Champaign, Illinois


They heard there was a Hoe-down at the Union!

C'mon out C-U, the Fifth Annual English and American Dance and Music Weekend starts tomorrow. Registration for participants begins Friday the 17th at the Illini Union (1401 W. Green St., Urbana) promptly at 7 p.m., with a Contra dance called by Kathy Anderson and played by Illinois' own Beat Pickers kicking off at 8.

A solid schedule of more dancing, more music and dancing workshops continues at 10 a.m. Saturday and runs through to the Farewell Dance at 1 p.m on Sunday. Dancers can register for the entire weekend or select specific events and pay pro-rated rates.

Three main styles of dancing will be featured at the event: English Country Dance followed by its two American derivatives, Contra and Square Dance. Anyone who attempts to link any of these forms to line dancing or who requests "Achy Breaky Heart" will be politely asked to leave. Besides, there are (hopefully) no Billy Ray Cyrus arrangements that include cornets or recorders, and the social stigma associated with the same probably just isn't worth it.

English Country Dance is a form of dance dating from the 1600-1700s. From its name, you should already have a clue where it comes from, and if you guessed rural England, please submit your name and address in writing, and the publishers of The Hub Weekly will refund the purchase price of this issue. As far as visualizing it, "If you've seen any of the recent Jane Austen movies, then you've seen examples of English Country Dancing," said Jonathan Sivier, organizer of the event and one of the leaders (along with Jane Hobgood) of the Central Illinois English Country Dancers (

Contra Dance descended from English Country Dance and generally involves couples who relate to each other (on the dance floorŠ sheesh) in two or three pairs and then break off to mix it up with other couples. Lather. Rinse. Repeat as necessary.

And as near as I can tell, other than adding a fiddle or banjo, the only other difference between contra and square dancing is that square dancing may or may not include Pauly Shore.

All three of these dance forms are easy to learn and can be enjoyed by both beginners and the more experienced.

Jonathan described just how easy it is to get into and participate, "Some friends of mine got married in 1987 and hired a local contra dance band to play at their wedding. The leader of the band suggested having a caller and some dancing at the reception. My friends weren't dancers, but thought that might be fun. I thought the music was great and enjoyed it very much. I was hesitant about trying the dancing, but when I did, I found it was very easy to pick up, and there was someone (the caller) telling me what to do, so I didn't have to know anything to join in. The reception was at the Lake House at Crystal Lake Park, and we were dancing on the deck alongside the lake. In one dance, the figure was for the men to do-sa-do (go back-to-back around each other), and I tripped over my own feet and nearly fell into the lake."

Please note there is no lake inside the Union. Callers for the weekend will be international calling notables Sue Dupre and Kathy Anderson.

Sue was quick to point out that in dances like these, the caller is the one in control and who sets the mood. "Usually if things go wrong at a dance, it's because the caller didn't assess the crowd correctly," she said. "I was (once) hired to call for an international conference of human sex researchers who were holding their annual meeting at the Princeton University campus. They decided they'd like to have a contra and square dance at one of their social events during the conference, even though none of them had ever tried this kind of dancing before. It was a very friendly group, really easy to work with, but I realized that they were cracking up over terms I was using (for example, referring to couples as 'active' or 'inactive' couples is standard contra dance terminology) that apparently had special sex research connotations. I'm glad they found a way to mix work with pleasure that night!"

Music will be provided by some of the best folk dance ensembles in Central Illinois. The Beat Pickers from historic Elsah, IL are scheduled to play Friday night's dance. Saturday will bring the Flatland Consort, Speckled Sandwich and Banjulele, and Speckled Sandwich will play again for the Farewell Dance on Sunday.

Ben Schreiber of the Beat Pickers warned exactly what kind of hooliganism to expect from a traditional folk group jazzed up and ready to go, "Chocolate covered coffee beans are our best friend, though we also enjoy the occasional Oreo or gummy worm. At one of the dances we played forŠ we sat right in front of a milk dispenser, which we managed to nearly empty (and make a mess of) by the end of the night. Also, Joe has recently gotten us hooked on peanut butter granola bars."

Flatland Consort (hopefully their name signifies to you that they're locals) has been the ECIECD house band for more than a decade. Their membership swells between 6-10 players at any given time, and they have played for events throughout Central Illinois, including playing in the Governor's Mansion.

I asked as many of the musicians, dancers and callers as possible why they do it and what they draw their inspiration from, and while Larry Stout from Flatland Consort immediately went into stories from the early '70s, I think his cohort Walt Robinson said it best, "We live in a culture where most entertainment is passive (and usually involves someone trying to sell you something). Dancing and playing music for dancing feels good because it is physically, intellectually and socially active and engaging (the antithesis of "Bowling Alone").Š It's fun."

Registration for the weekend is $45 at the door for the whole event and is pro-rated for individual workshops and dances. Please see for more information and a complete schedule or contact Jonathan Sivier at or 217.359.8225.

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Produced by Charlie Seelig
This page last updated on November 4, 2006.