Contra may not be a “brand new dance,” but it’s more fun than the Cupid Shuffle! All you have to do is follow instructions and enjoy the live music. Dating back to the 1700s, contra has Celtic roots, but it has evolved over the centuries. These days, there’s even techno contra music! John Ivy, fiddler in the Rock Prairie Ramblers, explains that contra dance has made a comeback, nationally in the 1970s and locally in 1996. “It’s popular among youth on the East coast,” Ivy said. “It’s really regional.”
Suzanne’s School of Dance hosts contra dance on the first Saturday of each month. Suggested donations are $5 for adults and $3 for students, but there are discounts for new dancers. Stan Swanson is one of four callers in the area, the people who give instructions aloud like you might hear at a square dance. “It’s not necessary to bring a partner, since we encourage people to switch partners for each dance,” Swanson said. “We do encourage beginners to show up at the start of the dance (7 p.m.), since the teaching is cumulative.”
Unlike the fixed groups of eight in square dance, the couples circulate in lines, and there’s more opportunity for improvisation. “Contra dance is not as acrobatic as the Aggie Wranglers,” Swanson said. “But both men and women can get a workout.” Jalapeno Honey’s music keeps the dancers moving, and it’s a generally wholesome atmosphere. Alcohol and tobacco products aren’t seen at contra dances, and many cities have their dances in churches.
If you’re already familiar with the terminology of square and contra dancing, you may enjoy a locally-written cozy mystery novel titled Right and Left Grand. Set in square dance halls of East Texas, the novel is part of a series co-written by author and editor Rhonda Brinkmann and Professor at Texas A&M University College of Education Cyndi Ricco.
For the sake of the dance floor, it’s important that you wear clean shoes that don’t scuff, and high, pointed heels should be avoided. So pull on some tennis shoes, and jump into the old school underground dance scene. For more details, go to bcscontra.org or join the BCS Contra Dance Group on Facebook.