Photo from River Falls, SC, by David Wright


The contra dance event in Bloomington, Indiana, is held every Wednesday evening in the gym of a local school building. If we were to walk into the gym about eight o'clock, we would find a volunteer setting up the sound system, a group of musicians tuning their instruments and comparing tune lists, and the caller for the evening riffling through a card file and pulling out dances that look promising. Shortly after eight the dancers begin to gather, shedding jackets and backpacks in corners and under chairs, changing shoes, paying the small entrance fee, and greeting friends.

At some point around eight thirty, when there are enough dancers present for a contra dance line or a square, the caller asks the dancers to form up for a dance. The first dance is usually a contra dance, because late arrivals can easily join in at the ends of the sets. The caller walks the dancers through the dance figures once (twice if there are a number of beginning dancers), signals the band to start playing the first tune, and the dancing begins. This dance continues for ten minutes or so, after which the caller brings it to an end by signaling the band to stop the next time around and perhaps by inserting a "partner swing" in place of the last figure of the dance.

When the dance is finished, partners thank one another and go find new partners for the next dance. Pauses between dances are brief, a few minutes at most. As the dancers take their positions for another dance, there is usually the assumption implicit in the process of forming up that the next dance will be a contra dance, although the caller may specify another formation such as a square dance or a circle dance.

A typical evening in Bloomington consists of about eight or nine dances, followed by a last waltz. Each dance, with the exception of the waltz, is taught with a walk-through and then danced for ten minutes or so. The Bloomington dance lasts only two hours and consequently there is no break scheduled into the evening. Many dances in other localities run three hours and schedule a break of about fifteen minutes, during which the dancers get drinks of water, visit the bathroom, and socialize. In many places it is customary to play music for a couple dance at the end of this break, perhaps a hambo, a polka, or a waltz. In Bloomington the dance ends promptly at ten thirty with a waltz, and then the sound system is dismantled, the band and caller pack up their instruments and dance cards, and many of the participants reconvene at a local bar to drink beer and socialize (see Bealle 1988).

The weekly dance in Bloomington is typical of many local contra dance events. Local dances, however, do vary considerably, and each has its own character. Some dances are very small, and some have hundreds of participants. Some use primarily local talent, often amateur, and others hire professional talent and charge money at the door to cover expenses. Some local dances provide a great deal of support and teaching for beginning dancers, and others cater more to the experienced dancers and are intimidating for newcomers. Still the basic structure is the same: The leadership consists of a caller and a group of musicians, as well as someone who is willing to arrange for a hall and a sound system. The activity consists of a series of contra dances and/or dances in other formations, with a partner change normally expected from one dance to the next. There may or may not be a break, and there may or may not be refreshments of some sort. The evening usually ends with a waltz.

In New England the music used for contra dancing is of Irish, Scottish, English, or French Canadian origin. Jigs and reels are the standard accompaniment to the New England contra dance, although marches, hornpipes and polkas may also be used. As contra dancing has spread across the country, other kinds of music have also been used for the dance. In the South, Appalachian fiddle tunes are used, and in the Midwest one can find elements of New England music and elements of Southern music, often during the same evening. Live music is the rule at today's dances, and the presence of skilled musicians provides an additional draw for the dancers.

A clarification of terms will be helpful at this point. In reference to a dance event, the terms "square dance" and "contra dance" have historically been used interchangeably. A dancer may say, "I am going to the contra dance" or "I am going to the square dance" and in both cases be referring to an evening of dance that includes square dances, contra dances, and a few dances in other formations as well. To add to the confusion, these terms may also be used in opposition to one another, "contra dancing" sometimes implying that "we dance contras and we're not very fond of squares." The term "contra dance" also refers, of course, to a single dance within the contra dance tradition. The reader needs to be aware of the different uses of these terms in order to avoid confusion. When I am referring to an event, I will use the term "contra dance" to mean an evening of dances that includes contra dances and possibly a mixture of other formations as well. When I am referring to a particular choreographic sequence, I will use the term "contra dance" to mean a dance in a linear formation, danced in opposing lines.


Country dances, of which the contra dance is one form, are primarily figure dances that make use of group movements and patterns for their expressiveness rather than complex stepping patterns or intricate body movements. Relying on group participation, they are social dances rather than performance dances. Country dances can be classified by the formations in which they are danced, formations which include the circle, the square, opposing lines, and other more specialized arrangements.

