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People are always asking us,
"Why do they call it contra dancing?"


Is it because it's contrary or country? It may be both! Around 1690, English country dances made their way over to France, where they combined dance steps from both French and English dances. The French called these dances "contredanse," because the men and women started each dance in long paired lines of couples facing each other, as in being contrary.

Today, like back then, contra dancing is done to live music and a caller calls out the moves. Over the course of any particular contra dance, individuals change partners and interact with everyone else in the dance lineup, with everybody traversing patterns. So, contra dancing is a group activity. The music consists of old time tunes that find their roots in Celtic (and therefore Old Time Americana) traditions, including reels, jigs and polkas.

Contra dancing was once popular all over the Western world, especially in New England, Ohio and the Maritime provinces of Canada. Why Ohio? That's where the Western Reserve was established to give land to the veterans of the Revolutionary War. So, America's first vets brought their favorite dancing with them.

Contra dances were quite fashionable in the United States until the 1850s, when they got competition from square dances and couples dances, such as waltzes and couples polkas. By the 1930s and '40s, contra dancing was done just in small towns in New England, Maritime Canada and yes still in Ohio, where couples dancing and especially the polka flourished as well.

The popularity of contra dancing experienced a resurgence in the 1950s and '60s with the folk music revival, and contra dance workshops and music camps sprang up. Then, during the '70's some of the callers began adding new movements, such as "heys" and "gypsies." Becket formation was also introduced, with partners starting out next to each other instead of opposite. Today, the urban farming and small farm movement has embraced contra dancing, with more contra dances springing up again at community centers and grange halls.

To find out more, you'll just have to go experience the fun of contra dancing for yourself!


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