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Houston Area Traditional Dance Society

Houston Area Traditional Dance Society

Contra Dance FAQ

If you haven't looked at our About Contra page, please start there.

Is contra dancing difficult?

No it isn't, especially compared to other forms of dance. If you can walk smoothly, have a good sense of space, and can follow directions, you can probably contra dance, although we'd be lying if we said that everyone can do contra. There are only about 20 basic moves and no special footwork. You will learn most of the moves in two or three evenings.

Contra dance is done to the beat and phrases of the music. If you can't hear the beat or phrases, then you may have some trouble. However there are ways to compensate, and you can learn to hear the beat (some of our best dancers had to!), so don't stay away because you think that you have a tin ear.

As with any other activity, the more you do it, the better you will become; the better you become, the more you will enjoy it!

What if I make mistakes?

Don't worry about making mistakes! Everyone—and we do mean everyone—makes them. You just smile or laugh and keep moving.

Plus, one of the wonderful things about contra dancing is the willingness of the more experienced dancers to help those who are new to the dance form.

How much does it cost?

We currently ask $15 for the general public and $10 for members of HATDS. We accept cards, digital wallets, and cash (correct change, please!). Young people under 18 are free, but need to be accompanied by a responsible adult.

Although membership is not required for dance attendance, please consider becoming a member. Dues support the administrative costs of HATDS and are recouped in just a few dances. Tap here to join.

What are the ages of those who attend your dances?

Contra dance attracts people of all ages. Most of our dancers range from their early 20s into their 70s—that's quite a range!

The dances are appropriate for dancers about 10 years old and older. Kids younger than 9 or 10 may do very well or could be a danger to themselves and others; it depends on the child.

Parents are always responsible for their young children, especially those who are not dancing!

Nationwide, teens and the college crowd are discovering contra. Our dances are no exception!

Up the hall four across!

Do I have to bring a partner?

No! If you do bring a partner, be ready to dance with others. It's contra dance tradition and etiquette to be sociable and dance with different partners throughout the evening.

If you're new to contra dance and you come with a partner, do yourself (and everyone else) a favor by dancing with more experienced dancers for the first few dances. That's the best way to learn quickly.

Do your callers use gender-free terms such as Larks and Robins?

No, although some are exploring positional calling.

However, we stress that gendered terms in the context of contra and English country dance refer to a role—like an actor's role—not a person's actual gender. Persons of any sex or gender are welcome to dance any role.

How should I dress?

Swirling skirt

There is no dress code, however we suggest that you dress comfortably. Contra dancing can be aerobic exercise and you're very likely to perspire, so wear clothes that are not restrictive. If you perspire heavily, consider bringing an extra shirt or two.

In order to protect you and our wood floor, we urge you to wear comfortable low-heel shoes with soft soles that won't mar the floor. Many dancers bring a special pair of dance shoes. There are dance sneakers available from specialty shops, but inexpensive bowling shoes work well also.

Some people wear skirts that can flare out during swings and twirls, but that is not a requirement.

And—very important—please do not wear fragrances such as perfume, cologne, and aftershave. Read our Why Fragrance Free? page for the reasons.

Covid and other policies

Attend at your own risk. Do not attend if you are not feepng well.

Masks are welcomed but not required.

To protect the floor and keep the space clean:

  • The dance venue requires that we wear clean, low-heel shoes that will not scuff or damage the wood floor. Please do not wear street shoes on the dance floor.
  • You may bring water in closed containers (there's no water fountain). No other beverages are allowed.
  • You may bring snacks but they must be consumed outside.

Is contra dance like square dancing?

Yes and no. There are some dance figures they have in common, and both dance forms have a caller, but that's about where the similarities end.

To confuse the answer more, there are two main types of square dancing in this country. Traditional old-time square dancing is a closer cousin to contra than the club dancing that became popular in the 1950s. In fact, HATDS occasionally sponsors a traditional, old-time square dance.

For a full description of old-time squares, see Steve Bing's article. For a detailed comparison between contra dance, traditional square dance, and modern club square dance, click here.

Dip and dive

Contra dance is Real People in Real Time with Real Music. It is Real Life.
~ from Gary Shapiro's "What is Contra Dance?" page.