Welcome to Contra Dancing

Basic information about contra dancing plus hints to improve your dancing skills

Welcome to Contra Dancing!

Live music and high-octane dancing in a clean, safe environment – what could be better? Contra dancing is fun, easy to learn, accessible to all ages, doesn’t require you to bring a partner, AND its great exercise!


What is Contra Dancing?

Contra is danced to Celtic, Quebecois, Old Time, New England, Southern Appalachian, Jazz, Blues, and all sorts of other music played by live bands. In a contra dance, parallel lines of dancers begin the dance by standing opposite -- or "contra to" -- their partners.


Worried about being new at this?

Don't be. You are in good company -- we were ALL new to Contra at one time. Beginners are always welcome at SOCD dances; prior experience is not expected. Grab your (smooth soled, slippery) dance shoes and come on over for your first -- or second, or seventieth -- dose of Dance Trance!

The workshop includes a teaching session for the basic figures and courtesies.

How to be a Great Contra Dancer


Eight Basic Notes:

1.  Our dances offer a Newcomer Introductory Workshop. It is at 7:00pm so try to arrive on time. There is a lot of information to convey in a short amount of time. You will learn enough of the basics to get you going, after that you will pick it up as you dance.

2.  Contra dancing is a group activity. Over the course of a dance, you will interact with everyone, including your “partner,” your “neighbor” and, in some dances, your “shadow” or “trail buddy.”

3.  You need not bring a dance partner. In fact, if you and your partner are both newcomers, please split up and seek out experienced dancers, especially for the first few dances. You will both learn faster if you do.

4.  Each set of two people (a couple) is composed of two dance roles, whose labels depend on what side a person is standing. Different communities use different role terms. Common ones include Lark for the person standing on the Left in the couple and Robin for the person standing on the Right.

5.  As a line is forming, multiple small sets are created by having two couples (four people) join hands in a "Hands Four."

6.  All dances are completely explained and “walked through” by the Caller before they are danced. It is polite to listen quietly during the walk through, even if you are familiar with the dance.

7.  Dress comfortably. Beyond proper shoes, there is no dress code in contra. The Hall can get hot so skirts are popular with all genders, as they can be cooler and more comfortable than pants.

8.  If you make a mistake or miss a figure, no worries! Relax, have fun and remember: It’s only a dance!

Nine Tips on Technique:

1.  Glide, Don't Bounce: Seek to glide smoothly in your dance movements, as if you were balancing a book on your head while roller skating. This is particularly important during a swing … hanging on to someone while they bounce around in circles can be jarring and tiring.

2.  Make eye contact: Make eye contact with anyone with whom you are executing any sort of figure, however briefly; it is a polite way of acknowledging their presence as your momentary compatriot in the dance figure. As an extra added bonus, making eye contact can reduce dizziness during sustained turns

(e.g. during swings and allemandes).

3.  Give Weight: Picture the arm tension you use when helping a seated person stand up. This is called “giving weight” and provides the energy both people use in a swing, allemande, robin’s chain, petronella twirl, and many other moves. Don't be a noodle arm!!

4.  Feel the Music / Count the Beats: Listen for the downbeats and let your body flow with the rhythm of the dance. You may also count to 8 over and over in your head if that helps keep you on time, as each musical phrase is designed to take 8 beats.

5.  Swing Safely: Make certain that your own feet -- not your partner's arms -- are in charge of supporting your weight during a swing.

6.  Twirl Safely: Leading a partner into a twirl by (gently, smoothly) raising their right hand should be done as a suggestion only -- it is the twirlee’s prerogative to follow the lead or override it. Never hold anyone’s hand so tightly that they can't easily and rapidly escape your grip and never "crank" their arm during a twirl as that can tear their rotator cuff or lead to a frozen shoulder.

7.  Better Never than Late: If you get behind in the count, simply shorten or skip a move entirely in order to be ready to start the next move, in time and on beat. Conversely, don't hurry through a move so much that you get ahead of the count -- there are no brownie points given for being the first one finished!

8.  Recovery: If you lose your place and all else fails, relax!! Simply wait for the next partner/neighbor swing and pick up from there.

9.  Graceful Exit: If you must drop out mid-dance (this is rare), please try to hang on until you are out at the top or bottom of the set.

Ten Points of Etiquette:

1.  Be sensitive to the safety of your fellow dancers: Never jerk a partner’s hand, arm or shoulder, apply excessive force, or do an elaborate "dip" if you haven't both been trained to do so safely.

2.  It is customary to change partners after every dance.

3.  When the caller is teaching, silence should prevail. Just because some people know how to do a move or have memorized the upcoming dance doesn't mean that everyone has.

6.  Everyone, even experienced dancers, occasionally space out during a dance. If that happens to your partner, don't be shy about offering (gentle, cheerful) help. NEVER yank, shove, or bark at a confused dancer, that only makes things worse.

7.  Smiling and eye contact are normal parts of the culture, but predatory or intimidating behavior is NOT normal. Use common sense, discretion, and respect others’ personal space!

8.  A delicate reminder: Dancing generates heat. Consider bringing a hand towel, fresh shirts, breath mints, and, if needed, deodorant with you. Avoid artificial fragrances as many people are allergic.

9.  Please wear shoes with clean, soft soles to protect our (rented) floor, as well as the feet of anyone you accidentally step on.

10. Anyone may ask anyone else to dance. Women may ask men, women may ask women, men may ask men, and men may ask women. The collective goal is to have no one sitting out who doesn’t want to.

11. Make plenty of eye contact. It is considered polite to make eye contact with anyone you touch, however briefly, during the dance. For example, if the caller asks you to "balance the line," look at the person next to you as balance towards them and then shift attention to look at the person on your other side as you balance their way.

12. Always say thank you -- to partners for dancing, to instructors for teaching, to callers for calling, to musicians for playing, to the sound crew for making it possible to hear the bands and callers, to volunteers for helping out, and to anyone and everyone else who made your evening a pleasant one.