First Saturday means time for Contra in C’dale
Every first Saturday in the cool months, Carbondale Community School hosts an event that wouldn’t have looked much different a century ago.
“This is the proverbial American barn dance,” said Don Paine, a fiddler and one of the original organizers.
“We don’t have a lot of traditions to share anymore,” he added. “It’s brings together people of all walks of life and it breaks down a lot of barriers.”
It started with a group of local musicians getting together to play some old timey tunes, and found its legs in 2003.
“It turned out to be a pretty good idea,” Paine said. “Rather than just sitting around playing by ourselves, we get to share the music.”
The dance style is generally billed as contra, though callers sometimes include square and circle dances and even the occasional waltz.
“Contra means against. It defines the lines people stand in,” Paine explained. “You have two long lines, and you oppose your partner. The caller puts together a series of moves that allows folks to work their way down the line.”
Although it’s a bit archaic, it’s not altogether foreign to most newcomers.
“A lot of people remember being put through the Virgina Reel in junior high school,” Paine said.
The event currently averages 50 or 60 dancers each time and takes place every first Saturday October through May at 7 p.m..
It starts with a beginner walk through and is usually in full swing by 7:30.
The aerobic, alcohol-free event runs $8.
Paine emphasized that you don’t need experience, a partner or any special attire to participate.
“You can have two left feet and still have a great time,” he said.
Fellow organizer Marjorie Comer, who has been going regularly for more than a decade, recalls some misgivings her first time.
“As a single woman, it took some nerve to walk in the door, but I’m really glad I did. It’s such a welcoming group of people. My friends and neighbors were there,” she said. “I really liked it because it was a nice community event that was unusual.”
“If you don’t even dance, you’re still going to have fun,” she added. “If I go to the contra dance, I am going to smile the entire night.”
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