Contra dancing teams live music with lively people for light aerobics


The Post and Courier

When it comes to the various kinds of exercise, dancing usually falls in the lower echelon, keeping company with gardening and vacuuming the house.

But it shouldn't.

Vigorous, sustained dancing is an aerobic activity that can burn up to 500 calories an hour.

Some of the trappings of dancing, however, can turn people off. Some don't want to take lessons, dress up in fancy clothes, spend a lot of money or endure cigarette smoke in clubs. And, frankly, some either don't have a partner or a partner willing to dance.

That's where contra dancing comes in.

Contra dancing is done in lines of men and women facing each other. A "caller" teaches and directs the dance, which is performed to live music. Dances tend to last 10 to 15 minutes each. Because of its high energy and down-to-earth nature, dancers wear comfortable clothing, such at T-shirts, shorts and sneakers or dance shoes. A nominal fee is charged, usually just to cover the cost of the band and sometimes the location.

Groups gather for contra dances across the United States and Canada. For 23 years, Charleston Folk has been organizing regular contra dances twice a month and has survived having to move to various locations. Currently, dances are held at the Ballroom

Dance Club, 1632 Ashley Hall Road, West Ashley.

Among its most regular dancers is Starr Hazard, who says there are a lot of elements to contra dancing that draw people.

"It's live music. It's real people. It's light aerobics. ... It's all ages," says Hazard, noting that the dances are alcohol- and smoke-free. "Contra dancing is not as structured as some dances and not overwhelming."

Hazard says the dances regularly draw 60 people, including a growing number of teenagers.

He issues one warning, though.

"If you don't like to sweat, it won't be any fun."


What: Contra dancing involves several elements. A caller, usually working with a group of live musicians, guides new and experienced dancers alike through a variety of dances. Contra is a form of American folk dance in which participants form a set of two parallel lines running the length of the dance hall. Each dance consists of a sequence of moves - some mix of swings, spins, promenades, do-si-dos, allemandes - that ends with couples, or two partners, having progressed up or down the set.

When: 7:45 p.m. for beginners. Dancing starts at 8 p.m. Charleston Folk typically meets the second and fourth Fridays of each month. The coming month's dates are Feb. 10, Feb. 24, March 10 and March 24. The organization's major annual event - Charleston Folk Bugstomp - will be held April 7-9 (held at Mark Clark Hall at The Citadel).

Where: Ballroom Dance Club, 1632 Ashley Hall Road, Charleston.

Cost: $8 for adults. $5 for students with school identification.


Fun facts: One theory on how it got its name is that contra dance is corruption of the French, "contredans," meaning "opposites dance." Some, however, say contra dancing traces its roots back to 17th-century English country dancing. ... Contra dance is one of the few dance forms where by the end of the evening you are likely to have danced with everyone. ... Contra dancers make eye contact whenever possible. This adds to the connectedness of the dance, and helps reduce dizziness, especially during the swing.

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This page last updated on October 20, 2006.