Photo Documentary: Contra Dancing (click on any photo to enlarge)
A couple Thursdays ago I found myself at Warren Wilson College outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Most wedding receptions involve a DJ and an open bar, but unimpressed by conventional standards my best friend, Andy Beth, longed to Contra Dance just as she had before she moved to Hawaii. So after the nuptials were said, the entire wedding party caravaned to this campus, walked through the doors of the gym, paid our $7 and waited with anticipation to see what could possibly come next.
A hundred plus people from all age groups and genres milled about - men with long hair, women with short hair, men in kilts, or tie dye, some with bandanas around their heads to catch the impending sweat. Some women wore yoga pants anticipating the immense energy about to be expended and other wore beautiful dresses - all free flowing and unrestricting, designed to bloom with all the pomp of a gladiola when the girls were spun around and around.
One man with a fiddle, one man with a guitar and one “caller” stood on the stage. As they improvised one rousing Appalachian country song after another the caller would proclaim a two or three word instruction like, “Women: Gypsy!” or “Men: Allemande!”. Each song began a new dance and each dance had it’s own set of choreography, but all the choreography was based off of the same repertoire of ten to twenty moves that were amazingly simplistic and repetitive. So anyone could catch on - even a novice like myself.
Imagine every nineteenth century period piece movie, with a dance scene, you’ve ever seen. Now, Imagine a hoedown. Mix the two together: Contra Dance. I’ve set the scene for you. I’ve explained technically what it is. Yet, what it means to me - how it made me feel is it’s own entity. It is nearly impossible to stay afloat amid the romance of it all. The dances are designed in a way that you begin with your partner, in a line and then throughout the dance you are choreographically parting with your partner, moving to another partner down the line, but always coming back to the one you started with, over and over again. I was certain, as I was twirled about from person to person that I danced with every last one of them (woman and man) at least once. How can people avoid falling in love steeped in this brew of romanticism? I wanted everyone to fall in love this way: accepting to take a dance with a stranger and clinging to the pieces of themselves they share in between being tossed between themselves and everyone else, but always coming back to each other.