Pennsylvania, Dallas

Posted on Fri, Jan. 06, 2006

Spring in their step
Contra dancing, Warringtons are crowd pleasers


Every January for the past few years, local contra dancers have looked around a hall and blinked in amazement.

“Where did all these people come from?” they ask as they notice two or three times the number of folks who made it to the December dance. Or the November dance.

Someone nearby is bound to explain, “It’s because the Warringtons are playing tonight, and all their groupies are here.”

Then everybody will laugh, because “groupies” sound like a rock band’s followers.

And the Warrington family – Jean on guitar, Peter on bass and their offspring Ben on piano, Lucy and Ian on fiddles – will play Celtic and English country-style music during their annual contra dance appearance.

The music is gentle when compared to rock, but lively when you consider some of the classics the Philadelphia-based, former Kingston residents have performed in other settings.

“We’re all used to playing classical music, so I’m used to being more formal and having a designated audience,” fiddler Lucy Warrington said.

At a contra dance, “it’s really fun to have everyone reacting to the music instead of just sitting and listening,” she said. “It’s a kind of infectious energy.”

If you’re a first-timer at this Saturday’s Chicory House-sponsored contra dance, you might discover some of those infectious steps are similar to square dancing.

You could do si do with one person, circle left with three other people, turn a neighbor by the hand, swing your partner and maybe even promenade with your corner.

And don’t worry about that last activity – even if it sounds foreign. To promenade is simply to walk together, and your “corner” is just the person nearest you who isn’t your partner.

Speaking of partners, organizer Dave Martin said, you don’t have to bring one. Experienced dancers make a point of dancing with novices to show them what to do, and caller Bob Nicholson will encourage people to switch partners after each dance so everyone can dance with as many people as possible.

“No one is relegated a spectator,” Martin said. “Everyone is promised an evening of moderate physical activity, energizing music and good company.”

The exercise part of the equation might be just what you need after “all the holiday eating and snacking,” Martin said. “What did I just read? Most people gain 5 to 10 pounds?

“Instead of sweating in a gym, watching CNN, here you can interact with other people.”

You don’t have to be especially coordinated or graceful to become a successful contra dancer, either.

“I’ve seen a lot of people of different athletic ability having fun,” pianist Ben Warrington said. “If you go to a dance you pretty much spin or touch hands with everybody in the room, and that feels pretty good, somehow.”

Spoken like a dancer – and he is one. The Warringtons try to “switch out” while they’re playing so every member of the band gets to dance.

This weekend’s event marks the debut of a new venue for local contra dances – the Fellowship Free Evangelical Church in Dallas.

Longtime participants will remember that several years of contra dances at St. Therese’s Church in Shavertown came to an end when the church was remodeled. Dancers became a roving band in recent months, traveling to halls as far flung as the Bear Creek and Penn Haven community centers, Wyoming Seminary Lower School in Forty Fort and St. Boniface School in Wilkes-Barre.

Organizers searched for a long-term home, daring to hope it might have a floor “with give” instead of unbending concrete.

They believe they’ve found the answer at Fellowship Free Evangelical Church, where the floor was designed for sports.

“It depresses when you step on it,” Martin said. “You can push your finger in an eighth to a quarter of an inch. It’s quite a bit of ‘give,’ compared to hard concrete.”

A floor like that can’t be abused, Martin said. “Dancers are requested to carry in sneakers or flat or low-heeled shoes with non-marking soles and heels. High heels cannot be used on the dance floor.”

“Leave your hob-nailed boots at home,” he added with a chuckle.

What: New England-style contra dance
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Fellowship Free Evangelical Church, 45 Hildebrant Road, Dallas.
Admission: $7 individual; $18 family.

Directions from Wilkes-Barre: Take Route 309 north to Dallas Shopping Center, bear right toward Tunkhannock. After one mile, turn right onto Hildebrant Road. Go one half mile. The church hall is on the right.

Info: 333-4007 or

Ian, 25, is in medical school in Boston.
Ben, 22, is studying journalism at Temple University.
Lucy, 18, is a senior at Germantown Friends School.
Jean is working in her own film documentary business and as a community activist in Philadelphia.
Peter practices geriatric medicine at Crozer-Keystone Health Systems.

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Produced by Charlie Seelig
This page last updated on October 20, 2006.