A country dance that is danced in long lines, with partners standing across from one another, is called a "contra dance."1 Many of us are familiar with this kind of formation from dancing the "Virginia Reel" in grammar school. The contra dance has also been referred to as a "long dance," "string dance," "line dance," and "longways for as many as will," this last phrase reflecting the fact that any number of couples may join a contra dance line, as long as there is space in the room. Square dances, on the other hand, are usually danced by exactly four couples arranged in a square formation. The term "square dance" is used to refer to the New England quadrille, the western club square dance, and the southern style of square dance (in which the dancers arrange themselves in a large circle of sets of two couples, rather than four). Although the contra dance and the square dance have similar and related histories and choreographic elements, this book will focus exclusively on the contra dance.

The origin of the term, "contra dance," is a source of speculation. There are at least two common theories about its derivation. Some references suggest that the term derives from the Latin word, "contra," meaning "against," and refers to two lines of dancers facing "contrary" to one another (Page and Tolman 1976:83). Another theory submits that the term derives from the French term, "contre-danse," used in France to refer to the English country dances and later translated back into English as "contra dance" or simply "contra" (Damon 1957:8). Others claim that this cannot be the case, because the dates of usage do not support this derivation (Sharp 1975:12). Whatever its origins, the term now refers to a country dance performed in opposing lines.

The American contra dance developed from the English "longways for as many as will," and was further influenced by the music and dance traditions of Scotland, Ireland, and France. The first source of English country dances that appeared in print was John Playford's The English Dancing Master: or Plaine and Easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance, published in 1651. This collection contained 105 of the popular English country dances of that time, in a variety of formations (including circles, squares, and the longways dances that interest us here) and their accompanying tunes. Playford's book was so popular that he, and later his son, published a series of them, the last book in the series being issued in 1728. By examining these books, one can track the rising popularity of the longways dances during this nearly eighty year period. The first edition contains thirty-eight longways dances out of a total of 105 country dances, and in the last volume the ratio has increased to 904 longways dances out of a total of 918.

Through Playford's books and similar collections which followed, the country dances became increasingly familiar to the urban population of England as well as to the villagers. Dancing masters in the cities taught their young pupils these dances, adding their own touches of refinement and gentility to the dancing style and polishing the dance choreography as they saw fit. By the middle of the 18th century, the country dances had become popular throughout the British Isles and in France and were danced everywhere, from the village greens to the royal court, enjoyed by both the common people and the upper classes.

As the longways dance tradition developed, it took on characteristics of the regional dance traditions of Scotland, Ireland, and France, in addition to those of the English. From the Scottish reels and longways dances, our own contra dances inherited some of their steps and figures. From Ireland come many of the jigs and reels that are still used as musical accompaniment to the contra dance in this country. The French influence derives from the 17th century, when many of the English country dances were brought over to France. A century later some of the same dances found their way back over to England, having been edited and refined by the French dancing masters. The influence of the French continued with the settlement of French colonists in America, and later with the incorporation of French Canadian dance tunes into the New England contra dance music.

We see, then, that the longways dances that were the precursors of the New England contra dance were being molded and changed in their European forms prior to and during the colonizing of America. The early colonists naturally brought their dances with them, and the contra dance was at one time danced in all of the thirteen colonies. Because most of the early settlers in the New England area were from the British Isles, the longways formation dances became particularly strongly entrenched in that area, where they survived in small communities long after they had ceased to be danced in other parts of the country.

During the colonial period, country dancing was one of the principal forms of recreation for people of all social classes. Dancing masters were teaching in the colonies as early as 1670, imparting not only a knowledge of dance to their pupils, but a modicum of training in posture and the social graces. More isolated communities relied upon itinerant dancing masters who would come every week or two to teach a class and then to offer dancing to the public for an admission price. Music was provided either by local musicians, or by travelling fiddlers who would pass the hat in the course of the evening.

The political division between England and her colonies during the American Revolution did not result in a cultural division. New contra dances continued to be developed in the patterns of the older ones, although some of the original British dance names were changed to include the names of American places and people. As a result of the colonists' military alliance with France, an influx of French culture followed the war. Some of the French dancing masters remained in America, adding an element of sophistication to the teaching of the country dances.

