Ann Arbor News

Dancers twirl away a 3-day weekend

200 give contra a whirl at Scarlett gym

Sunday, February 29, 2004
News Staff Reporter

OK, they don't exactly dance until dawn.

But when the Ann Arbor Council for Traditional Music and Dance holds its annual Dawn Dance Weekend, the Scarlett Middle School gym is one happenin' place until 1 a.m.

And that means a whole lot of fun for about 200 contra dancers from all over the country and Canada who are hooked on this traditional dance form.

Rick Szumski, a member of the dance council, says most people don't know what contra dancing is, although they'd like it if they tried it.

"It's a great activity," he said, taking a break from the three-day, 23rd annual event. "It's great exercise, a great way to meet people, very community-oriented. ... There are a lot of ways people contribute to make this weekend happen."

Tucker Lawton came for the weekend from Madison, Wis. Lawton attends dances all over the country, but especially likes the hospitality in Ann Arbor.

"This is a great weekend," she said. "We live in the sort of society that just doesn't allow people to get together. So this is a wonderful opportunity to spend, oh, maybe 30 seconds with each man - and then you move on. The protocol is to change every time. A gentleman should ask a different lady to dance, and the idea is that you share a social event."

Many dancers come without partners and fit right in.

Contra dancing is essentially traditional country dancing and is similar to square dancing, although dancers make their way around the room rather than stay in a square. The caller on stage near the musicians teaches each new dance before it starts, and the women typically wear full skirts made for twirling.

Rita Simpson of Ann Arbor has been contra dancing for 12 years.

"It's an all-inclusive experience," she said. "I like it because it's physical, it's social, it's musical, it's a community thing. It's easy to learn and bring new people into. And I just love to dance."

The local dance council holds dances every weekend at the Pittsfield Grange, 3337 Ann Arbor-Saline Road, and looks forward to this annual event because of the dancers, musicians and callers who arrive from out of state.

The Dawn Dance began in 1982 and got its name as an all-night dance, but in 1997, organizers switched to a weekend format.

The dance continues from 12:30-4:30 p.m. today at the school, 3300 Lorraine St. in Ann Arbor. Tickets are $14.

Jo Collins Mathis can be reached at or (734) 994-6849.

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This page last updated on October 20, 2006.