Vertical Expression


About the band

(Event organisers: if you are looking for a biog please use the one on our promo page)

Vertical Expression is one of the UK's most well-known contra dance bands. We play at folk festivals and contra dance series around the UK, and have played for contra dance events as far afield as the US, Paris and Denmark. We are a four-piece band featuring fiddle (Charley), melodeons and foot percussion (Ian R), guitar (Ian B) and double bass (Margaret).

We enjoy playing fun tunes that make the dancers' feet want to move, and taking care to pick just the right tune for the dance. We collect tunes from all over the place, with influences ranging from American, old-timey, French-Canadian, ragtime, Irish, English and a few more unusual ones. If it works well to dance to and we like it, we'll play it!

Our individual musical backgrounds include English ceilidh and the varied Sheffield folk session scene (Charley and Ian R), swing, bluegrass and gypsy jazz (Ian B and Margaret) and the repertoire of Feet First Appalachian dance team, where the two halves of the band first met.

three photos of the band on stage playing for different dance events

Our previous gigs include:

  • Alcester Contra
  • Broadstairs Folk Week
  • Chippenham Folk Festival
  • Inter-Varsity Folk Dance Festival (IVFDF)
  • Leeds Contra
  • Lichfield Folk Festival
  • London Barndance Contra
  • New England Folk Festival (NEFFA)
  • Paris Contra Dance
  • Poynton Ceilidhs
  • Shrewsbury Folk Festival
  • Sidmouth Folk Festival
  • Towersey Festival
  • Unicorn Ceilidhs
  • Whitby Folk Week

What's contra dance?

Contra dance is a form of social folk dancing that's similar to ceilidh or barn dance. You dance with a partner in a larger group of other pairs of people (referred to as 'lines' or 'sets').

The dances are taught by the caller before the music starts, and then danced to the music. The caller keeps prompting the dancers the first few times through the dance until everyone has remembered it. The same sequence of figures is repeated several times over, usually dancing with a different pair of dancers each time.

Contra dances tend to be flowy and spinny with the emphasis on horizontal movement, are danced with a walking step, and everyone is dancing most of the time.

It's a sociable, friendly activity - it's done for enjoyment and anyone is welcome to join in.

You can try it out at the events mentioned in our gig list above (check their individual websites for upcoming events) or various local series such as Bristol Contra, Edinburgh Contra and Sheffield Scratch Contra. If you're on Facebook check out the UK Contra Dance Facebook page to see what's coming up in your area.

As it's easier to demonstrate than to explain in words, here's a video of a contra dance so you can see for yourself (from Whitby Folk Week 2019, with our friends Contrasaurus and caller Charlotte Rich-Griffin on stage).