Jeff is Dancing?!?

When Amy “outed” me yesterday in her post, it served as a good reminder that I should post about one of my newest interests: contra dancing.

The story behind this one goes back quite a long way. Amy and I were in New Jersey attending the wedding of two friends (Matt and Kara for those that know them or have heard us talk about them). Unlike the weddings to which I’m accustomed, theirs had a full out party as a reception. It was a blast. However, it included lots of something that I had NEVER been comfortable with: dancing. Amy tried her best to pry me out of my chair for at least one dance, but I absolutely would not budge. The thought mortified me, mostly because I had absolutely no idea how. It actually made Amy quite unhappy, and I never forgot that.

A few years later, I suggested that we could go to a beginner ballroom lesson being offered by the dance club over at UAH. It was a decent first thought. It was an activity to get us out of the house that we could do together (something we needed more of). The other idea was so that the next time it came up, I wouldn’t be glued to my chair. In practice, it just didn’t work out. I was clumsy and just didn’t do a good job of leading, and the rest of the group (largely composed of the instructor’s students at UAH) were moving too fast for us. We just didn’t enjoy it.

I decided at some point that the best way to make it better was for me to try to learn some on my own first. I could build up some confidence and a little technique, then if we wanted, Amy and I could try again. In the meantime, I had heard from Aaron and Joyce about contra. They said that it doesn’t require any footwork to speak of and that the figures are explained for each dance. Overall, it sounded like a good place to start.

Time to pause for explanation/description. For folks that live in my part of the world, probably the easiest way to describe contra is that it has a lot in common with square dancing. Instead of being in squares, though, contra is arranged in long lines. Rather than rehashing what others have done much better, I will leave it to the interested student to learn more. Following are some good links:

A Contra Dance Primer (archived copy on
What is Contra Dance? (”Definition 0″, by the way, is spot on)

Back in July, I decided that I was going to give it a shot. I looked up a local group and drove out to their next regular dance. I was incredibly nervous (especially going by myself), but I was determined for once not to chicken out. I showed up early for the beginner workshop that they do before every dance, and I began to get really worried. It was a lot of information all at once, and I was sure I hadn’t remembered all of it. In the break between the workshop and the first dance, I seriously considered sneaking out with my tail between my legs.

Am I ever glad I didn’t. 🙂

I’ll tell the end first and say that I almost skipped as I came out of the building later. Happy happy endorphins! In short, it was great fun. It’s one of those things that really is best learned by doing. What helped with that was that the group there that night (and every other night I’ve gone) was incredibly friendly. I bobbled and mis-stepped frequently, but nobody seemed to care. I usually got a smile and a quick suggestion or maybe sometimes a tug or a shove in the right direction. The point is that I was having so much fun, I didn’t care that I was messing up. At any rate, I quickly figured out enough of the basics that I was actually able to keep up. I didn’t stay very long. The dances tend to get progressively more challenging as the night goes on, and I wanted to make sure I stopped while I was still enjoying things.

I’ve been out to three more events since: once with Aaron and Joyce with their regular group in Atlanta, and twice more with the local group. The funny thing? I’m apparently not too bad at it. I learn more every time I go, and I have actually received compliments. It’s quite an ego boost. I’m also beginning to recognize people who show up regularly at the local dance, which is also cool.

I would recommend this to almost anyone. As a matter of fact, any of the locals are welcome to come with me when I go to the local dance night. The dances are put on by the North Alabama Country Dance Society, and they normally meet on the first and third Saturday nights of each month at the Faith Presbyterian Church gymnasium (corner of Whitesburg and Airport). I’m planning on going to the November 5 dance. If anyone is interested, drop me an email, and I can give you more details.

7 replies on “Jeff is Dancing?!?”

I’m slowly working up my courage to go. I’m not sure why, but I’m a bit intimidated by the whole contra dancing idea. I’ve watched you have a lot of fun with this since you started, and I go back and forth between being fascinated by the concept and incredibly nervous about the thought of trying it out for myself.

I know that I’m not available for the Nov 5 dance, though, because of Chris & Sheila’s wedding reception…

Dunno where I’m going with this, but I at least wanted to leave some sort of reply.

We have quite a few people who do both contra and SCA dancing. The figures might be called something different (coming from different time periods), but the actual steps are very similar. At least, that is what I have heard. I haven’t actually tried contra (just no more time in the schedule). However, if you ever make it to an SCA event or meeting (there is a local group in Huntsville), you’ll see what I mean.

Oops. I had temporarily forgotten that the 5th is Chris and Sheila’s wedding. Now that I’m remembering, I think Amy and I figured out that the contra dance doesn’t conflict with the wedding ceremony itself but does conflict with the reception (as noted in her comment). I’m probably going go to the wedding and still try to make the dance, but perhaps the 5th isn’t an ideal day for most of the locals. The next one should be on the 19th, and I’m available for that one as well (as far as I know).


I always assumed I had two left feet as well (especially after the ill-fated ballroom lesson). This has gone really well, though. Both of the places I’ve gone to also have a waltz in the middle of the contra dances. I figure I’ll eventually work up the courage to see if one of the ladies is willing to help me learn that. If I can get good at that, then I should be well set to learn most other ballroom dances.

I think part of why contra feels pretty natural to me is that most of the figures are completed in counts of 4 or 8, and my old marching band training fits perfectly with that. My brain is already trained to listen for those 1 & 2 measure phrases in the music. I have to work at it to keep from marking time during times when I’m waiting for other dancers to complete figures. 🙂

I’m so glad you’re having fun with this! And yes, you did pick it up quickly.

Waltz is a good deal more challenging–not just the counting in three, but the fact that you are making up your own sequence of moves. You can learn a lot of basic steps, but then it’s up to the leader (ie, the guy!) to put them together and signal them to his partner, all the while moving around the floor and not running into the other couples. That’s a lot to handle all at once! I’d be happy to help you get started, though, if you’re interested.

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