Photo from River Falls, SC, by David Wright

Appendix C


It will be useful to describe a few of the basic elements that go into the dancing style used for contra dance. First, there is a minimum of complicated footwork, most figures being performed with a simple walking step. Exceptions are the "balance," the buzz step "swing," and individual flourishes which are not integral to the dance figures. Most contra dance figures are basically floor patterns and are walked.

In contra dance it is important to fit the figures to the music. This is an element of the dance style which must be learned by beginning dancers. A "circle" to the left must fit a four-bar musical phrase, and a "circle" back to the right must fit the next four-bar musical phrase. Changes of direction are usually made at the end of the preceding figure in order to start the new figure on the beat. Dancers try to dance each figure in such a way that it exactly uses up the music allotted for it, finishing the figure neither too late nor too early, but exactly at the end of the musical phrase.

"Giving weight" is another important element of the contra dance style. Dancers create a tension between them by pulling slightly as they take hands with one another, and this tension helps the dancers move quickly and efficiently through the figures. Giving weight is in fact necessary in order to finish the figures on time, especially in some of the faster moving modern contra dances. If the arms are held limp it is not possible to go around another dancer as quickly, nor is it as much fun.

Connecting strongly to other dancers is considered important in contra dancing. One should make every effort to feel the physical presence of the other dancers in any figures in which dancers touch one another. In a circle, for example, one should have a sense of the weight of each dancer, including the dancer across the circle from oneself.

Eye contact is used in the contra dance style to establish contact with another dancer with whom one dances a figure. This element of the contra dance style often makes beginning dancers uncomfortable initially, because they are unsure how to interpret this direct look.
It is important in contra dancing to keep the spacing on the floor orderly and predictable. Ideally lines should be straight, circles should be round, and dancers should time their moves so that they reach the appropriate positions with the musical phrase. In walking down the hall, care should be taken not to go too far, so that the return can be accomplished without rushing. Attention to these matters makes the dancing more pleasurable to do and more beautiful to watch.