Genre Buzz: Contra Dance


Contra Dancing at Dance Parade event January 2011

Dance Parade New York’s Dance Education Series

Genre Buzz – Contra Dance

Contra dance refers to several partnered folk dance styles in which couples dance in two facing lines of indefinite length.  A fundamental aspect of contra dancing is that the same dance, one time through which lasts roughly 30 seconds, is repeated over and over-but each time you dance with new neighbors.

Sometimes described as New England folk dance, contra dances can be found around the world, though they are especially popular in North America.

At the end of the 17th century, English country dances were taken up by French dancers; hybrid choreographies exist from this period using the steps from French court dance in English dances. The French called these dances contra-dance or contredanse. As time progressed, English country dances were spread and reinterpreted throughout the Western world, and eventually the French form of the name came to be associated with the American folk dances, especially in New England.

Contra dance choreography specifies the dance formation, the figures, and the sequence of those figures in a dance. Notably, 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 six to twelve individual figures, prompted by the caller in time to the music 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.

The most common contra dance music is rooted in the Anglo-Celtic tradition as it developed in North America. Irish, Scottish, French Canadian, and Old-time tunes are common, and Klezmer tunes have also been used.  Source: Excerpts from Wikipedia.

View this wonderful Contra Dance Documentary to learn more about the culture, experience, and movement style from Contra dancers.  Enjoy!

More about  Dance Genre Buzz:

Each month, a new dance style is celebrated.  View videos and learn about the heritage and history of different dance styles.  Discover innovators of the dance, trends, variations, and current events for each dance genre featured.

Participate in Dance Genre Buzz:

Help Dance Parade New York support the dance community.  Share information on each dance style we feature, including dance classes, events, competitions, and other productions, such as film and video productions.  Teachers, participants, and enthusiasts are welcome to share their network and experience with our audience to support dance education, online and on the dance floor!

By, Dawn Paap

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4 Responses to “Genre Buzz: Contra Dance”

  1. CDNY (Country Dance * New York) runs contra dances at the Chinatown Y Houston St. Center every Saturday September thru June. CDNY dancers will be contra dancing in the dance parade, and finishing the day with an extra fabulous dance. Link to CONTRASHOCK flyer: http://cdny.org/ContraShock.pdf

  2. Great summary, and I really liked the video. Besides Dave Harvey’s excellent contra dances, Country Dance New York sponsors weekly contra dances almost every Saturday at the Chinatown Y, 273 Bowery – see our website for the calendar. It’s even more fun in person than on the video, and with an age range from the teens to the 70’s (though most are in their 20’s). Give it a try! We’ll be in the Dance Parade too. Beginners welcome. Bring soft-soled shoes. Share in the joy!

  3. Love to dance! Peopel who contra dane say it is the most fun they have, standing up. Anyone can dance and have an amazing time – always live music – and when the caller steps out, it is the music that tells you what to do.
    Contra daning is done by three groups in New York City. The largest organization is Country Dance New York had dances every Saturday night at the China Town Y. The NY Barn Dance dances on some thursday. And there is a new group dancing monthly on Fridays The Brooklyn Contra dance. Everyone is welcome, and everyone has a great time.

  4. There is also a spreading “techno contra” or “crossover contra” sub-genre of this, mainly found on the East Coast (MA, DC, VA, NC) which does this form of traditional called dancing to more contemporary music (electronica, pop, rock, etc.) — an interesting twist on an old tradition.


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