Contra dance: home

Contra Dance Survey 2013

Last spring the CDSS Contra Dance Task Group sent a survey to all the callers we could find across the United States, Canada and a handful of people outside of North America. More than 500 responded, and 480 completed the whole long survey. The results are fascinating and can be reviewed in the final report.  

Through survey responses, participants raised many great ideas that could be acted on. Using this information, the task group created a prioritized list of ideas and sent it as a recommendation to the CDSS board and staff, which can be viewed in the reports. CDSS will move forward on these projects as time and resources allow. If you're interested in helping out please contact the CDSS staff at and explain how you can help.

Organizing a Contra Dance

Here is everything you need to organize a contra dance. This collection of materials focuses on the dance and music itself, as opposed to logistical/organizational information (that stuff is covered elsewhere in these pages). Contra dancing is a tradition born in New England and now enjoyed all over the world, involving simple, lively social dancing to live music. Almost anyone can hold a contra dance almost anywhere, and these materials are designed to help you do that.

The essential ingredients for a contra dance are: 1) music (live or recorded); 2) calling/teaching (usually live, but some groups have created pre-recorded calls); 3) dancers (it helps if they are live); 4) a space large enough for 1, 2, and 3. You can arrange for all of these things fairly simply. Here's how. 


There are many different styles and flavors of contra dance music. You can dance to recorded music (which may be more reliable and steady if the musicians you have available are not very experienced), or find live music (which is usually more exciting and appealing to dancers). For help finding performers in your area, look here. If you or someone you know wants to get started learning to play for contra dancing, this selection of articles, CDs and tune books will help.

  • Playing for Contras: description of the musical form, notes about tune types and lengths
  • Books and CDs for Contra Dance Musicians: Good places to start to learn tunes, and CDs that you can learn from or play along with.
  • Contra Roots and Branches and Contra Music: These CDs highlight some of the range of musical styles that make up contra dance music. Play the music for your friends to get them excited about trying contra dance, or for musicians who might like to learn more about the style. These CDs include some shorter tracks (around four to six minutes) and some longer tracks that are closer to dance length (eight to ten minutes).
  • Any Jig or Reel: This CD contains "dance length" tracks (around 10 minutes). The band plays the tunes enough times through so that each track approximates the usual length of an individual dance. If you can't find musicians in your area, or if your musician buddies aren't ready for the big time, you can dance to this CD. 


It is likely that you can find an established caller near you to help lead and teach your dance. For help with that, look here. If you or someone in your community wants to learn to call contra dances, these materials will help you get started.

  • Basic description of contra dance form: A quick examination of the mechanics of the dance and music and how they fit together.
  • Getting Started Calling: An introduction to how to call for contra dances.
  • Books on calling contras: These books will help you learn more about how to call for contra dancing.
  • Contra Dance Repertoire: a selection of dances appropriate for beginning dancers and/or beginning callers.
  • Cracking Chestnuts videos: A page with links to YouTube videos of all of the classic American contra dances that are featured in the CDSS publication Cracking Chestnuts: The Living Tradition of Classic American Contra Dances.

Instructional and promotional stuff

These materials will help you promote your events and recruit and teach new dancers. Also take a look at this guide to doing publicity.

  • What is contra dance? These articles, all available online, describe contra dancing in written form.
  • YouTube video links: There are countless videos of contra dancing on YouTube; here are a few particularly exciting examples to help convince your friends to give contra dancing a try.
  • The Contra Dancers and Young Contra Dancers groups on Facebook are good places to look for photos and video of contra dance, to find discussion about contra dancing, and to look for listings of local dances.
  • How-to videos: These higher-quality videos focus on how to do the basic figures in contra dance and what to expect when you show up to a dance.
  • Cracking Chestnuts videos: A page with links to YouTube videos of all of the classic American contra dances that are featured in the CDSS publication Cracking Chestnuts: The Living Tradition of Classic American Contra Dances.


If you need more information, contact CDSS. We can put you in touch with someone near where you live who can help you figure all this out.

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