February 19, 2007
Article on contra dancing from The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colorado:
Young, old, beginner and expert all twirl to contra beat at Club Tico
By KELLI LACKETT
KelliLacket at coloradoan.com
If you can walk, you can contra dance.
And no matter how well or how badly you do it, you'll end up dancing with just about everyone in the room.
About 150 people showed up on a recent Saturday at Club Tico to move their feet to the piano, guitar, fiddle and mandolin stylings of the Northern California band the Fiddlerats.
"I love the energy and the crowd here," said Amy Hancock, a 36-year-old massage therapist from Loveland who has been contra dancing for four years.
No Saturday night is the same, Hancock said.
"There are different callers, different combinations, different partners," she said.
Contra dancing is a form of American folk dance set to jigs, reels and hornpipes. It is descended from English country dancing, which also became popular in France in the 18th century. Some people compare contra dancing to square dancing, but once you see contra dancing in person, it's clear that they are different beasts.
You can square dance for years and still be considered a beginner. But learning to contra dance only takes an hour … theoretically.
I was among the few dozen people who showed up for free lessons an hour before the dance started. As the band tuned up, everyone shuffled around with their hands in their pockets, not knowing what to expect.
Finally, Randy Crump took charge of the lesson. Crump is one of the founders of the Friends of Traditional Dance, which has organized contra dances and other community dances in Fort Collins. The group hosts contra dances at Club Tico on the first, third and fifth Saturdays of each month. But there’s an opportunity to dance just about every night of the week somewhere on the Front Range.
Jonathan Feiman, a Fort Collins architect and project manager, was kind enough to be my partner for the lesson. Feiman had never danced before but he had a knack for it.
“I was looking for a way to learn to dance. I wanted to start with something that wasn’t terribly complicated” Feiman said.
We formed two long lines — men on one side and women on the other. Crump began to demonstrate steps such as the do-si-do, allemande, balance and the dizzy-making “swing.”
If you don’t master the steps with your partner, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to try them with others as you repeat the patterns as you move down the line of partners.
“What’s nice about contra dance is everybody is at different levels. If you have difficulty, someone will help you,” Feiman said.
For the rest of the night the dances were made up of differing sequences of the basic steps. The beauty of contra dancing is that your feet don’t have to do much except get you in the right place in the line. And the caller walks-through every dance before it starts.
“It’s really fun. And it’s pretty easy to do,” said 19-year-old Marie Johnson, who was contra dancing for the first time.
The regulars — who range in age from 19 to 90 — trickled in as the lesson ended and soon the floor was jumping with swirling skirts. No one who wanted to be on the dance floor was left out, though unless you’re in great shape you’ll have to sit one or two out to drink some water.
“You can come as a single and meet a whole community of friends. You can dance with the whole line,” said Longmont resident Linda Maguire. “Everybody is friendly and easy-going and will help you along.”
Maguire started contra dancing in 1998 to try something new while healing from separating from her husband.
“I laughed the whole time,” Maguire said.
Maguire was hooked. Whenever she travels, she finds a contra dance to attend and takes part in contra dancing camps around the country. She met her partner Brian Klock through contra dancing.
“You make lifelong friends,” Maguire said.