What is Contra Dancing

If a group of contra dancers was asked to describe contra dancing, probably each one will come up with a different answer. Primarily, contra dancing is a high-spirited dance which can be elegant, lively, and fun.

Based on Old English and New England country dancing with a blend of American square dancing. Live bands play Celtic, Old English, Irish, Early American and a few contemporary 'traditional' tunes for dancing.

contra dances


A caller leads the dance and each dance is walked through before the start of the dance. The caller has to match the dance to the music and skill level of their partners.



Two main phases to Contra Dancing: learning the movements and second dancing the movements. Most dances are danced in contra lines, some dances are danced in circles or squares. Before they take a break or the evening ends it is traditional to dance a few waltzes.

Contra Dance Techniques

Listed below are 8 techniques for managing movements and becoming an advanced dancer. The key tip is to listen, learn, and let your body flow with the rhythm of the dance.

Hands Four

Lines formed by 'Hands Four' (two couples join hands) at the top of the hall and continue till all couples join hands. The first couple faces down the hall, toward the curtains, and second up the hall, toward the stained glass.

Eye Contact

Make eye contact with the person with whom you are dancing. It is only meant to acknowledge their presence and, mostly, to reduce dizziness during turns (swings, allemandes, gypsies). A secret to prevent the dizziness from the spinning and swinging is to look into the partner's eyes while swinging or a spot on their face and holding one's concentration there as watching either the walls or floor while turning can make you dizzy.

Give Weight

Imagine the gentle pressure you use to help a seated person stand up. In contra, this gentle pressure is called “giving weight” and provides the strength used in a swing, ladies chain, Petronella twirl, allemande, and other moves. Giving weight helps move both dancers.


You will need to square your shoulders parallel with your partner, hold your arms firm but not stiff, also give weight so that you and your partner can move as one. Don’t squeeze their hand too tightly.


Leading the lady into a twirl should be done as a gentle suggestion only, it is the lady’s privilege to follow the lead or disregard it.


Each musical phrase takes 8 beats; count the beats (to yourself) it will help to stay on time as you go from figure to figure. All dances are composed and timed so that each figure works with the musical beat and flows seamlessly from one pattern to the other.


During the dance, if you lose your place, wait for the partner swing, find your partner and you can pick up from there.

Graceful Exit

If for some reason you must drop out mid-dance, please make sure you wait until you are at the top or bottom of the set, so that you can gracefully exit without disordering the other dancers in line.