Posted on Mon, Jan. 16, 2006
Contra dance attracts all ages, abilities
By Linda S. Morris

If you can walk, you can contra - dance, that is.

Contra, a traditional American dance, is based on a simple walking step, said Susan Davis, who called out instructions to about 40 people Sunday afternoon at the dance held at the Howard Community Center.

"What brought me to this is the music," said Davis, from Atlanta. "I have always liked the traditional music."

Contra dancing has roots in traditional community dances brought to America from countries such as Scotland and England, Davis said. American contra dance is a couples dance in which people change partners frequently. It has some movements similar to traditional square dancing, but it tends to be slower.

As couples began dancing Sunday, some knew exactly what to do as Davis called out the steps, while others needed some gentle guidance. When the group started learning new dance steps, there were a few people bumping into each other amid peals of laughter.

Leon "Red" Herring, 88, of Macon, never missed a step as he led less experienced dancers through the movements of the dance.

"The first square dance I went to was in a farm house when they didn't have any music. It was about 1940-41," Herring said during a break as the band played a waltz.

Herring dances about four times a week, including square dancing and ballroom dancing. He worked at Georgia Kraft Paper Co. for 32 years before retiring.

"It's good exercise," he said, before a woman walked up and whisked him away into a waltz.

The music Sunday was provided by Sue Tomlin on fiddle and Garland Hurt playing guitar. They are known as That Band From Macon, but some longtime residents may know them as The Back Porch Symphony, Tomlin said.

The community dance is organized by several volunteers - including Tomlin and Frazer Lively - and those attending are asked to pitch in and help if needed. Davis, who has taught contra dancing since 1978, has instructed "probably thousands" of people how to do it, she said. She is known as a "caller" because she calls out the dance steps as they are performed.

"Circle to the right in the same old track, into the center and right back out," she called out to the dancers. "With the lady on the right you do-si-do ... break that step and promenade."

The dance drew couples and singles. Because dancers change partners frequently, it doesn't matter if someone has a partner or not, Davis said. Everyone is encouraged to ask someone they don't know to dance, and women can play the men's part or vice versa.

Sadarah Harrington, 17, attended the dance with her parents from Bonaire. Although she dances with a group called Macon 1800, this was her first time at Howard Community Center. The Macon 1800 performs traditional dance from the 1800s for various senior citizen communities and historic sites, she said.

"I like (contra dancing)," Harrington said. "Since I'm home-schooled, I don't do things like other teenagers. I would rather do things with my parents. I have lot of fun. Once you do square dancing, this is pretty easy to do."

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This page last updated on October 10, 2006.