Contra dancers at Shade Community Center (photo credit: The Dancehall Desperados)
Contra dancers at Shade Community Center (photo credit: The Dancehall Desperados)

In Shade, Contra Dancing Lives On

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The contra family dance at the Shade Community Center on Sunday was truly as advertised.

Fathers danced with daughters and mothers with their sons. Couples of all ages locked hands and sometimes two children were rather precariously paired together.

It was the kind of dance where you thank the band. It doesn’t appear too strenuous at first but you still have to make a beeline for the drinking fountain once it’s over.

Sunday was sort of like practice, a walk through some of the easier and more traditional line dances. If one intends to go to one of the main night dances (the next is on Saturday, Feb. 28 at Shade), bring dancing shoes. You’ll need them.

Everything started with a promenade. This is where the dancing couples walk side by side in a big circle. Then comes the do-si-do (the partners shan’t touch), followed by some more rhythmic patterns of movement and clapping and the like.

The kids got the hang of it after awhile. Thankfully for them and the less coordinated, the irresistible repetition and classic sounds from the stage helped out. The Wireless Rambles played an appropriate, toe-tapping accompaniment featuring two violins, a guitar and a mandolin.

Then came a moment where one of the kids went left when they were supposed to go right and he was promptly bonked by a fellow dancer. It took some fatherly encouragement but he got right back at it.

This author got a first-hand taste of what it took thanks to the help of a Glouster contradance veteran named Maggie. All the pairs stood opposite another in two long lines.

Sort of like how actors worry about stage left and right, in contradance there is “up the hall” and “down the hall.” To be up the hall means you’re further down the line toward the front where the band is.

Adriane Mohlenkamp, among the lead organizers for the Southeastern Ohio Traditional Dance Society, served as the “caller” and helped out with the dance motions. Mercifully, this particular dance was fairly simple.

The dance worked in eight count sections and turned into a hyphenated mess of fun. The two lines converged on a step forward-two-three-four, back-two-three-four; then a do-si-do, then grab your partner’s hands and go round-and-round.

Finally the couple furthest up the hall sashayed down the gauntlet in between everyone. This repeated, as the couples moved steadily upward until each one eventually completed the wayward cycle.

On the part where you step forward and back, each dancer holds hands with the person on their left and right. This journalist had young Isaac on the left and five-year-old Morella on the right. Morella, like others at Shade, wore a name tag but had the “a” separate on the bottom because she ran out of space on the first line.

We three came into Sunday with equal levels of contradance talent, to be sure. Anyway, we all danced and sashayed capably.

“Don’t worry,” Maggie told her reporter partner, who evidently looked to be concentrating too hard. “This isn’t rocket science.”

The Southeastern Ohio Traditional Dance Society has been do-si-doing for at least two decades, Mohlenkamp said. The website has more information on the group and provides a schedule for future dances.

The word contra, as some organizers at Shade explained it, refers to the way dance partners are often lined up across from one another. They are “contrary” to each other, in a sense, then the two are usually brought together in various forms of dance.

Similarly, the family dance (like many others in southeast Ohio) really did bring families and the community together. Yes, the Shade contradance was indeed as advertised.