe each move until the dancers are comfortable with that dance pattern. The dance progression is built into the contra dance pattern as continuous motion with the music, and does not interrupt the dancing. While all dancers in the room are part of the same dance pattern, half of the couples in the room are moving toward the band at any moment and half are facing away from the music, so when everybody steps forward, they find new people to dance with. Once a couple reaches the end of the set, they switch direction, dancing back along the set the other way. A single dance runs around ten minutes, long enough to progress at least 15–20 times. If the sets are short to medium length the caller often tries to run the dance until each couple has danced with every other couple both as a one and a two and returned to where they started. A typical room of contra dancers may include about 120 people; but this varies from 30 people in smaller towns, to over 300 people in cities like Washington DC, Los Angeles, or New York. With longer sets (more than 60 people), one dance typically does not allow dancing with every dancer in the group.


Choreography

Contra dance
choreography Choreography is the art or practice of designing sequences of movements of physical bodies (or their depictions) in which Motion (physics), motion or Visual appearance, form or both are specified. ''Choreography'' may also refer to the design ...
specifies the dance formation, the figures, and the sequence of those figures in a dance. Contra dance figures (with a few exceptions) do not have defined footwork; within the limits of the music and the comfort of their fellow dancers, individuals move according to their own taste. Most contra dances consist of a sequence of about 6 to 12 individual figures, prompted by the caller in time to the
music Music is generally defined as the The arts, art of arranging sound to create some combination of Musical form, form, harmony, melody, rhythm or otherwise Musical expression, expressive content. Exact definition of music, definitions of mu ...
as the figures are danced. As the sequence repeats, the caller may cut down his or her prompting, and eventually drop out, leaving the dancers to each other and the music. A ''figure'' is a pattern of movement that typically takes eight ''counts'', although figures with four or 16 counts are also common. Each dance is a collection of figures assembled to allow the dancers to progress along the set (see "Progression", above). A ''count'' (as used above) is one half of a musical measure, such as one quarter note in time or three eighth notes in time. A count may also be called a ''step'', as contra dance is a walking form, and each count of a dance typically matches a single physical step in a figure. Typical contra dance choreography comprises four ''parts'', each 16 counts (8 measures) long. The parts are called A1, A2, B1 and B2. This nomenclature stems from the music: Most contra dance tunes (as written) have two parts (A and B), each 8 measures long, and each fitting one part of the dance. The A and B parts are each played twice in a row, hence, A1, A2, B1, B2. While the same music is generally played in, for example, parts A1 and A2, distinct choreography is followed in those parts. Thus, a contra dance is typically 64 counts, and goes with a 32 measure tune. Tunes of this form are called "square"; tunes that deviate from this form are called " crooked". Sample contra dances: * Traditional – the actives do most of the movement :''Chorus jig'' (proper duple minor) ::A1 (16) Actives down the outside and back. (The inactives stand still or substitute a swing). ::A2 (16) Actives down the center, turn individually, come back, and cast off. (The inactives stand still for the first , take a step up the hall, and then participate in the cast). ::B1 (16) Actives turn contra corners. (The inactives participate in half the turns.) ::B2 (16) Actives meet in the middle for a balance and swing, end swing facing up. (The inactives stand still.) ::''Note:'' inactives will often clog in place or otherwise participate in the dance, even though the figures do not call for them to move. * Modern – the dance is symmetrical for actives and inactives :"Hay in the Barn" by Chart Guthrie (improper duple minor) ::A1 (16) Neighbors balance and swing ::A2 (8) Ladies chain across, (8) half hey, ladies pass right shoulders to start. ::B1 (16) Partners balance and swing. ::B2 (8) Ladies chain across, (8) half hey, ladies pass right shoulders to start. Many modern contra dances have these characteristics: * longways for as many as will * first couples improper, or Becket formation * flowing choreography * no-one stationary for more than 16 beats (e.g. first couple balance and swing, finish facing down to make lines of four) * containing at least one swing and normally both a partner swing and a neighbor swing * the vast majority of the moves from a set of well-known moves that the dancers know already * composed mostly of moves that keep all dancers connected * generally danced to 32 bar jigs or reels played at between 110 and 130 bpm * danced with a smooth walk with many spins and twirls An event which consists primarily (or solely) of dances in this style is sometimes referred to as a "modern urban contra dance".


