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Contra culture: Community kicks up its feet at monthly Glenwood event

Stina Sieg
Glenwood Springs CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Imagine all your neighbors actually getting along for an evening. They’re laughing and clapping. As folksy music plays, they’re swinging each other around a wooden dance floor.

Can’t see it? All the more reason to come to Glenwood’s own monthly Community Contra Dance.

Despite the icy weather, December’s event drew 50 or so people. There were teachers and retirees, a postman and a grade-schooler or two. Regardless of their diverse backgrounds, so many seemed to agree: Contra just brings people together.



“It’s so fun,” said Glenwood resident Kathy Westley, from the sidelines of the last dance. Now 58, she chanced upon contra three years ago, back when she was yearning for an outlet. These days, she searches it out in Moab, Denver, wherever she can. To her, folk dancing is one place where it feels OK to let go.

“You can come here and dance all night long and not get hit on,” she said, watching the action intently. “You can just have fun.”



Truly, the dance hall that night was thick with a sense of community and innocence. The dancers’ faces were uniformly smiling ” even as some flubbed the old, intricate steps.

They applauded loudly at the end of each tune. They paid close attention as the “caller” mapped out each new stretch of choreography. For the few hours, the group momentum never slowed against the pounding rhythm. They were all in it together.

Taking a short break, Ali Carmitchel, 12, could feel it. It’s what has kept her and her mother coming back for more than a year.

“Once you get into the dance, it’s great to meet new people and not feel shy,” she said, still out of breath.

Contra newbie Forrest Fulker, 26, of Carbondale felt the same ” though he used words with a bit more color.

“It definitely puts the ‘foxy’ back in older women,” he said, after dancing with quite a few of them.

Despite the night being his girlfriend’s idea, he seemed fully comfortable, adding his own hip-hop moves as he went.

“I thought that was pretty neat,” he said, getting ready to leave. “It’s funny, because there’s a whole bunch of people here you wouldn’t expect to be good dancers, looking at them on the street.”

He, like most attendees, spoke mostly about the dancing. To Don Paine, however, the event was about much more. Paine, the leader of the Last Minute String Band, which hosts the dance, sees it as a glimpse into the past. Contra and folk music, he said, grew up intertwined.

“You can play and sit around and jam, but you’re only experiencing half the picture,” he said. “It’s about creating this feeling that you want to tap your toes and get the rhythm going.”

Though the audience might not have thought about the history, they were enjoying themselves all the same. The dance didn’t wind down. The majority of people stomped and swayed until the very end. If that last song hadn’t been called, it felt as though no one would have left.

And that’s exactly what caller Wendy Graham, 29, had been hoping for. The Durango dancer had been the one explaining the moves, yelling out commands with a big smile. A folk dance lover since the age of 13, she was extremely friendly ” and emphatic spreading the contra love.

“It’s something I feel in my heart,” she said, still grinning. “I had such a nice introduction to it. I want to give that to other people.”

After all had filed out, she was happy to keep on talking about contra. She spoke of how accessible it is to everyone, about how anyone can enjoy themselves, regardless of coordination.

“If everyone left smiling, I did a good job,” she said, knowing that they had.

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

ssieg@postindependent.com

Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO Colorado

WHAT: Community Contra Dance with music from the Last Minute String Band

WHEN: 8 p.m. on Saturday, with a beginners’ walk-through at 7:30. The dances continue through June on the first Saturday of every month.

WHERE: Glenwood Masonic Lodge, 901 Colorado Ave.

COST: $7 (with no one turned away at the door)

CONTRA FACTS: The folk dancing form includes a caller and live band, which guides a group through a series of moves. As the song progresses, the dancers switch partners several times. Jealous types are not recommended.


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