Dance, dance, dance

FOOTMAD shuffles its feet to that old-time beat


Men and women laugh and joke, promenade and swing in contra dance, a friendly, sweaty time to enjoy the company of others.

Photo caption: Whether they are gray and bearded or young and in flowing hippie floral dresses, no one minds who dances with whom one of the few rules of this happy group known as FOOTMAD. The group meets monthly at the downtown YWCA's big open upstairs gym. FOOTMAD stands for (The Birmingham) Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance. Amy E. Voigt/Post-Herald

Longtime contra dancers Linda James and David Finley gaze into each others' eyes during one of the monthly FOOTMAD dances at the YMCA. In contra dancing, a caller, usually working with a group of live musicians, guides new and experienced dancers alike through a variety of steps. Partners dance a series of figures, or moves, with each other and with another couple for a short time. They then repeat the same figures with another couple, and so on. It's similar to old-time square dancing.

Dancers hear the folksy, Appalachian sounds of fiddle, guitar and other instruments start up from the band, Red Mountain White Trash. Instantly, smiles flash, skirts swirl and feet glide across the gym floor. Many have come for years to kick up their boots and sneakers; about 45 eager dancers showed up on a recent Saturday night, many of whom are business professionals.

A few dancers even travel from around the country on the contra dance circuit. Don McTaggart, 47, of Knoxville specializes in dipping the ladies and making them laugh, as he does repeatedly with many in the room.

Dancers cross hands, swing and walk several paces. They circle left. They circle right. They join another couple and grab the arm of the same sex woman or man across the way -- called passing through. As a result, they have a new dance partner. And, then the moves change. But the caller, Keith Cornett, announces every step to keep folks from getting confused.

Many dancers miss moves, but no one seems to mind, as the focus is on being together with folks who simply like to have fun.

Amy E. Voigt/Post-Herald

Bill Martin of Red Mountain White Trash plays the autoharp with the band while watching the dancers on the floor. "It's all nice people," said one member, Linda James, 51, of Vestavia Hills, who's been coming to the contra dance events about 10 years with her husband, Roger, 50. She smiled at everyone dancing near her -- new partners in the rotation, and women who crossed arms with her. Not a lot of discussion takes place on the dance floor, just moving to the caller's instructions and greeting new partners with a quick "Hey!"

The dances started in 1980 after FOOTMAD co-founder Joyce Cauthen and her husband Jim traveled to Berea, Ky., to study country dance. They instead learned about contra dancing and formed a group at Southside's Glen Iris Elementary School lunchroom.

Joyce Cauthen plays guitar with Red Mountain White Trash, and Jim plays fiddle.

Lee Irwin, 52, has been coming since the group's inception. She grinned while awaiting a new dance in the middle of the gym with a line of others.

The music started up again. On the dance floor, as men twirled women around and couples joined hands and danced down the gym floor, the footwork picked up its pace as the twangy music reached a fever pitch.

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Produced by Charlie Seelig
This page last updated on October 21, 2006.