Music

The most common contra dance repertoire is rooted in the Anglo-Celtic tradition as it developed in North America. Irish, Scottish,
French Canadian French Canadians (referred to as Canadiens mainly before the twentieth century; french: Canadiens français, ; feminine form: , ), or Franco-Canadians (french: Franco-Canadiens), refers to either an ethnic group who trace their ancestry to Fren ...
, and Old-time tunes are common, and
Klezmer Klezmer ( yi, קלעזמער or ) is an instrumental musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. The essential elements of the tradition include dance tunes, ritual melodies, and virtuosic improvisations played for l ...
tunes have also been used. The old-time repertoire includes very few of the jigs common in the others. Tunes used for a contra dance are nearly always "square" 64-beat tunes, in which one time through the tune is each of two 16-beat parts played twice (this is notated AABB). However, any 64-beat tune will do; for instance, three 8-beat parts could be played AABB AACC, or two 8-beat parts and one 16-beat part could be played AABB CC. Tunes not 64 beats long are called "crooked" and are almost never used for contra dancing, although a few crooked dances have been written as novelties. Contra tunes are played at a narrow range of
tempo In musical terminology, tempo (Italian language, Italian, 'time'; plural ''tempos'', or ''tempi'' from the Italian plural) is the speed or pace of a given musical composition, piece. In classical music, tempo is typically indicated with an inst ...
s, between 108 and 132 bpm. Fiddles are considered to be the primary melody instrument in contra dancing, though other stringed instruments can also be used, such as the
mandolin A mandolin ( it, mandolino ; literally "small mandola") is a Chordophone, stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is generally Plucked string instrument, plucked with a plectrum, pick. It most commonly has four Course (music), course ...
or
banjo The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashi ...
, in addition to a few wind instruments, for example, the
accordion Accordions (from 19th-century German language, German ''Akkordeon'', from ''Akkord''—"musical chord, concord of sounds") are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free reed aerophone, free-reed aerophone type (prod ...
. The
piano The piano is a stringed keyboard instrument in which the strings are struck by wooden hammers that are coated with a softer material (modern hammers are covered with dense wool felt; some early pianos used leather). It is played using a musica ...
,
guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six string instrument, strings. It is usually held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or Plucked string instrument, plucking the strings with the dominant hand, w ...
, and
double bass The double bass (), also known simply as the bass () (or #Terminology, by other names), is the largest and lowest-pitched Bow (music), bowed (or plucked) string instrument in the modern orchestra, symphony orchestra (excluding unorthodox addit ...
are frequently found in the rhythm section of a contra dance band. Occasionally, percussion instruments are also used in contra dancing, such as the Irish bodhran or less frequently, the dumbek or washboard. The last few years have seen some of the bands incorporate the Quebecois practice of tapping feet on a board while playing an instrument (often the fiddle). Until the 1970s it was traditional to play a single tune for the duration of a contra dance (about 5 to 10 minutes). Since then, contra dance musicians have typically played tunes in sets of two or three related (and sometimes contrasting) tunes, though single-tune dances are again becoming popular with some northeastern bands. In the Celtic repertoires it is common to change keys with each tune. A set might start with a tune in G, switch to a tune in D, and end with a tune in Bm. Here, D is related to G as its dominant (5th), while D and Bm share a key signature of two sharps. In the old-time tradition the musicians will either play the same tune for the whole dance, or switch to tunes in the same key. This is because the tunings of the five-string banjo are key-specific. An old-time band might play a set of tunes in D, then use the time between dances to retune for a set of tunes in A. (Fiddlers also may take this opportunity to retune; tune- or key-specific fiddle tunings are uncommon in American Anglo-Celtic traditions other than old-time.) In the Celtic repertoires it is most common for bands to play sets of reels and sets of jigs. However, since the underlying beat structure of jigs and reels is the same (two "counts" per bar) bands will occasionally mix jigs and reels in a set. Some of the most popular contra dance bands in recent years are Great Bear, Perpetual E-Motion, Buddy System, Crowfoot, Elixir, the Mean Lids,
Nor'easter A nor'easter (also northeaster; see below), or an East Coast low is a synoptic-scale extratropical cyclone in the western North Atlantic Ocean The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's five oceans, with an area of about ...
,
Nova A nova (plural novae or novas) is a transient astronomical event that causes the sudden appearance of a bright, apparently "new" star (hence the name "nova", which is Latin for "new") that slowly fades over weeks or months. Causes of the dramat ...
, Pete's Posse, the Stringrays, the Syncopaths, and Wild Asparagus.


