Contra Dancing

Last weekend I went contra dancing on a date.1 It’s been a while since I’ve done any blog posts, so sure, let’s talk about that.

Contra dancing is one of those country dance styles, like square dancing, except the primary form is two long lines facing each other (hence “contra”, “opposite”) instead of four partners in a square. There’s a sequence of…moves? steps?…that make up each dance, which the main “caller” will explain up front and then call out for the first few rounds. Or as my date put it, “it’s people making patterns with live music”.

I’d describe myself as a lot of things, but “dancer” isn’t one of them. As far as unstructured dancing goes (parties, bars, concerts), I basically couldn’t do it for a long time. What is “just move your body to the music?” What is “just do what feels good?” Even once I got into singing it still wasn’t enough. What it took, finally, was figuring out how to harness the sense of rhythm I already had, and the way I was able to do that was…beatboxing. Seriously. For about a year or so in college I had to go through the mental exercise of beatboxing to whatever was playing—mental because I wouldn’t put any air behind it—in order to be able to dance casually like “everyone else”.

(I’m still not such a dancy person. There’s only a few bands I know that will immediately get me dancy, like Waterstrider.)

But choreographed dancing is another story. In high school, I was in a production of Guys and Dolls as a member of the ensemble, and we had choreography. And while I wasn’t the best dancer, didn’t look so good doing the dance, I was among the best at learning the dances. I knew where I had to be and when, and pretty often knew everyone else’s parts too. And it was fun. It was a lot of fun.

(In college, on multiple occasions, a handful of people in my theater group would learn K-pop dances, just to perform for the rest of our group at our end-of-semester, just-for-us talent shows. I regret not joining any of these.)

The only other dancing I’ve tried is swing dancing, and I definitely was not good at that. I never quite got the hang of the rhythms or the give-and-take-lead-and-follow with a partner that’s still spontaneous, and so it was never a comfortable experience for me.

And it doesn’t help that country dances aren’t cool…or at least, weren’t during school. (“Square dancing! The horror!” – Jake from Animorphs.) This point is fairly silly but mostly went unexamined until now.

So…I wasn’t too optimistic about contra. But, you know, gotta try it at least once, right?

And it turns out it was…not too bad! Okay, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but it’s still a fairly good outcome. I don’t think I’d go back on my own, but I’d be okay to keep going for dates, and I did have fun. Part of that’s the live music, but I’m also putting a lot of it down to being more on the choreography side than I figured. It’s like the Impromptu of choreography, in that you get a new sequence each time and kind of perfect it as you go. No, I’m not good at it yet, but people are friendly, there were several other newbies, and even some of the returners slip up sometimes. And for at least some of them, my stubbornness kicked in: “I’m not going to let this dance beat me!”

(And then at the end I was exhausted, because as I quipped to multiple people, I forgot that dancing is a form of cardio. I also did something funny to my knee—remember to stretch before exercise!)

So that was my first contra experience. I think the moral of the story is the usual “be open and try new things”, but it was also a new point in the general “dancing” space for me to learn about and observe myself doing. And that itself was interesting.

  1. To my parents who read this blog, I’ll tell you about it soon. ↩︎