- Is contra dancing difficult?
- What if I make mistakes?
- How much does it cost?
- What are the ages of those who attend?
- Do I have to bring a partner?
- Do your callers use gender-free terms?
- How should I dress?
- What are your Covid and other policies?
- Is contra dance like square dancing?
- I still want to know more!
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!
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. However, most of our callers try to use positional calling whenever possible. Positional calling uses terms such as partner, neighbor, and corner, and works for the vast majority of dances.
If positional calling just doesn't work for a particular dance (more common in English country dance than contra), our callers use traditional gendered terms.
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?
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.
Types of Square Dance
Modern Western Square Dancing (MWSD) is probably what most people think of when they hear the term square dance. MWSD grew out of traditional square dancing and became extremely popular in the 1950s. MWSD is standardized (and institutionalized to a degree), and is in decline.
Traditional Square Dancing (TSD) is about 100 years older than MWSD, has regional differences, and has much more in common with contra dance than MWSD does. Traditional Square Dancing is having a revival in some parts of the country while it never died out in others.
|Contra and TSD||MWSD|
|They go back hundreds of years. We're still dancing contras that were danced in the Colonial Era and the early years of the USA.||Created after WWII.|
Contra sets are longways; they can extend the length of the hall.
A typical contra dance lasts 8-10 minutes, although longer used to be the norm and is certainly possible at many dance venues today.
TSD, like MWSD, has 4 couples in a square formation.
4 couples in a square set, although many squares in a grid formation can be connected by a good caller.
A square dance typically takes only a few minutes to do, so dances are often done in pairs.
|No classes required. There are only about 20 basic moves, and all of those moves can be learned by attending two or three dance evenings. All figures needed for a specific dance sequence are taught before that dance begins. Much closer to true folk dance than MWSD.||Weeks of classes are often required to learn the figures, which are standardized and assigned to levels of difficulty.|
|The contra caller chooses from hundreds of pre-composed, named dances with repetitive figures. Once contra dancers have thoroughly learned the specific dance sequence (usually after 4-6 repetitions), the caller often stops calling to let the dancers dance with—and connect with—the live music and each other.
The TSD caller calls throughout the dance and may add a simple opening, break, and ending from figures the dancers already know.
|The caller often creates dances on the fly from the scores of dances figures learned in the classes. The caller must call throughout the dance and the dancers must constantly pay attention to the caller to know what to do next.|
|Live music by live musicians. In contra dance especially, the music is a major element and the musicians are key to the success and fun of an evening.||Recorded music, often with the beat emphasized over the musical phrase.|
|Danced to the musical phrases. One time through the tune is one time through the dance sequence.
In some variations of TSD the dancing is done more to the beat than the phrase.
|Danced to the musical beat. The dance sequence often does not match the musical phrase.|
|No dress code except for common decency. However, comfortable, loose-fitting clothing is recommended.||Standardized dress code with individual clubs often having their own colors.|
|No partner necessary and dancing with different partners throughout the evening is encouraged.||Although there are MWSD clubs for singles, many clubs are for couples only and you are expected to dance
with the one who brought youall night.
I still want to know more!
Then come to a dance!
If you're still hesitant, we have two excellent videos at the bottom of our Contra Dance page, Gary Shapiro has created a page of descriptions, and the Wikipedia article on contra dancing is good. There are also many contra dance videos on YouTube and other video sites.
But really, the best way to learn about contra dance is to experience it. Won't you please join us at a dance?
Contra dance is Real People in Real Time with Real Music. It is Real Life.
~ from Gary Shapiro's "What is Contra Dance?" page.