Photo caption: John McIntire (with microphone) directs contradancers at the Northern Maine Agricultural Fair and Music Festival. The dance drew a crowd on Saturday afternoon.

Contradance caller enlivens fair festivities

Monday, August 08, 2005 - Bangor Daily News

PRESQUE ISLE - For John McIntire, the Northern Maine Agricultural Fair and Music Festival was not about shutting his eyes during a stomach-turning ride on the midway, cooing over the furry farm animals or indulging in a spicy sausage from the vendors that lined the fairgrounds.

For him, it was all about the dance.

McIntire stood on a wooden dance floor for much of Saturday, surrounded by a collective of fairgoers who had been lured into the Commercial Exhibition Building by the mystique of contradance.

Derived from the French word "contredans," or "opposite dance," it's been around for centuries.

The dance begins when partners line up across from each other to dance in two facing lines.

Most sequences are fully demonstrated by the caller before the music begins. Dancers repeat the sequence that they have learned a number of times before the dance ends. After that, it is on to another partner and a new dance sequence.

As the caller, McIntire shouted instructions, demonstrated steps and cheered the dancers who skipped, twirled and do-si-doed around him.

"Look at your partner and take a step forward," he ordered, clapping in time to the live music from the nearby stage.

"Hold out your left hand," he told one participant, who briefly appeared bewildered as women in brightly colored skirts and flowing dresses sashayed around him.

"Your other left hand would work better," he prodded gently, laughing after the dancer offered up the right palm.

McIntire, who has been a caller for at least 12 years, has been contradancing for even longer.

"When I got started in it, I had so much fun that I just couldn't quit," he said Saturday. "A little bit later I got into calling, and I like that a lot, too. ... Both activities are fun."

As the dancers began performing more and more intricate moves and their laughter grew louder, a line of onlookers watched.

"Come in, try it!" McIntire urged, never losing sight of the dancers in front of him.

Although he acknowledged that he loves being the one in control of the dance, he was quick to admit that he still loves being a participant, too.

"I still get to dance once in a while, thank goodness," he said.

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This page last updated on October 11, 2006.