Country dance style attracts several in Nacogdoches

By KYLE PEVETO The Daily Sentinel

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Kids played on a blanket in one corner of Nacogdoches' Liberty Hall Saturday night, while older boys ran footraces from one end of the building to the other.

Their parents lined up on the opposite edge of the room, dancing up and down the length of the hall in a contra dance reminiscent of town gatherings a century ago. The jaunty fiddle music accompanied the fast-paced dances that feature multiple partner switches, twirls and do-si-dos.

Barr Houston helped to organize the first of many possible community contra dances. She first tried the dancing form 12 years ago in Virginia, she has since danced in several states and hopes to start a monthly dance in Nacogdoches. She used Saturday's dance to gauge interest in the activity, and dancers were encouraged to jot down their e-mail addresses at the front table.

"There is not a place close to here to dance. There are a lot of places to contra dance in Texas, but none of them are within a short drive," Houston said. "And it's fun."

Contra dances have nothing to do with Oliver North or Nicaraguan rebels. The dances feature traditional elements of English country dances dating from the 17th century. According to the Santa Barbara Country Dance Society Web site, the French adopted the dances and called them contredans, which could translate to "opposites dance." Or it could be a corruption of the term "country dance."

Because the dances often begin with lines of men and women opposite one another, the word contra, which means against, has stuck.

About 25 dancers showed up Saturday, more women than men, so a few women slipped ties over their heads and danced as men. Each dance is different, and before a new song is played, the caller walks through the routine.

"It's like square dancing with directions. We love it and we hope they do it again," said Dan Sell, who showed up with his wife Marie to dance.

"I just wanted to come out and try it. It's great exercise," Marie said.

Linda Mrosko, a caller from Dallas, led the dancers through each dance. They began slowly, walking through each twist, turn and partner switch. The dances build on a pattern and often become faster throughout the song. Though every couple except for one had never tried the dance form before, most seemed to enjoy the night and hoped for more dances.

To learn about future contra dances, contact Houston at or call 462-3066. Dancers should wear soft-soled shoes, and there is no special attire for dancing, she said.

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This page last updated on November 3, 2007.