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You Should Try Contra Dance

November 9th, 2013
dance, contra

Dancing socially can be a lot of fun, but most kinds have really brutal learning curves. With a formalized partner dance such as swing or tango you need to take lessons before you're ready to dance with people at an evening, and then you'll need to take more lessons before you're any good at it. "As a very rough guide a man will take about 3 months to be able to dance [tango], and a year to start dancing semi-competently; a woman will take about half the time." (a tango faq) At the other end, with nominally unstructured dancing like you might find at a club, there are lots of skills but you're expected to pick them up from the dancers around you. While staying original and true to your inner style, of course. Both of these approaches can be frustrating: lessons aren't much fun, but if there aren't lessons how do you learn what to do?

Contra dance takes a different approach. In an evening you do a many individual dances, and before each one there is a mini-lesson where a caller takes a minute or two and briefly teaches the dance. This is just enough instruction that even people who just walked in off the street can have fun doing it, supported by the experienced dancers. This makes it really easy to get started.

As you move from a beginner to an intermediate dancer you start to see how that dance as taught is a framework that you can build on and play with. This lets contra be simultaneously approachable and deep enough to hold interest for years. It looks something like this:

If you're in the US and would like to try contra dancing, I wrote something where you can search for dances near you.

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