Following the War of 1812, many people refused to dance the English dances, turning instead to the square dances that were brought over by the French. The anti-British sentiment was not as strong in New England, however, and there the English contra dances continued to be danced. It seems probable that the contra dance remained relatively unchanged in the small New England communities, where it escaped some of the influences of the dancing masters and the fashions of the day.

Most of the contra dances that we think of as the old traditional dances—"Chorus Jig," "Money Musk," "Hull's Victory," "Petronella," "Rory O'More," "Lady Walpole's Reel," and "Lady of the Lake"—came into being sometime in the first half of the 19th century. During the latter half of that century the buzz step swing, a swing in ballroom position, was introduced into the dancing in New England and replaced the two hand swing. No one really knows from whence it came, although there has been some speculation that it arrived with the dances of Eastern Europe that were brought to this country by immigrants in the late 19th century (Parkes 1990). Another influence at this time was from the French Canadians who came down into New England to work in the lumber camps and the textile mills. French Canadian fiddle tunes were incorporated into New England dancing, accompanying both contras and squares. Some dance historians suggest that the French Canadians also influenced the length of the swing, leading to the popularity of the sixteen count swing in addition to the shorter eight count swing (Wakefield 1966:24).

Before proceeding with historical considerations, let us pause long enough to look at the kind of community dances that were held a few generations back in the small villages of New England, where the contras were preserved for so long.

The New England "junket," also called "kitchen junket," "house dance," and "house party," was a dance event held in a community member's house. Sometimes the event was held to celebrate a particular occasion—to mark and add festivity to a wedding, a reunion, or a house warming, for example. Gatherings for communal work also provided opportunities for dancing. Neighbors would come together to help with such tasks as house or barn raisings, quilting, corn husking or the making of maple syrup, and after the work was done, there would be a communal supper followed by a dance. On other occasions junkets were simply spontaneous, the guests being notified by word of mouth shortly before the event. Spontaneous parties frequently occurred in the winter months when people had more leisure time and were in need of distraction.

Some farmhouses had dance rooms built onto them, but usually the kitchen was used for dancing, it being one of the largest and warmest rooms in the house. Tables and chairs were carried out, and even the stove was sometimes removed to make room for dancing. Music was usually provided by a fiddler, although any available musician could be pressed into service. Guitars, banjos, harmonicas, and organs might be found at a junket, in addition to the fiddle. The musicians would establish themselves in some out-of-the-way place (including, on occasion, the kitchen sink) to avoid getting trampled by the dancers. The fiddler often called the figures in addition to playing the tunes, although many of the dances were known to the community and did not require either teaching or calling. Both square and longways formation dances were popular, and the repertoire was small compared to the dance events of today. Dudley Laufman, a caller and musician who played a key role in the dance revival, recalls that at the dances in Nelson, New Hampshire

the [contras] they liked were "Hull's Victory" and "Lady of the Lake" and the "Virginia Reel" and possibly "Money Musk." And that was it. They didn't want to do any others. And then there was a couple of quadrilles that they wanted to do, "Darling Nellie Gray," "Hinkie Dinkie Parlez Vous," and "Golden Slippers" and "Duck for the Oyster" and a couple of others, and that's it. They really didn't want to do any more. (Laufman 1990)

Participants at a junket included people of all ages, from babies to grandparents. In addition to the social dancing, there might be solo jigging or clogging, singing and the telling of tales, gossip and courting, and of course eating and drinking. The hosts took primary responsibility for organizing a supper, but the guests also brought contributions to share for a potluck supper. The midnight meal provided a break and some sustenance for the dancers, after which the dancing might continue until dawn.

Not every community held regular dances. The degree to which country dancing became a part of the life of a community depended in part upon the availability of talented callers and musicians in the immediate area. Where there were families in which these skills were fostered and passed down from one generation to another, the dance traditions flourished.

In addition to the kitchen junkets, public dances were held in town halls, grange halls, or hotels where there was a room big enough to accommodate the dancers. These public events were more formal than the junkets, and admission was often charged at the door. The public dances were advertised in newspapers or by means of posters, and sometimes participants travelled a considerable distance in order to take part. While the kitchen dances included perhaps eight to sixteen couples, the larger rural halls had room for twenty-five to as many as eighty couples. A single fiddler could not play loudly enough for so many dancers, so dance bands were put together using a greater number of musicians and including a wider variety of instruments, including the flute, clarinet, cornet, and bass viol. At these early public balls, minuets, reels, hornpipes, and other kinds of dances were enjoyed as well as the country dances.

