Contra dancing: An old tradition with new moves

Lake Okeechobee News/Danika J. Hopper
LABELLE – A group of first time contra dancers learn the “figures” during LDRC’s January First Friday event on Fort Thompson Avenue.

HENDRY COUNTY – Sometimes called New England Dancing or Appalachian Folk Dance, Contra Dance is a bit like square dancing. It’s a social dance that focuses on building connections within the community, and having fun. A tradition that was started in Europe during the 1700’s, contra dances are now performed all around the world. This style of dance has regained popularity and gatherings are held regularly, in casual groups, all over the United States. Interested parties form their groups, holding weekly or monthly dances. Some even throw contra summer camps, where everyone comes together to dance the night away. It’s a dance that can be performed to any genre or music, and that requires absolutely no experience. It’s popularity partially attributed to being a fantastic way to get exercise while keeping the mind sharp.

Dancers dancers begin the dance by standing opposite or “contra to” their partners. They are led to through simple steps, called “figures”, and as the caller calls out each one, the dancers learn as they go. Each dance consists of 64 beats, after which the pattern is repeated. Once the dancers have memorized the figures, the music plays and the skirts start a-twirling.

Contra dancing really is for everyone, as dancers can show up with friends, or come alone- there’s no need to bring a partner. Actually, part of the tradition is meeting new people and even switching partners throughout the dances. At these footloose gatherings, everyone smiles and laughs, and has a great time. There also isn’t any competition involved and there are no performances, it’s all about having fun and making friends.

Contra dance has recently experienced a sort of renaissance, and recently the movement has reached Hendry County. Groups are popping up all over the community, first gathering through social media and then meeting up for impromptu toe-topping fun in places like Scotty’s Tiki Bar in Clewiston, or at local events like LaBelle Downtown Revitalization Corporation’s First Friday- where instructors Debra White and Lynnette White, of Physique Fitness and Dance, held a contra dance session right on Fort Thompson Avenue.

Contra dance lessons are available at Physique Fitness and Dance, who are hoping to really build momentum for this fun hobby. If you’re interested, they can be reached by phone at 863-673-8943 and are located at 13 N. Missouri Street, in LaBelle.

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