Contradancing the weekend away

Caller Paul Rosenberg and folk band Spare Parts came to campus to help Williams’ Dancing Folk hold a much-anticipated contradance at the First Congregational Church on Saturday evening. Somewhat distinguished from the usual monthly contradance held on campus by Rude Cider, the Jan. 12 dance featured a professional band and caller, and attracted lively dancers from the College and surrounding community for a night of revelry.

Although Dancing Folk hosts an on-campus contradance approximately once per month, many remain in the dark as to what, exactly, contradance is. One definition lists contradance as “an amusement park ride we make for ourselves.” The dance style, with its symmetry and coordinated passing of partners from one person to the next all the way through the set of dancers, is fueled and sharpened by the excitement and energy transmitted from one dancer to another, and in this way is like a thrill ride.

Dancers are connected to each other by both their arms and the driving Celtic-style rhythm laid down by the live band at each dance. The caller both teaches the dance before the music starts and continues to give instructions to the dancers during the music to keep everyone in sync.

Williams contradances are always run in such a way that even total beginners can just walk in and start dancing in the next set. Coming alone is also an option because it is traditional to change partners between each dance. Contras are composed of only a few different, simple steps, and each contra contains approximately eight steps that repeat throughout the dance. If you’ve ever square danced, you already know most of the steps, such as promenade and swing, but the progression of contradance is very different. Contra is even more beginner-friendly in that all moves are performed right on the beat, and there is no tricky footwork; in fact, a smooth walk is the way you move around the floor.

The dances aren’t boring by any means. In one dance on Saturday, called “Intersection,” Paul Rosenberg set all the dancers up in a large X formation, with a double line forming each limb of the X. In one step of the dance, a couple from each point of the X had to dance rapidly through the middle as a couple, meaning eight people would cross through the middle at once. While this dance required no fancy footwork or coordination, the potential was high for humorous collisions with members of the opposite sex. Even if you were standing by, waiting for your turn to pass through the cross, it was great fun to watch the eight dancers weave, duck, and leap to make it through without crashing in with the rest of the traffic.

Contradance draws people of all ages, from WOC Director Scott Lewis’s toddling daughter to the mother of two that encouraged me to lean back as we spun each other, and then sent me reeling halfway across the floor. Whether you are a fleetfoot or a contradunce, you will not find a more welcoming or energetic atmosphere to pass a weekend night than twirling or sashaying down a stack while the other couples dance in synch, clap, stomp, and shout encouragement, driven by the sweet Celtic beat.