So, the past two weekends I have gone contra dancing and had the BEST time. What the heck is contra, you ask?

Contra dance (also contradancecontra-dance and other variant spellings) refers to several partnered folk dance styles in which couples dance in two facing lines or a square. Sometimes described as New England folk dance, contra dances can be found around the world, though they are especially popular in North America.

That’s what wikipedia says. However, it was described to me as “Folkish Jane Austen style dancing.” Which, of course, got me hooked. I mean, be honest, who hasn’t dreamed of having THIS MOMENT.

Um, yes, hi James McAvoy. Let’s turn.

So I went and had A BLAST. After being  taught the basic steps by a very poor caller, I quickly got a partner and we got in line for a set. The great thing about contra is that there is a dance caller and he/she walks you through the dance before you do it. Anyway, my first partner informed me that if I was smiling I was doing it right. And the proceeded to stare intently and not smile THE ENTIRE FIRST DANCE. I felt genuinely like Lizzie Bennet and laughed my way through the first dance. And the second. And the third. Each dance I had a different partner and it was marvelous. I had two partners my first night that I didn’t deem overly creepy who danced well. No easy feat for a guy who likes to contra.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Well, Nicole, that’s you. I’d just be all:

But I’ve only gone three times and each time it got easier. People seemed surprised last night when I told them it was my third time. I even allowed someone to dip me. It was fun.

My dad asked me after my second night if the pictures were accurate. Did we dance with a bunch of old men all night? Yes, yes, we did. But they knew how to groove. I tell you what, I don’t think guys my age could swing me around the way some of the older guys did. And not with nearly that much panache. It’s such a cool community of people and they all get so excited about newbies. Well, not all. There are contra Grinches. They’re the ones who only ever want to dance with the good dancers. So they ignore you for a bit, or get fed up when you pull a Mr. Collins and go the wrong way. But everyone is super friendly for the most part.

I would strongly encourage you to find a contra dance and go, just once. It’s such a fun experience and it really does feel like Regency period dancing without a lot of the ceremony. So, since you all are convinced now and are going, here are my top five tips (most of which I’m still getting the hang of myself):

  • Make eye contact. Without it you get super dizzy when you turn (they call it swinging because the guy swings you around for a bit till the next move).  If you are staring into the other person’s eyes, you don’t get dizzy. This can be super awkward for beginners, so if you feel uncomfortable pick a spot on their face. If you’re a guy, don’t look down. I had at least one guy look down my shirt and that’s more awkward than looking intently into my eyes.
  • Flirt back a little. Yes, they are flirting with you. It will last ONE DANCE and then it’s over. Don’t be afraid to flirt back a little and have fun. Some of the guys will get super serious with the flirting and the eyebrow wiggle (OMG THE EYEBROW WIGGLE). But be Lizzie and remember that they didn’t ask you to marry them, they asked for one dance. Have fun. Last night, I had one guy who went out of his way to flirt with me and I was mildly uncomfortable. Then I realized that I didn’t need to be worried, because if I do go back, I’ll only see him maybe once a month or so and that it wasn’t a big deal. And he taught me how to dip, which was cool. He was probably my favorite partner, because he was a little bit ridiculous and wasn’t awkward about being super into the dance.
  • Drink your water. It may not seem like a sweat-heavy activity, but it is. If you’re a sweaty kind of guy/gal bring an extra shirt maybe. But don’t forget to hydrate often. You don’t want to faint on the dance floor. It won’t look graceful or swoon-like; chances are you’ll get trampled.
  • Take chances. Do dips. Do lifts. Add flair with twirls, even if you go the wrong way. Girls, ask a guy. Guys, never sit a dance out. Take every opportunity to live, for one night, with no regrets. Have fun. I did my first night. And I will continue to go back. It’s exercise; it’s a great way to meet new people; and it’s one night where you can live it up in a safeish way.

To summarize the point. THIS IS CONTRA. Just do it.

Peterborough contra dance

Peterborough contra dance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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