New England folk form ablaze in Wethersfield
WETHERSFIELD -- One of the best aspects of contra dancing, said a dedicated follower, is that you don't need a partner to go to the dance.
That became apparent Saturday night as the smooth wooden floor of the American Legion at 275 Main St. came alive with dance and music in the contra tradition -- a New England folk form that has Celtic and Canadian roots.
Rob Lindauer, a viola player from West Hartford, began hosting routine contra music functions at the Legion Hall in 1998. Lindauer's events began as a jam session for musicians who wanted to play contra. He found that there was a substantial following in Connecticut. Now, the events feature a contra jam session, and a lively contra dance that brings in hundreds of enthusiasts.
"The nice thing about contra dance is that it's community-oriented," he said.
Ann Hundt, a volunteer coordinator for the contra functions, said she was drawn to contra because more about community than it was about couples.
"I started because I was just recently divorced an I didn't want to go with a partner," she said. "You can come alone and feel comfortable."
But the dance is about as social a phenomenon as it gets: It begins with lines of men and women who link hands, join in groups of four and then alternate partners. Then members from each group then link with partners from the group of four beside them. In this manner, each dancer works his or her way down the dance floor, alternating partners each step of the way.
All of the dances are accompanies by live music. On Saturday, the dance was accompanied by the contra music of Get Reel.
A distinction at the Wethersfield contra events, Hundt said, is that it's always open to beginners. Before each dance, the caller -- the person who "directs" the dancing -- holds a demonstration for beginners.
On Saturday, caller Steve Holland guided the crowd as they worked their way through the simple dance maneuvers. As the dance got underway, it became apparent that experienced dancers were not fazed by the mistakes of the inexperienced, but, rather, guided them along. Hundt said the first time she tried contra was fun, not intimidating, because of the supportive attitude.
"This is not painful," she said. "The first time I contra danced I laughed the whole night."
Lindauer holds the jam session before each dance. On Saturday, players on violin, viola, accordion, fife, melodica flute and other instruments came together. The jam session and the dances bring in many people who also belong to other folk organizations in the state. Simsbury resident Don Moore, who plays the autoharp for the group, runs Connecticut's Dulcimer Folk Association.
"These are musicians who come out here to play for fun," he said. "There is music in all of us, the question is, how do you get it out?"
The group of people who attend the jam sessions perform at dances twice a year. The Wethersfield American Legion is also home to swing, and Cajun zydeco dancing, all of which are coordinated by Hartford Community Dance, a local nonprofit group. Information about the full schedule can be found at www.geocities.com/h_c_d.
The contra events are held on the second Saturday of every month at the American Legion building. The jam session begins at 5:30 p.m. The beginner dance workshop begins at 7:30 p.m. and the dance runs from 8 to 11 p.m. Admission is $8 or $7 for members. It is free to students.
George Moore can be reached at email@example.com or by calling (860) 225-4601, Ext. 225.
By GEORGE MOORE, The Herald Press
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Produced by Charlie Seelig
This page last updated on October 10, 2006.