What is Contra Dance?

It's fun and exciting. It's easy to learn. It's fun for all ages. It's great exercise.


Contra Dance is a traditional North American community dance. As cultures mixed in the North Eastern United States, a new tradition formed. Contra Dance and the music that goes along with it finds roots in English, Irish, French, Scottish (and many other) folk dance and music. Music can vary from Celtic, Quebecois, Old Time, New England, Southern Appalachian, Jazz, Blues, etc.  In the US, Contra Dance music has enormous regional variety and it is very rare to find a dance that does not have live music. The music is the soul of the dance.


In a Contra Dance, parallel lines of dancers stand opposite -- or "contra to" -- their partners. A dancer and his/her partner form a couple.

In response to the Caller's instructions, each couple interacts with the couple next to them to form a four person "set" and each set interacts with the sets on either side of them. Over the course of a dance each couple moves up and down the hall, interacting with every other couple in their multi-set "line."

The instructions given by the Caller form a series of repeating figures that dancers eventually memorize. As this happens, the Caller provides fewer and fewer prompts until s/he drops out entirely; leaving you, your partner, and the others in your line to finish the dance, accompanied only by the exciting, lilting, haunting, and/or pulse pounding music provided by the band.

Everyone can participate:

There is no fancy footwork or special clothing involved. The only "step" you need is a walking step. Even children from about age 8 can easily join the fun.  Wear something comfortable because you are likely to sweat. Bring clean, comfortable shoes to change into for the dance floor.

The best way to understand what Contra Dance *is* is by trying it. But maybe a video will also help! There are endless... here is one: Contra Video

Photo: © Doug Plummer