Special architectural features were added to dance halls to make them more functional and attractive to dancers. The spring dance floor, for example, was built in such a way that it provided a degree of spring under the dancer's feet, preventing the aching legs that can result from dancing on hard surfaces. Another such feature, the fiddler's throne, consisted of an alcove above the dance floor from which a musician could easily be heard while staying out of the way of the dancing.

By the end of the 19th century, the contra dance was in a decline almost everywhere. Dancing manuals declared it unfashionable. The influence of the dancing masters had led to a formality and gentility that was stifling to the once boisterous country dances, and the younger generation in the urban areas rebelled against the shell of decorum that had begun to develop around these dances. At the same time there was an upsurge of interest in the new couple dances from Europe—the waltz, polka, schottisch, and mazurka. In the small New England villages, a modest repertoire of contra dances continued to be danced, but almost everywhere else the contra dance became a thing of the past to be collected and preserved by historians. The influential New England caller, Ralph Page, attributed the survival of the contra dance in New England to "a combination of English resentment to change, Irish bull-headedness, and Scottish stubbornness" (Page 1976:9).

In the early 1900s, as better transportation and communication systems developed and the cities grew, students of traditional culture became increasingly interested in the preservation of elements of folk culture that were fast disappearing. Collectors combed the countryside searching for traditional songs and dances. Educators began to incorporate folk dance into the school curriculum and into the recreation programs in the cities. The dances that were used in the schools were initially European folk dances, but later American contras and squares were added to the curriculum as well. They were taught to children as required recreation and consequently lost some of their spontaneity and some of their appeal to the older generations.

Several noteworthy publications resulted from this interest in the revival of the traditional dances. Henry Ford, concerned about the evils of jazz, enlisted Benjamin Lovett to write the book, Good Morning: After a Sleep of Twenty-five Years, Old-fashioned Dancing is Being Revived by Mr. & Mrs. Henry Ford. Ford's book contained 19th century versions of stylized country dances, as well as pointers concerning the proper etiquette that should accompany the dancing.

In the 1930s Lloyd Shawpublished his book, Cowboy Dances, in which he collected and explained the dancing of western square dances. As early as 1913 Shaw was teaching European folk dance at the Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado, and by the 1930s he had added American square dance to the curriculum and had organized a performing group of students that travelled across the country introducing western squares to their audiences.

Two years prior to the publication of Shaw's book, Beth Tolman and Ralph Page issued The Country Dance Book, which contains not only a large selection of squares and contras, but also descriptive anecdotes about traditional dance in New England, particularly in the southern New Hampshire area. This book brought the surviving contra dances to the attention of those who were interested in the revival of folk culture, and it remains an important source of information about the dance traditions of New England.

In 1955 Rickey Holden published The Contra Dance Book, in which he collected all of the contra dances that he could find in this country at that time. His book provides a clear picture of the American contra dance repertoire at mid-century, and it has been a valuable source of comparison for me as I have studied the contemporary dances.

The 20th century has seen a tremendous revival of country dancing. We have noted the growing interest in the collection and preservation of cultural traditions, the use of European folk dances in the schools and in recreation programs, and the efforts of Henry Ford, Lloyd Shaw, and others to nurture an interest in traditional dance. These early efforts helped to set the dance revival in motion.

With the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, there was a growing interest in traditional music of all kinds. Young people used folk music as a vehicle for their concerns about civil rights and the war in Viet Nam, and they were drawn to elements of the traditional way of life in their efforts to better the world in which they found themselves. As Phil Jamison, a dance caller from North Carolina, wrote:

Old time music and other varieties of traditional music went hand-in-hand with homemade bread, food co-ops, and thoughts of log cabins and living off the land. (Jamison 1988:1)

Ralph Page had been calling dances in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire since the 1930s, and as the folk music revival got underway in the urban areas, enthusiasts from Boston discovered his dances. Summer visitors from Boston and skiers who travelled to New Hampshire in the winter participated in Page's dances while they were there, and then hired him and his orchestra to come down to Boston and teach the country dances. As contra and square dancing began to develop as an urban activity, there was some conflict between the younger generation discovering country dancing for the first time, and the experienced rural dancers who had their own ideas about what country dancing should be. Through the leadership of Ralph Page, Duke Miller, Dudley Laufman, Ted Sannella, and others, new urban dancers were successfully integrated into the country dancing, and, as Tolman and Page so succinctly wrote:

