Contradance Rejuvenates Maine Tradition

Written by Miki Sisco Staff Writer

Volume 135, Issue 14 (01/31/06)

Friday nights at Bates often present students with a number of options to vent the stress of papers, exams and the innumerable 300 page books and reserve readings we muck through during the week. There's the occasional comedian, of course, and often a theme dance which transports us back to the days of swashbuckling pirates or the loud, bright hightops and frizzy side-do's of 80's dancers. Whether you spend your Friday nights in Olin as the sounds of a string orchestra, jazz band or steel band drummers blast away the misery of Friday morning's Greek quiz, or are downstairs catching the latest Filmboard movie, there is another, more interactive activity to indulge in - the contradance.

Contradancing has been a monthly tradition at Bates for over 25 years, and has been a part of Maine culture since the arrival of English settlers in New England. Although contradancing died out along with grange halls (a large hall area where farmers could come together as a community), as technology and transportation improved, a revival in its popularity emerged in the 60s and has thrived ever since. While Bates only offers contradances once a month, they can be found in colleges all over the state, from Falmouth to Unity to Farmington.

Villeann Pipe/banjo/didgeridoo player and head of the Bates College Museum of Art, Anthony Shostak, encourages everyone to stop by and experience something that is truly part of Maine life. Because so many students come to Bates from different areas of the country and, indeed, the world, this gives students an opportunity to taste Maine culture and meet people off campus. The dancers are a total mix: students and locals, experienced dancers and first timers comprise every dance.

"Newbs need not fear!" says Shostak. There is a new caller every week who teaches the simple dances and keeps the energy going. The dances are easy to learn: the dancers form two lines, one of men and one of women (though gender roles are often ignored). It is a social dance and a workout in one. Everyone dances with everyone else in the room, and by the end of the night you have definitely had your workout for the day. Students can come as couples or on their own. "You will be asked to dance," assures Shostak. Nor must you stay for the entire evening. Although the dances are "prescribed," dancers are encouraged to express their rhythmic individuality, making this ideal for dancers of any experience. The mood is rowdy and upbeat, as the musicians are inspired by the energy of the dancers. This is a way to be a part of the music, rather than be a passive observer in the audience.

Shostak, along with his band "Wake the Neighbors," provide the lively music for these events. The instruments include a fiddle (Jessie Gagne), guitar or mandolin (John Cote), flute, whistle and guitar (Jim DeCarlo) and percussion (Alfred Lund). The band plays a variety of dances, including waltzes and polkas. Don't be turned off by the last one: Shostak explains that polkas are "beyond politely traditional".

Bates contradances take place on the second Friday of every month from 8 until 11:30 p.m. in Chase Lounge. Shostak extends a special invitation to everyone in the Bates Ballroom Society.

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This page last updated on October 31, 2006.