A contra dance is an evening (usually) of dancing to live music where everyone can join in! Dances are done with a partner as part of a group of other couples (called 'sets' or 'lines'). There is a caller who teaches the dances before the music starts and keeps talking everyone through the dance as the music plays. You don't have to bring a partner because there will be plenty of people there to dance with, and people often change partners for each dance.
For those who already dance at ceilidhs, contra is what the Americans do instead of ceilidh. It's fast, flowing and spinning, and you can put as much energy into it as you like! It's quite like ceilidh dancing, but more spinny and less bouncy. For the technically minded, it's usually danced to reels and, to a lesser extent, jigs.
OK, I'm convinced. Where can I try contra dancing?
If you've never danced contra before and want to have a go, we recommend coming along to one of the public contra series such as Sheffield Contras, Alcester Contra, London Barndance, Leeds Contra or Contrafusion (Ashford).
There is always a caller who will call a walkthrough (teach the dances before they're done to music) and will continue to call for at least the first few times through the dance (or until everyone looks like they've got the hang of it!).
Tip 1: Arrive at the beginning so you can pick up the basics before the event really gets going. Standing near the front so the caller can see you also helps.
Tip 2: Probably the most important one - dance with people who have done it before so they can guide you through the dances. This really is the best way of making it as easy as possible!
If you don't know anyone who's done it before, stand near the dance floor looking a bit lost and one of the regulars will no doubt claim you. Contra dancers tend to be friendly like that, and the all the events we've mentioned here are very welcoming of new dancers.
A number of folk festivals include contra dances in the programme, such as IVFDF, Sidmouth, Chippenham, Broadstairs, Shrewsbury and Towersey, and also offer workshops for you to learn how it's done with more instruction at a more relaxed pace.