Country dancing has been responsible for a friendship of town and country, young and old, beginner and veteran, "high" and "low"....It's a workable democracy. (Tolman and Page 1976:23)

The contra dance made its way from New England to other areas of the country largely by means of dancers who relocated for one reason or another, and through the hiring of New England talent at festivals and camps in other regions. Bicentennial celebrations also focused attention on traditional dance and increased its visibility. By the mid 1970s contra dance had gained a strong foothold in dance communities centered in Boston, New York, Berea (Kentucky), Brasstown (North Carolina), Knoxville, and Atlanta. By the 1980s contra dancers were active as far away from New England as the west coast. Some idea of the current distribution of contra dancing in the United States may be gained by looking at the 1994 group directory of the Country Dance and Song Society, an organization to which many, but by no means all, country dance communities belong. This directory lists over 400 country dance groups in 45 states, four Canadian provinces, Belgium, Denmark, England, and Germany, most of which include contra dances in their repertoires.


As late as 1952, a researcher lamented the passing of the contra dance:

The contra dance was left behind, much as wheat falling from a nail-torn hole in the grain sack riding on the back of a bouncing wagon. (Pitkin 1952:i)

Pitkin went on to plead the necessity of gathering the scattered contra dances, before the tradition had entirely disappeared from living memory.

From the vantage point of the 1990s, we can see that the American contra dance has survived after all and is not only alive and well, but has been enthusiastically embraced by social dance groups from New England to the Pacific coast and overseas as well. How can it be that the contra dance has achieved such a remarkable comeback, after coming so close to extinction? What is its appeal in our society today?

One answer is that the contra dances enjoyed by participants today are, for the most part, not the same dances as those enjoyed prior to the current revival. In the last two decades an interest in the composition of new contra dances has mushroomed, resulting in literally hundreds of new dance sequences. Many of these new dances are tried once or twice and then abandoned for one reason or another. Some are composed and never tried at all. But a large number of the new dances have caught the fancy of the contra dance communities and have been carried all over the country and abroad. In many areas, particularly in the urban contra dance communities, these new dances have largely supplanted the older ones. One can see in the contemporary choreography reflections of broader societal trends that have made their impact on many forms of recreation, including folk dance.

Prior to the current revival, social dancing was a leisure time activity within local communities of people whose relationships with one another went far beyond the dance. The group of people who danced together also worked together, worshipped together, educated their children together, and shared the celebrations and turning points of their lives with one another. The dance was only one of the threads that bound people to one another.

Although there still exist small community dances of this sort, in many urban areas the social dance event has been transformed from a community dance to a dance community, in which the dance provides the major focus for the participants' relationship with one another. The dance has become the strong thread in the binding of those people's lives, with spin-off activities of various kinds streaming off in little filaments. A century ago people's social contacts were more often occupation-centered, and in our society today many more of these contacts are recreation-centered, including such organizations as bike clubs, YMCA groups, sports teams, hiking clubs, and social dance groups. For many urban participants, contra dance is not a supplement to their social life, but rather the hub of it.

Life in the 1990s is typically faster paced and more complex than it was at the turn of the century. As technological advances have been applied to more and more sectors of our society, occupations have become increasingly specialized. More people work in offices, and fewer work on farms. With these changes in employment, the need for physical challenge and exercise has led people to join recreational groups in which they can keep fit through regularly scheduled activity. Contra dance offers physical exercise alongside pleasant social contacts, and the patterns and intricacies of the dance choreography appeal to people who enjoy pattern-centered and language-centered work.

As we study the evolution of the contra dance form, we will see that these elements of social change are visible at the contra dance event on several levels. The distinction between a community dance and a dance community is a useful one as we try to understand the changes that have come about on the dance floor. Probably the majority of today's contra dancers attend the latter kind of dance event, where communities are built around attendance at the dance, even though other activities may grow out of the resulting networking of participants. The dance community in the Cleveland area, for example, has developed strong communal feelings that grow out of the dance events themselves. In March of 1990, the Cleveland dance community put on a dance event advertised as "the First Homegrown Cleveland Community Contra Dance: Featuring Entirely Cleveland Written Dances and Tunes." This event was remarkable in that not only were Cleveland callers and musicians providing the leadership for the dancing, but the dances and tunes that were used were all composed by members of the Cleveland dance community. These tunes and dances were subsequently gathered into a small booklet entitled "Cleveland Dances! A Midwestern Expression of the New England Tradition."

