Section: Arts

Jump in the (contra) line!

Anna Dunlavey, Arts Editor

Students and community members danced the night away last Saturday to a form of dance called “contra.” Hosted by the Rural Life Center, the contra dance was a place for veteran dancers to show their skills and for new dancers to learn about the history and practice of these types of dances.

Contra dancing originated in France in the mid-1600s and as it evolved spread to England and then to the U.S. These dances are now performed mostly in New England, but have recently become popular in Ohio as well. Recently, contra dances have been held across the state, from Columbus to Oberlin.

Contra dances are performed in a line, and although each dancer has a partner, there is a “free exchange,” in the words of community organizer Brian Miller. “As you go up and down the line, you and your partner dance with other couples and often the figures that you dance are within a four-member set,” he said. A caller tells the dancers when and where to line up and what dances are to be performed.

A dance can range from a simple, two-person “do-si-do” to more complicated figures that bring in elements from dances like the waltz. These are performed multiple times over the course of the song. The dances can be done at different speeds according to the music, which is usually provided by a live band. “The band gives you a very definite beat,” Miller said. “Every figure is in tempo with the beat of the band.” Contra music tends to resemble folk or bluegrass, and features instruments such as fiddles, accordions and banjos.

A contra dancing community formed in Mount Vernon about six years ago, but had difficulty finding a space to rent. After a successful dance last semester, sponsored by the Kenyon College Ballroom Dance Team, community members contacted the Rural Life Center to participate in the project, which is how Regan Fink ’14 and Margaret Tilson ’14 became involved. Tilson, who was introduced to contra dancing before Kenyon, said, “I don’t think a lot of students either know what it is or have a lot of experience with it” and hoped bringing the dance to Kenyon would introduce more people to it.

Fink and Tilson were happy with the turnout, which they thought was evenly split between students and faculty. Although both of them will graduate in May, they hope that the new tradition of contra dancing at Kenyon will continue after they leave. “This is just the beginning,” Fink said. “If we can continue contra dancing, more and more people will attend and learn about what contra dancing is.”

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