All About Contra Dances

What is Contra Dance?

Contra Dance shares many aspects with other social dance styles. It is bit like Scottish country dance, and Canadian square dance, and English country dance, and Irish ceili dance, but with its own distinctive twist.

In contra, dancers form a long set of parallel lines down the hall; each dancer opposite another. The dance begins with a sequence pf moves, after which partners move up or down the line, eventually dancing with every other neighbour.

Relax. Your feet are never asked to do more that walk in time with the music. Each dance is first taught by the caller and then as you dance the caller will prompt upcoming moves.

We love our musicians – and know you will too! Live music, an essential component of every contra evening, is provided by musicians either local or from afar. Variety is the spice of life!

Never been to a contra dance? No problem. We recommend that you arrive 30 minutes early and join the New Dancer Orientation. There you will learn basic movements, thus allowing you to enter into the very first dance as a seasoned pro! We also encourage everyone to wear light-weight clothing and comfortable, low-heeled shoes. For a dance style that is predominantly walking – it is surprising just how much of a cardio work-out it is!

Concerned that you don’t have a partner? No problem! At the Fergus dances approximately 80% of the folk who attend come solo. We are a very welcoming community, and you will quickly find yourself being asked to dance. Generally speaking by the end of a contra night you will have danced with everybody in the hall. This is probably the main reason why ‘contra’ is synonymous with ‘community’! New to contra dance? This is the place for you. Been doing contra all your life? This is the place for you. But the absolute best way to see if you would enjoy it is to come and give it a go.

What better way to spend a Friday evening than forging new friendships all while dancing the night away?

It’s fun.
It’s welcoming.
It’s good for those brain synapses!
It’s intergenerational.
It’s community.
It will make you laugh.

Contra Dance? It’s all this . . . with a sprinkle of magic thrown in for good fun!

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Are you new to contra dancing?


We’re glad you decided to give it a try! Here are some tips to help you figure it out and have more fun as you learn:

  • Join right in. You will learn faster by dancing than by watching. Experienced dancers are always glad to help new dancers get started.

  • You will make mistakes….but laugh and carry on. We have all been beginners at one time. The less worried you are, the faster you will learn.

  • Don’t wait for someone to ask you to dance. Anyone can ask anyone to dance, Men can ask women or men to dance and likewise women can ask men or other women. Try to choose an experienced dancer and tell that person that you are new to contra dance and that you would like their help.

  • Listen to the caller while the dance is being taught. It is very important that everyone listen to the caller rather than talk to each other during the explanation and walk-through. The caller is happy to do another walk-through if there are still some questions.

  • Changing partners after each dance is the common practice. Thank your partner and quickly look around for another partner. It is alright to politely decline an invitation to dance if you need to have a break and rest.

  • Eye contact is a common practice in contra dance. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it feels friendly and has some other purposes. When you and your partner are swinging, you will minimize dizziness if you look in your partner’s eyes. Also, it helps to look in the eyes of the person you will be dancing with in the next figure to establish a connection.

  • Wear comfortable low-heeled inside shoes. Dress is casual. Many women like to wear a twirly skirt while others choose to wear pants or leggings. We get quite warm while dancing so avoid wearing somethings that will be too hot. Some men bring an extra shirt if they sweat a lot.

  • Bring a drinking bottle of water. Dancing is thirsty work!

  • For people who would like some basic instruction on the internet, the Chatahoochee Country Dancers have a set of 8 lessons. Go to ccd contra dance basics on You Tube.


A Great Article About the Benefits of Dancing

Article courtesy of Joseph Maroon, MD, FACS, among his accomplishments he is Senior Vice President of the A4M, neurosurgeon, best selling author, keynote speaker, sports medicine expert and triathlete.

Dancing is a great way for your body to stay in shape. It improves  strength, endurance and balance. And it is also fun! As consultant to St Barnabas Health System’s Cognitive Brain Health Program, I was pleased to learn the positive responses from residents who now have the opportunity to learn and practice ballroom dancing. The Alzheimer’s Association, Pittsburgh Ballroom Association and St Barnabas, have now joined to offer residents a dancing program entitled, “Joy through Dance Program”.

What many people don’t realize is that coordinated physical activity (dancing) can also have significant brain benefits. Dance requires mental, physical, emotional and social skills. All of these functions work together to benefit the brain and overall health. Dancing requires multitasking that can improve cognitive functions and even slow the aging process. A 2017 study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, showed dancing may be a better form of exercise than traditional fitness training when it comes to slowing the signs of aging. They evaluated brain MRIs of dancers and found improved functional connectivity of the visual brain systems and of the general motor learning network. These functional connectivity differences were related to dance skill, balance and training-induced structural changes compared to non-dancers.

Dancing has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia. A study published in 2003 in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that dance can help improve brain health. The 21-year study of senior citizens, aged 75 and older, measured each participant’s mental alertness as a means of monitoring the rates of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers studied a range of cognitive and physical activities, such as reading; writing; doing crossword puzzles; playing cards; playing musical instruments; dancing; walking; tennis; swimming and golf. Dance was the one activity that significantly reduced dementia risk. Regular dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76%, which was twice as much as reading. Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week reduced the risk by 47%, while cycling and swimming offered no benefit at all.

“I am glad to share with you what I have learned throughout my personal quest to overcome adversity to become an accomplished neurosurgeon, scientist, Ironman athlete, consultant, author, and advocate on healthy living and nutrition.”
~ Dr. Joseph Maroon.