Like Cleveland, other local groups of dancers have also developed this view of their dance gatherings as community centers. Participants create special celebrations and traditions connected with holidays, weddings, birthdays and deaths; they organize annual gatherings for dancing and related activities, to which dancers come from miles around; and from the hub of the contra dance, participants branch out to explore and create other common interests such as sacred harp singing or Morris dancing. The dance becomes the center of a community whose members grow to know, help, and celebrate one another.

Contra dancing is a catalyst for community not only at the local levels, but also at the national and even international levels. Annual and semi-annual dance camps are held regularly all across the country and in Europe, and dancers who attend these camps form ties with dancers from a large number of other communities. At these gatherings, participants share dances and tunes, discuss the problems and successes of local dance activities, and form personal bonds from many hours of pleasurable dancing in one another's company.

In many dance communities, the complications of modern life have led to some tensions as well as to constructive community building. The focus on dance as a physical outlet has brought about a shift in the balance of motivations for participation in the dance. Where once the main motivation was to socialize with friends, for some dancers the primary draw has now become a desire to develop and exercise physical skill. As a result of this changing focus, some experienced dancers tend to view beginners as a disturbance to their developing skill rather than as an asset to the continuation of the activity, and avoid choosing them as partners, just as the members of a soccer team that have developed their plays would hesitate to invite a novice to join them in a game. In some of the larger dance communities, then, the needs of individual dancers may take precedence over the needs of the group as a whole. Issues of this kind are being discussed in dance communities, particularly by leaders who have been dancing long enough to have an overview of some of these trends.

Other social issues, such as the movement toward gender equality, also find an expression at today's dance events. The encounter between traditional social dance etiquette and the movement toward more equal roles for men and women has led to new awareness and a healthy dialogue among the participants in contemporary contra dancing. The concern for gender equality shows itself in a number of ways at the dance event: Many more women have moved into leadership positions in dance communities, stepping into the roles of organizers, callers, and dance musicians. On the dance floor women invite men to dance almost as freely as men invite women; and it has become acceptable for women to dance with women and men to dance with men when there is an overabundance of one gender or the other.

The issues and problems of modern life are not only reflected in social relationships at the dance event, but they are also, remarkably, reflected in the choreography of the dance form itself. The dance sequences have become more complex, with a focus on faster, more energetic, and more challenging movements, just as our lives, too, have become ever faster paced, more complex, and focused on high performance in specialized areas. The new dances give equal activity to all the dancers, unlike the traditional dances in which every other couple waits out some of the dance movements. Today we do not like to wait—we use our microwaves for quick cooking, our fax machines for quick mailing, our bank machines for quick banking. Dancers prefer to maximize their dancing time, dancing without pause.

Gender enters the choreography through an awareness on the part of the choreographer of how the dance movements "work" for both men and women, and through an exploration of the social interactions within a given dance sequence. Experimental moves, such as men swinging with men, have been added to some dances, to point to and explore gender roles in dance.

The choreography also reflects the aforementioned interest in individual competence, sometimes at the expense of the social goals of the event, through its increased complexity and physical demands on the dancers.

With the new contra dance choreography has come an emphasis on learning contra dancing as opposed to contra dances. Instead of learning a fixed repertoire of a dozen or so dances and dancing them every week or every month, today's dancers learn the language of contra dancing and may dance several dances in an evening that they have never danced before. Does this perhaps reflect the trend in our schools toward greater manipulation of the ideas of a discipline in addition to memorizing facts? Or does it reflect the increasing emphasis on language itself, through intercultural studies and the use of computers? Or is it simply a more advanced level of learning that reflects a higher group competence in the dance? These questions are worthy of investigation.

Contra dance composition offers a fruitful arena in which to study a number of questions of interest to folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and others involved in cultural studies—questions relating to creativity, variation, community acceptance, dissemination, and aesthetics. In the course of the next seven chapters we will examine many of these areas of inquiry.



1An exception is Becket formation, a contra dance formation in which partners stand next to one another instead of across from one another.