It's contra

Dancers return to 18th century on Saturdays at area Grange Hall

By LINDA HALL Staff Writer


Nevin and Midge Troyer stepped into the cozy, warmly lit Valley College Grange Hall Saturday night, removed their coats and walked into the middle of the wooden floor.

As wind rustled the trees outside, about 40 people began to gather on the floor, preparing for a night of contra dancing.

Most were veterans to the dance and knew each other. Some came with partners and others confidently walked to the middle of the floor alone.

Contra dancing, sponsored by the Grange, is open to the public and is held the first Saturday of each month from 8-11 p.m.

As her husband, Bill Alkire, gave a refresher course in contra dancing, Susan English explained the concept of the dance.

Contra dancing is a form of American folk dancing, she said. It is similar to square dancing, but sets of couples dance in facing lines.

"The name 'contra' is preserved in New England," English said. "They did some square dance, waltzing and polka dancing."

Dating back to the 18th century, contra dances are danced to music of Celtic origin. At Saturday night's contra dance, a band named Pocketful O' Gimmick played such instruments as the recorder, accordion and banjo.

Though contra dancing had faded away over the years, English said it is becoming more popular.

"This is a throw-back to 1950," English said. "The folk process was interrupted during World War II."

Now, contra dancers form their own communities through events and dances.

Alkire counted out steps to the dancers, explaining the technique behind the dance.

"Most dances are 64 counts," Alkire said, as the room began coming to life. "Every move takes eight counts and there are eight moves in a dance."

Contra dancing with English and Alkire includes New England longways set dances, square dances and mixers.

"Most of these dances have been around a long time," Alkire said.

As the last of the dancers arrived, the group on the dance floor picked up the pace. Soon, the band was playing and English and Alkire alternated between calling -- giving cues to the dancers -- and dancing.

Alkire has called for more than 50 years, he estimates. His wife started later and has called for about 20 years.

During one dance, the Troyers circled around each other. Their eyes met as they energetically "do-si-do'd."

"People of all ages come," English said. "People from 10 years old to 75 years old come to dance."

After a song ended, the Troyers walked to the side of the room and sat down, to take a break.

"It's good exercise," Nevin Troyer said. "And it's fun. You don't notice it is exercise."

As the music changed, the dances changed. Gwen McFadden, 8, of Loudonville and her family began dancing, faces twisted at times in concentration.

"There's no hard part about it," McFadden said. "My favorite part is circling."

McFadden's sister, Amy, 6, thought about her favorite part of contra dancing for a moment.

"I like 'do-si-do' a little bit," she said.

The two girls kept up with the grown-ups with little difficulty. Occasionally, the sisters had to be grabbed by the hand and led to the correct spot. Still, even with mistakes, everyone smiled.

Reporter Megan Akers can be reached at or (330) 287-1623.

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This page last updated on November 4, 2006.