Erie Times, August 10, 2003

Contra will help keep you in step

When I heard contra dancing was on the agenda at Frontier Park, I wondered if I'd be doing some fancy footwork with my two right feet, under Ollie North.

At the very least, I figured I'd learn some Latin-flavored steps, like salsa or the cha-cha.

I'd had the urge to dance ever since I learned the Erie History Center would be re-creating Y-CO during CelebrateErie, as part of the history center's centennial celebration.

In high school, I had only been allowed to attend Y-CO, the YMCA's weekly teen dance, once or twice. My parents had bought into the idea from the nuns that Y-CO was a den of iniquity and, as the oldest of six kids, I couldn't afford to set a bad example.

Now grown up and happily married, I figured my dad wouldn't object if I slipped into Y-CO redux Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Downtown Y.

But I'm a dance-floor klutz. Wouldn't it be cool if I could master the contra dance craze for Y-CO?

Contra dancing proved to be hot, all right. The temperature hovered at 78 degrees as close to 30 people, ages 7 to 70, gathered at Frontier's "virtual tree" gazebo to learn a dance form that dates to the 1500s. Directed by Kathy Fox, who calls contra dances on the first Friday of the month at the Fredonia, N.Y., Grange, we soon worked up a sweat under a pastel-streaked, moonlit sky.

Fox quickly had us joining hands, do-see-do-ing, swinging and promenading, all to the Celtic-inspired tunes of a quartet she dubbed the Frontier Four.

Contra dancing may be old hat, but it's hot right now among young people tapping into the folk music legacy of their hippie-era parents. As I spun my partner and skipped down the line, I felt like the free spirit I imagined myself in the early '70s — the flower child who didn't have to worry about being a Y-CO wallflower.

In fact, the easy informality of contra dancing gives folks like Don Wisniewski a kick. Wisniewski, an accordion player, joined fiddlers Kelly Morris, Nancy Kerr and Bob Hersch to provide the music Thursday.

"The good thing about contra dancing is that you don't need to know anything. If you have a basic idea of left and right, you are in good shape. I can't chew gum and talk at the same time, but after my first dance, I didn't stop smiling for about a week," said Wisniewski, 53.

"It's really sociable. They encourage you to change partners every time. You can go up and ask anybody to dance," he said. "A lot of other dances are couple-oriented. This is open to everybody."

So now I can contra, but not at Y-CO. The dance is for folks 60 and over, said organizer Dave Frew. It's like déjà vu. I'm too young.

But leaning to the left (even if it's because I have two left feet) can come in handy when you need connections, like arming yourself with a fake ID.

Déjà vu.

LIZ ALLEN, administrative editor, can be reachedat 870-1735 or at

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