Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Montreal Meetup – Contra dancing Craze

Contra Dancing Creates Community Joy Instantly

Reviewed by Nancy Snipper

I did it once in a real barn in West Virginia, and I promised myself, to search for place in Montreal to do it again: Contra dancing is so much fun, and within minutes, you can move into the community spirit as your feet are moving away and your arms are reaching out to partners – yours and others who make up the contra dancing crowd. I found my contra swing at the ContraMontreal meetup. Organized by the eloquent and humorous leader, Sean McCatcheon – an expert in this genre of dancing, Sean revealed he cares about music and dancing, and loves contra as it totally and instantly connects people. He revealed it’s magical, and it was right, as I found out.
He explained that in Elizabethan times, country folk danced in a circular formation often in the fields outside, but as the gentry took it upon themselves to create a linear formation inside the endlessly long halls of noble great mansions where they danced contra. They in fact corrupted the word, “country” dancing” into “contra” dancing. It is incredibly popular in New England, and its aficionados have certainly made their voices and feet heard here in North America.
I went to the Ukrainian Hall at 6:30 pm; only a few dancers had arrived, but as the evening went on, numbers grew and before I knew it two lines formed – each numbering about 24 in each to join an eager group of fellow/female contradancers – none of whom I knew, but no matter; everyone was smiling and within minutes we were following the instructions – patiently shown to us by expert caller, Martha Cooper who – when we were ready to roll, brought on contra’s own “bells and whistles” live action sounds via Nova, a super musical ensemble. Their traditional jig-like reels and rhythmic beats enlivened our own contra gait, and with Martha calling out the moves by their names: dosey doe, promenade, balance, star, chain and more. The instruments were accordion, fiddle and guitar. What energy! I found out that an entire group of Ottawa had driven in to hear Martha and dance to her calling and Nova’s remarkable playing.
Those who religiously come to dance have been doing it for many years, so I met newcomers and old-timers alike. We all swung each other around, joined hands, and best of all kept on smiling and laughing the entire evening. This is contra dancing’s gift for all: making friends keeping in shape and feeling a part of a great community of unpretentious folk. So you think you can dance? You sure can when you give contra a whirl. For more information on future ContraMontreal meetups, go to this website: www.contramontreal.org.