Your Introduction to Contra Dancing

A Syllabus for a Half Hour Pre-dance Session
by Larry Jennings
To Reader: This syllabus was prepared for my use at the Austin TX third Friday contra of Sept 15, 1995. It is not intended to be used as is by others; it is intended to be suggestive. Accordingly, I have spelled out those ideas which were new to me at the time; I have been merely indicative of things which I deemed I knew how to handle. Note, in particular, that I considered it obvious that there would be a musician standing in the center of the circle. I have to confess that it wasn't obvious to Mike Head, but he rose nobly to the occasion.
If time permits, I plan to merely show (with two couples) the sequence for the first dance. I chose "Forest DeBondi (adapted)": 1&2. Bal & sw N 3. Act: go dn cntr; turn ind 4. Ret; cast off 5. Star L 6. R hds across 7. W ch 8. Ret Notes: Here and elsewhere I indicate phrasing using the scheme of "Zesty Contras": the eight eight-count phrases are indicated by "1., 2., ...8." The leader might find time to tell the group that a standard dance is 64 counts long. I like to give some suggestions that may interest experienced dancers as well as beginners. For instance: I have a love affair with half shoulder-waist position, which, if used in the cast off, avoids having the woman's left arm all tied up behind the man's back. I also like to suggest that the man loop left as the women are passing hands in phrase 7.

If the leader has time and doesn't mind being a little cute, he might mysteriously announce "please form a duple, improper contra set. If you don't know what that means, find somebody who does and ask her for the first dance. In that way you would be following the most important rule for beginners: dance with an experienced partner, especially early in the evening when the caller has programmed suitable dances."

Provided by the New England Folk Festival Association