In the Northeast, contra dance and music have grown and changed
together over time. Among contra musicians there's a strong tradition
of playing for the dancers
, tailoring the
music to the specific dance and the specific dancers in front of you.
As contra dance spread out of New England through the South and
Midwest, organizers looked for musicians and in many places found
people playing old-time music. This is also dance music but it's
music for old-time square dance, which puts more limited demands on
the musicians. Because old-time music was less constrained by its
associated dance form it developed a different culture, one in which
the dancers were much less central. The standard old-time approach to
playing a dance is to focus on playing good music, playing the tune as
it should be played, and not pay much attention to the dancers.
With this in mind, it's not surprising that lots of contra
dancers will say they don't like dancing to old time music. It's not
a form of music that is naturally a close fit to contra and it's
not usually played in a way that makes that fit any better.
(The historical component of this post is somewhere between fact, folk
history, and conjecture.)
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