'Dance gypsies' boogie in Arden
'All Contra All Day' theme drives 12-hour ButterBall
By GARY HABER, The News Journal
Posted Sunday, November 26, 2006

Photo caption: Susana Mayer and Roger Wood dance Saturday at the ButterBall festival in Arden Gild Hall. Hundreds attended the seventh annual event, which was a noon-to-midnight dance festival. The News Journal/GINGER WALL

Photo caption: John Larsen and Betsey Coakley show their moves at Wilmington Montessori School. The News Journal/GINGER WALL

ARDEN -- On a day when many Delawareans headed to the malls for the holiday shopping season's kickoff weekend, hundreds of contra dancers found another way to work off those extra Thanksgiving Day pounds.

They flocked to Arden on Saturday for the seventh annual ButterBall, a noon-to-midnight dance festival where twirling dancers filled the floor to the sounds of live music at Wilmington Montessori School and Arden Gild Hall.

The Gild Hall featured sessions on clogging, swing dance and waltz, but contra dance was clearly king.

The event schedule proclaimed the Montessori school gym "All Contra All Day!" and the popular type of folk dancing, in which a caller guides dancers through the steps akin to square dancing, was what attracted folks from as far away as Minnesota and North Carolina.

"We call them dance gypsies," said Tori Barone, of Arden, the ButterBall's founder and director. "It's not uncommon for people to travel hundreds of miles to dance at festivals like this."

Part of the attraction, Barone said, is the music and the relaxed, friendly environment, in which participants change partners after each dance, and strangers ask one another to join the swirling activity.

Twenty-somethings danced with senior citizens. There were no wallflowers here.

"It's social," Barone said. "People don't smoke. People don't drink. It's good clean fun. It's a lot of exercise. It's a real workout."

Laura Koenig, 26, of Jamaica Plain, Mass., got hooked on contra dance about seven years ago.

"I love the dance," she said. "I love the energy and playfulness of contra dance, and I love the people. The music is fantastic."

Like many in the crowd, Koenig brought several changes of clothes so she could stay the full 12 hours.

Alex Barron, "a huge fan of contra dancing," has been doing it for eight years.

Unlike the ButterBall, most dances last three or four hours, noted the Northfield, Minn. resident, who put himself in the camp of those of "the more-dancing-is-better-variety."

"It's play, and people don't get to play very often," said Barron, 28.

Contra dance is a big part of life for Bob Hofkin and his wife, Naomi Weiner.

The couple from Bear met at a contra dance, and honeymooned six years ago at a dance weekend in Boston. Four or five nights a week, they can be found on the dance floor at various venues from Philadelphia to Washington D.C.

"It's aerobic, and it can be very addictive," said Hofkin, 54, as he took a rare break between dances.

"It's $25 for 12 hours of live music," said Weiner, 53. "Where else can you get that kind of value?"

Contact Gary Haber at 324-2878 or

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This page last updated on December 2, 2006.