“Honor your partner, honor your corner, balance and swing your corner. Hey for four!”
You’re swingin’, cruising down the contra line; you’re contra dancing.
Different from modern club country dance or other types of folk dance, contra dance has its origins in New England. Beginning around 1850, the style came out of the then-popular quadrilles with four couples performing five dance figures and has evolved.
Pairs form two lines down the length of the dance hall as they all alternate between traditional contra, Appalachian, square and Appalachian circle dances.
The fun part? Nobody’s required to arrive with a partner. People find a different dance partner for each dance; it’s unusual to dance with the same partner throughout the night.
“Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, I was exposed to contra dancing and barn dancing,” said dance caller Noel Osborn. “I started out with folk dance groups here, and I put together a contra dance workshop and learned how to do the dances. A lot of research went into starting the group. I had never called before, and there were no other contra dance groups in the area that we knew of. Our first workshop that got the dance group going was in 1988. About 1990, it became its own group, and it just took off.”
Live music at contra dances adds wild energy too. There are fiddles, guitars, flutes, banjos, accordions and bodhrans (handheld Irish drums), all playing New England, Irish and Appalachian old-timey music. Often, the Scissortail Mega band, a lively group, is on tap for a full contra dance band sound.
The Scissortail Traditional Dance Society hosts four contra dances a month. For more information, visit scissortail. org. Alternating Friday contra dances are held at First Baptist Church Family Life Center, 300 W. Comanche St., in Norman and at Lowry Activity Center, 315 W. Eighth Ave., in Stillwater.
Locally, alternating Saturday contra dances can be found at Epworth United Methodist Church, 1901 N. Douglas Ave., and First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, 600 NW 13th St.
“I found out about contra dance through a world music class taught by OU professor Miranda Arana,” said OU student and dancer Timmy Ramseyer. “One of the class assignments was to attend a contra dance. I went in February with my fiancée, Laura Grosz, and we enjoyed it so much, we are considering having a contra dance at our wedding reception.”
Flamingo Fling Annual Contra Dance Weekend, Friday-Sunday in OKC (see above Scissortail website for details), is a big workshop and gathering.
“People come in from all surrounding states, and it’s really fun because you have fantastic callers and bands and the dance can be a bit more challenging,” Osborn said.