Monday, August 06, 2001

Contradancing the night away
Patterns of high-energy spins and swings make it a fun way to exercise

By Llee Sivitz Enquirer contributor

Contradancing has nothing to do with Oliver North. Or Iran. Or Nicaragua. But it has everything to do with fitness and fun. On any Monday night at the Annunciation Church Annex in Clifton, you will find people taking contradancing seriously.

Susan Vogt and her husband Jim, of Covington, are liaisons to the parish for the dance facility. They've been showing up on Monday evenings for the past seven years.

"I don't like to exercise, but it's OK to exercise when you're having fun," Jim says. "I don't think you can do this without doing pretty vigorous exercise. If you dance for two hours you know you have danced."

Wonder how contradancing got it's name? According to Susan, it comes from the French word contra, which means opposite or against. "There are two lines, one for women and one for men," she explains. " Women are opposite their partners in the beginning of the dance. . . 18th century English country dancing was probably the root of it. When the French picked it up they called it contra."

I asked Susan to describe it. She put it this way:

"I usually start by telling people what it is not. It is not a South American revolutionary dance, it is not country line dancing. It's similar in some ways to square dancing, in that it is a called dance with repeated patterns. But it is, I think, more vigorous than square dancing. The Virginia reel was an early contradance. It's evolved since then, but that would be closest to what most people know."

LET'S DANCE * When: Mondays (for beginners) 8 to 10 P.M.; Saturdays, 8-11:30 p.m. * Where: Annunciation Church Annex, 3547 Clifton Avenue in Clifton (building faces Resor Avenue) * Cost: $4 donation for Monday nights, $6 donation for Saturdays * For instruction: Come early, at 7:30, and learn some moves before the dance * More information: (This site also links you to other contra dance sites.) Call 681-4768.

John McCain, an industrial electrician from College Hill, is one of the original contradancers at Annunciation. He started in 1985 and describes it as "not like square dancing, because (mentioning) that takes everybody back to elementary school square dancing. But you and your partner do dance with a couple, and then progress to the next couple and so on down the line. It is similar in dance moves to the square dance (with do-si-dos, allemandes, and swings)."

And men love it.

"One thing I've found that people like about contradancing . . .is that you don't have to come with a partner. And especially for the men, they don't have to lead. They don't have to know how to dance before they come, because every dance is taught. So it's not dependent on one partner (usually the man) leading."

Jim agrees. "We had been going to swing dances and they had a similar kind of situation where they teach you for a while and then you dance. But as a guy, I felt much more burdened from swing dancing than I have here. . . In swing dancing, the guy initiates the moves, and if I didn't keep doing it, I forgot the moves. Here the dance is called, and I don't have to remember anything. And if I'm a little klutzy (because I don't consider myself a natural dancer) there's a real acceptance of people who are not necessarily dancers. It's just an easier environment for a non-dancer to feel OK and become a better dancer."

SPRING FLING Once a year the Cincinnati contradance community hosts a weekend dance called the Pigtown Fling. It goes Friday night, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. On this occasion out-of-towners come from even farther than just an hour or two away, and the numbers swell to 4,000 or more. (The next one is scheduled for March 22 through 24)

That said, is it really exercise?

Most of these contradancers say it is a cardiovascular workout. "You can dance at about any level you want. The dance goes at a certain speed with the music, so you can only go as slow as that. But you can go that slow to very fast, depending on what you want to do."

Karen Keeton, of Fairfield, started contradancing about 15 years ago and would bring her son, Dustin, who was 5 at the time. She admits, "This is the one exercise over the years that I have actually stayed with. I have tried running, all those various things. But this is the one that's fun. I don't like to get all sweaty, but I'll do it for dance."

"A friend says that the best kind of exercise is the kind you'll do," Susan adds. "This is self-motivating because it's fun."

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