ECU Folk and Country Dancers co-sponsor contra dance
Dances held on the second Saturday and fourth Friday of each month

Elisa Bizzotto, Staff Writer
February 14, 2006

Last Saturday night, the ECU Folk and Country Dancers and the Folk and Arts Society of Greenville sponsored a contra dancing event, which included a potluck dinner, a concert, a beginner's lesson and a two-hour long dance session. The event was held at the Willis Building in downtown Greenville and was one of six bi-monthly contra sessions that are to be held this spring. The contra dances, which are one of several types of dances put on by these two organizations, are held on the second Saturday and fourth Friday of each month and have been taking place throughout the year.

Contra dancing derives from English and Scottish country dancing and holds some resemblance to American square dancing. The basic structure of the dance calls for two parallel lines of participants, requiring that one be accompanied by a partner. Participants move through the lines with their partners and follow a simple dance sequence, repeating with a new set of partners every rotation. This repetition allows for each participant to dance with every individual in both lines and essentially every individual in the room. The heavy person-to-person involvement reflects the basic function of the dance which is to promote a communal atmosphere that is friendly and welcoming.

Roger Rulifson, ECU Biology professor, described contra dancing as a means of gathering and, especially years ago, being a way for young persons to court each other and participate in a fun activity that provided an atmosphere for being intimate in a legitimate manner.

The dance movements involved in contra dancing include dos-a-dos and swings, hence the square dance comparison.

The dance is accompanied by live music, which can vary between events, but usually consists of some form of old-time, Celtic or blue grass according to ECU Folk and Country Dancers president, Leanne Smith. Smith confessed that she has even contra danced to jazz music and that basically as long as the music has a beat, it can be applied to contra dancing.

What is known as a caller is also customary at contra dances and is similar to a guide by whom he/she teaches the dance movements to participants before the music begins? The caller continues to guide participants throughout the dance and may or may not cease teaching if the participants seem to have learned the movements.

Individuals of all different ages and from all different backgrounds are drawn to the dance and newcomers and experts alike take part. Actually, those who are unfamiliar with the dance are welcomed and expected as there are introductory sessions almost always held before a contra dance.

Contra dancing is especially popular in New England where it was initially brought to the country, but has gained a significant following throughout the U.S. Rulifson let on that the "triangle area" of N.C. is host to many contra dancing activities and that contra cruises have just recently been created in which the theme of the cruise would be everything contra.

According to Smith, contra dancing has been an activity at ECU since the 1970s and while it is somewhat underground, the events have grown in popularity over the years. Different callers and musicians are featured at the bi-monthly events and the organizations are able to work with regional bands in addition to the local musicians.

Smith encourages students to participate in the events and welcomes all regardless of their familiarity with the dances. The next contra dance will take place on Friday, Feb. 24 at the Willis Building.

To access more information on contra dancing or any of the other dances that the organizations host, one can go to

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Produced by Charlie Seelig
This page last updated on October 14, 2006.