Techno contras

In recent years, younger contra dancers have begun establishing "crossover contra" or "techno contra" – contra dancing to techno, hip-hop, and other modern forms of music. While challenging for DJs and callers, the fusion of contra patterns with moves from hip-hop, tango, and other forms of dance has made this form of contra dance a rising trend since 2008. Techno differs from other contra dancing in that it is usually done to recorded music, although there are some bands that play live for techno dances. Techno has become especially prevalent in Asheville, North Carolina, but regular techno contra dance series are spreading up the East Coast to locales such as
Charlottesville, Virginia Charlottesville, colloquially known as C'ville, is an independent city (United States), independent city in the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Virginia. It is the county seat of Albemarle County, Virginia, Albemarle County, which su ...
; Washington, D.C.; Amherst, Massachusetts;
Greenfield, Massachusetts Greenfield is a city in and the county seat of Franklin County, Massachusetts, Franklin County, Massachusetts, United States. Greenfield was first settled in 1686. The population was 17,768 at the 2020 census. Greenfield is home to Greenfield Comm ...
; and various North Carolina dance communities, with one-time or annual events cropping up in locations farther west, including California,
Portland, Oregon Portland (, ) is a port city in the Pacific Northwest and the list of cities in Oregon, largest city in the U.S. state of Oregon. Situated at the confluence of the Willamette River, Willamette and Columbia River, Columbia rivers, Portland is ...
, and Washington state. They also sometimes appear as late night events during contra dance weekends. In response to the demand for techno contra, a number of contra dance callers have developed repertoires of recorded songs to play that go well with particular contra dances; these callers are known as DJs. A kind of techno/traditional contra fusion has arisen, with at least one band, Buddy System, playing live music melded with synth sounds for techno contra dances.


See also

* Ceili dance * Country Dance and Song Society * Dutch crossing * International folk dance *
Quadrille The quadrille is a dance that was fashionable in late 18th- and 19th-century Europe and its colonies. The quadrille consists of a chain of four to six ''Country dance, contredanses''. Latterly the quadrille was frequently danced to a medley of ...


Citations


General and cited references

* * See chapter VI, "Frolics for Fun: Dances, Weddings and Dinner Parties, pages 109 – 124. * * * (Reprint: first published in 1956 by American Squares as a part of the ''American Squares Dance Series'') * * * * * * * * * * See chapter entitled "Country Dancing," Pages 57 – 120. (The first edition was published in 1939.) * * * * * * * *


External links

; Contra dance associations :
Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS)
preserves a variety of Anglo-American folk traditions in North America, including folk music, folk song, English country dance, contra dance and morris dance. :
Anglo-American Dance Service
Based in Belgium, promoting contra dance and English dance in Western Europe. ; Descriptions & definitions :* Gary Shapiro'
What Is Contra Dance?
:* Hamilton Contra Dance

:* Hamilton Contra Dance

:* Sharon Barrett Kennedy'

; Different traditions and cultures in contra dance :* Colin Hume'

; Research resources :* University of New Hampshire Special Collections
New Hampshire Library of Traditional Music and Dance
; Finding contra dances :
CDSS Dance Map
– interactive, crowd sourced map of contra and folk dances around the world :
Contra Dance Links
– comprehensive, up-to-date lists of local dances, weekend dances, musicians, callers, etc. :
The Dance Gypsy
– locations of contra dances, and many other folk dances, around the world :
Try Contra
– Find contra dances using ZIP Code search. :
National Contra Grid
– Look up dances by day-of-week & City. :
ContraDance.org
– Description, Links, videos, and local schedule. :; In the United Kingdom :

:
Are You Dancing
– calendar of social dance events in the UK, including contras :
English Folk Dance and Song Society dance calendar
– calendar of folk dance events in the UK, including contras :; In France :
Paris Contra Dance
; Video :
Contra dance in Oswego, New York
with music by the Great Bear Trio. 2013. :* Two American country danc
films on DVD
"Country Corners" (1976), and "Full of Life A-Dancin'" (1978). :
Contra dance in Tacoma, Washington
with music by Crowfoot. 2009. :
Welcome to the Contra Dance
– dancers discuss their experiences contra dancing, set over photographs of contras :
The New Contra Dance Commercial
(2 minute look at contra in a few dance halls, see playlist) :
Why We Contra Dance
(dancers discuss why they enjoy contra dance, with video of dancing) :
Dancing Community
(dancers from Louisville talk about their contra dancing experiences, with video of dancing) :
Contra Dancing and New Dancers
(new contra dancers in Atlanta, Georgia, discuss their experience) :
A History of Contra
(documentary of contra dancing, spanning 150+ years of dance culture) :
Contra dance in Chattanooga, Tennessee
with music by Buddy System and calling by Seth Tepfer, 2019 :
The Contra Dance
(Doug Plummer's 3 minute slide + video set, with Ed Howe's fiddle music from May 2019) :
Contra dance in Glen Echo, Maryland
with music by Elixir and calling by Nils Fredland, Contrastock 4, 2014. :
Contra dance in Pinellas, Florida
with music by ContraForce and calling by Charlotte Crittenden, 2017) :
Example Contra Dance Lesson
(caller Cis Hinkle explains the basics, with contra vocabulary) :
Contra Nils Walkthrough and Dance
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