Web posted March 30, 2006

Ohio caller looks forward to contra dances at Alaska Folk Festival


There is plenty to like about contra dancing, Becky Hill, the guest caller for the 32nd annual Alaska Folk Festival said from her home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Dancing is fun enough, but she has a ready answer for any man who asks her why contra is especially fun. "Imagine every 32 seconds another woman is thrown into your arms."

Hill has been calling for about 20 years. This will be her first appearance at the Alaska Folk Festival, although she has visited twice previously and has friends here. She was the guest caller a few years ago at Camp DAMP.

"I loved it," she said. "The people (in Juneau) are pretty special." She said she is sure she wouldn't be able to take the darkness of a Juneau winter, but she loves its "funny, mercurial people."

Hill meets a lot of people through dance. She became interested in contra dancing after moving to the Cleveland area from Tennessee. She was drawn to it by the folk musicians and story-tellers she met.

She said there isn't one thing that makes a good contra-dance caller. "It's a multiplicity of things."

A square-dance caller announces more randomly, she said. Contra has mathematical patterns. People start out in long lines, "contra" to each other. "Every 32 seconds you're dancing with someone else. It's 21? hours of fast walking."

In square dancing, people often spend the majority of the night dancing with the same group, Hill noted.

She has mentored a number of callers from Oberlin College in Ohio, where the students are smart, she said. "My personal thing is to pass it on to new callers." And she sees a lot of young people who love contra dancing.

She has written and collaborated on books of dances and performed with the Cleveland Ballet, as the caller for George Balachine's "Square Dance."

Hill has been working with first-graders and teaching junior high school students dance - swing and waltz as well as contra.

A retired special education teacher, she is usually on the road once a month.

She loved the three weeks she spent in Denmark - "they're wild about contra - and people she knows in Ohio "are green with envy" when she tells them she will be "hanging out" in Juneau for a week, she added.

"Some places are exotic. Some are not," she said. It's all fun, though, because of the dancing. "It's all smiles inside."

Contra just keeps going, she said. "You can't be shy. If you are, you won't be shy for long."

What she has heard of the Alaska Folk Festival captures that same spirit, she said. People tell her it just keeps going.

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This page last updated on October 10, 2006.