Contradancing: A real social network

By Steve Cartwright | Jan 27, 2012

When we come together to contradance in the rickety old wooden hall with its beast of woodstove and “two-holer” outhouse, we are an extended family, stepping into an older, simpler tradition.

In today’s lingo, it’s social networking. But not on computers or cell phones.

We are a communal group even if we don’t know each other. We are young and old, slim and fit, or heavy and unfit, yet we all fit together. Because it doesn’t matter. Everyone can dance. It’s participatory. Inclusive. We are united in the Joy of Dance.

If that reminds you of "The Joy of Sex," don’t be embarrassed. Contradancing might be the next best thing. It involves wholesome physical contact, good exercise, and great eye contact. This is not a bar scene; there are few if any unwanted advances. At the end of the dance, you can say goodnight. We all head home.

So many things in our society seems to separate us, whether it’s cars, television and the daily busy-work. Cares and distractions seem far away at a contradance, where you probably will get more hugs and hand squeezes per hour than anywhere else.

In other settings you might not dream of letting a stranger put his or her arm around you. Dancing frees us, temporarily, from those constraints, in a comfortable and safe zone, the dance hall.

Sometimes you find a partner for life at dance; it’s happened for a number of couples. On the other hand, these dances are not heavy scenes. You can just come and have fun with or without a partner. You can have a really great, even ecstatic time at a dance, and you don’t need booze or drugs, just a willingness to try it.

Each dance is different, even if the same band or caller is on hand. We’ve had 35 people show up, we’ve had 90 dancers the day after Christmas. Go figure. But just like trying a new step, coordinating a dance is a mixture of risk, luck and pluck. And you can’t really go wrong.

Last year we held a dance during a blizzard. It was a small turnout and a long drive home. I’m grateful to a former dancer who is now our fire-starter and admissions person, Richard Robertson. An injury prevents his dancing, but his commitment continues. We have terrific callers and musicians throughout our state. I have yet to be disappointed by any of them, and don’t expect to be. We have expert dancers and we have people who say they have never contradanced before.

My favorite comment to overhear is, “I’m coming back.”

I so often meet people who say, “Sounds fun, but I don’t dance.”

“Oh yes you do,” I tell them.

The bard himself, Shakespeare, wrote in The Winter’s Tale: “When you do dance, I wish you A wave o' th' sea, that you might ever do Nothing but that.”

You may not meet the partner of your dreams at a contra, but you be assured that your eyes will be shining before the night is over. I don’t think I’ve been to an event where people smile more than they do at contradances. Expressing yourself through dance somehow gets the happy juices flowing, and no matter how miserable your life has been. You go out into the chill night air and the stars are brighter, closer.


Steve Cartwright coordinates a regular monthly contradance at Simonton Corners dance hall in Rockport. For more information email or find Simonton Corners Contradancers on Facebook.


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