Contra Dance Repertoire

Here is a small selection of dance repertoire to get you started as a beginning caller or as a caller working with beginner dancers. To develop your repertoire further, and for tips on calling skills, take a look at these contra dance calling books


There are two distinct situations in which you might be asked to call a dance:

  1. A party gig or a one-time event. You are calling for a crowd made up almost entirely of beginners or people who have never encountered contra dancing. Perhaps the crowd has a wide range of ages (a school or family dance), maybe it's a celebration that includes some contra dancing (a wedding or graduation party), or a social event for an institution or school (college dance, corporate party, etc.) This sort of dance can generally be called a "Community dance;" a discussion of the dynamics of such events is beyond the scope of this article. There are excellent sources of dance repertoire and calling instruction for these situations available in print and online. Here are a few suggestions:
    • New England Dancing Masters books: the standard sources for simple dances for a community dance setting. Accompanying CDs are also available with recorded music for specific dances.
    • Family and Community Dances booklet: Includes some sample repertoire as well as information about teaching, calling and organizing community dances.
  2. A contra dance that is part of a regular series, maybe a series that you are organizing. Probably there is more of a mix of beginners and people who have encountered contra dance before. In this situation you might choose repertoire that is simple and easy to teach while appealing to more experienced folks.

The repertoire below focuses on the second situation.

There is a lot more to the selection of repertoire and knowing your audience than we can get into here. Check out these books for some tips, or consider attending a calling workshop or camp course to gain a deeper understanding of these skills.

Dance Repertoire

In the dances below, the figures are divided up into A1, A2, B1, and B2 based on which part of the music they accompany, with numbers in parentheses that indicate the number of musical beats that a given figure should take. If any of the figures are unfamiliar, you can probably find descriptions of them by searching online. Or, take a look at the glossary in Ted Sanella's book "Balance and Swing." The sources and authors for the dances are listed, where known. 

Summer Sunshine, Paul Balliet, 1994; from Sue Rosen

Longways, Duple Improper

A1: Balance the wave of 4 (4)
      Neighbor swing (12)

A2: Ladies chain across and back (16)

B1: Circle left 3/4 (8)
      Partner swing (8)

B2: Circle left 3/4 to wave of 4 (8)
      Balance the wave, walk forward to new wave (8)

Note from the Author: The only unique item for experienced dances is the unusual start position, which repeats near the end of B2. Take Neighbor's Right hand, women take Left hands to form wave.

Jefferson's Reel, traditional (aka Jefferson & Liberty); from Carol Ormand

longways, duple proper

A1: circle L one time around (8)
      circle R one time around (8)

A2: same 4, star R (8)
      star L, end at home (8)

B1: actives separate from partner and go down the outside of the set (8)
      actives turn around and walk back, returning to place (8)

B2: actives split the inactives to make a line of 4, go down the hall (6)
      actives make an arch with their joined hands, pull inactives through the arch (2)
      actives face new inactives in a line of 4 (actives still face DOWN, inactives face UP)
      in a line of 4 walk UP the hall; make a new ring of 4 (8)

Unruly Reunion, by Robert Cromartie; from Carol Ormand

longways, duple improper

A1: Down the hall 4-in-line, 1's in the middle (8)
      turn alone, return and fold the line. (8)

A2: Circle left (8)
      Circle right (8)

B1: Dosido Neighbor (8)
      Swing Neighbor (8)

B2: Long lines forward and back (8)
      1's swing (8)

Family Contra, by Sherry Nevins; from Rebecca Lay

longways, duple proper or improper

A1: balance the ring 2x (8)
      circle left 1x (8)

A2: balance the ring 2x (8)
      circle right 1x (8)

B1: neighbor Do si do (8)
      partner Do si do (8)

B2: face Neighbor, take inside hands w/partner, (8)
      Do si do as a couple 1 1/2 to face new neighbors (8)

Note from Rebecca: I love Family Contra...Most of the time, everyone is connected to someone else, which minimizes the opportunity for getting lost. It's also a longways dance that feels like a "real" contra, but it doesn't matter if people cross over at the ends.

Broken Sixpence, by Don Armstrong; from Rebecca Lay

longways; duple improper

A1: Neighbor do si do (8)
      two gents do si do (8)

A2: two ladies do si do (8)
      Ones swing, end facing down (8)

B1: go down the hall, 4 in line, turn alone (8)
      up the hall, bend the line into a ring (8)

B2: Circle Left 1x
      star Left 1x

Note from Rebecca: If I'm asked to teach a pre-dance "Beginners Workshop" at a contra dance, I often teach participants Broken Sixpence at the end of the workshop, and then do it as the first dance of the evening.


The Baby Rose, by David Kaynor; from Rebecca Lay

longways; duple improper

A1: Neighbor balance & swing (16)

A2: Circle L 3/4 (8)
      Partner do si do (8)

B1: Partner balance & swing (16)

B2: ladies chain (8)
      star Left 1x

Note from Rebecca: I often use Baby Rose to teach a Ladies Chain and star because the rest of it is so simple.

Cranky Ingenuity, by Bill Olson; from Rebecca Lay

longways; duple improper

A1: Circle L 1x (8)
      as a couple, Do si do Neighbors (as in Family Contra) (8)

A2: Neighbor Do si do (8)
      Neighbor swing (8)

B1: Gents Allemande L 1 1/2 (8)
      Partner swing (8)

B2: Circle L 3/4 (until you face up or down) (8)
      balance the ring (4)
      California twirl (4) (in each couple, Gent lifts up joined hand and lady walks under to face new neighbors)

Note from Rebecca: Cranky Ingenuity is in that great category of dances that satisfy everyone in a mixed crowd; it's not confusing for beginners (and has lots of neighbor interaction, so beginners get to dance with lots of different people), and experienced dancers love it, too.


Frederick Reel, by Tom Hinds; from Rebecca Lay

longways, duple improper

A1: long lines forward & back (8)
      ladies Allemande L 1 1/2 (8)

A2: Partner balance & swing (16) (end facing DOWN the hall/away from the band)

B1: go down the hall, 4 in line, turn as a couple (8)
      up the hall, bend the line into a ring (8)

B2: Circle L 3/4 (8)
      Neighbor Swing (8)

Note from Rebecca: Frederick Reel is great for orienting beginners because it begins with long lines going forward and back--something that everyone does, all together

Airpants, by Lisa Greenleaf; from Rebecca Lay

longways, duple improper

A1: Neighbor balance & swing (16)

A2: long lines forward & back (8)
      Ladies Allemande R 1 1/2 (8)

B1: Partner balance & swing (8)

B2: Circle L 3/4 (8)
      Neighbor do si do 1 1/2 (8)


Push the Button, author unknown; from Rebecca Lay

longways, duple improper

A1: Neighbor balance & swing (16)

A2: long lines forward & back (8)
      ladies chain (to partner) (8)

B1: ladies do si do (8)
      partner swing (8)

B2: Circle L 3/4
      balance the ring (4)
      pass thru up or down (pass R shoulders with this neighbor to meet new neighbor)

Note: Rebecca Lay learned "Push the Button" from Rick Mohr, who got it from George Marshall, who collected it in the early 1980's from an unknown source. It was originally called "The Button Push;" Rick added the balance in the B2 to improve the timing and changed the name.


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