Contra dance

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Contra dance (also contradance, contra-dance and other variant spellings) refers to several partnered folk dance styles in which couples dance in two facing lines of indefinite length. Sometimes described as New England folk dance, contra dances can be found around the world, though they are especially popular in North America.

Contents

History

At the end of the 17th century, English country dances were taken up by French dancers; hybrid choreographies exist from this period using the steps from French court dance in English dances. The French called these dances contra-dance or contredanse. As time progressed, English country dances were spread and reinterpreted throughout the Western world, and eventually the French form of the name came to be associated with the American folk dances, especially in New England (this Frenchified name change may have followed a contemporary misbelief that the form was originally French).[1][2]

Contra dances were fashionable in the United States until the early to mid-19th century, when they were supplanted in popularity by square dances (such as the quadrille and lancers) and couple dances (such as the waltz and polka). By the late 19th century, square dances too had fallen out of favor, except in rural areas. When squares were revived (around 1925 to 1940, depending on the region), contra dances were generally not included. In the 1930s and 1940s, contra dances appear to have been done only in small towns in widely scattered parts of northeastern North America, such as Ohio, the Maritime provinces of Canada, and particularly northern New England. Ralph Page almost single-handedly maintained the New England tradition until it was revitalized in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly by Ted Sannella and Dudley Laufman.

By then, early dance camps, retreats, and weekends had emerged, such as Pinewoods Camp, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which became primarily a music and dance camp in 1933,[3] and NEFFA, the New England Folk Festival, also in Massachusetts, which began in 1944.[4] These and others continue to be popular and some offer other dancing and activities besides contra dancing.

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