Contra Dancing

        Contra dancing is a form of dance traditionally associated with New England, where it survived after falling out of fashion in other parts of the country. However, contras have enjoyed a huge renaissance and are now being done by groups all over the United States.


        In a contra dance, couples form one or more long lines, called sets. When forming a set, the dancers face the caller, with the lady, as usual, on her partner's right. This will put all the men on one side of the set and all the woman on the other side.         In many contra dances, the couples in the first, third, fifth, etc. positions change places (cross over) with their partners before the dance begins. The caller will indicate whether a dance is improper (crossed over) or proper (not crossed over).
        Another important concept in contra dancing is up and down. The expressions up, above, top and head refer to the end of the set nearest the music and caller, while down, below, bottom or foot refer to the end of the set farthest from the music.

Numbering and Progression

        In contra dancing, the couples are numbered 1,2,1,2 ... starting from the top. A quick way to achieve this is to ask the dancers to take "hands four from the top", i.e., form circles of two couples each starting from the top. Every time the dance sequence is repeated, the 1s (active couples) move one place farther away from the music and the 2s (inactive couples) move one place closer to the music. Thus, each couple meets a new other couple (neighbors) for each round of the dance.
        This movement of couples along the set is called progression. Every contra dance must have a means of progression somewhere in the sequence.


        Each contra dance will last 15-25 minutes, so there will be around a dozen dances in an evening. For many people, it is a tradition to dance with a different partner each time. This is a good way to gain experience, have fun and socialize.


What is Contra dancing? - Another site's point of view.