Dancing against the grain

Folk dance experiencing a revival

Contra Dancing will take place at the Errington Hall this weekend.

A lively, group folk dance is being introduced to Oceanside this weekend, complete with live music and lessons.

Contra dancing originated in the late 17th century as English court dancing and was taken up by the French, incorporating the “contra” part into the name. Contra means against, and alludes to the arrangement of the dancers. It became popular in the new world into the 19th century but fizzled out, and today is seeing a resurgence. The dances are similar to Ceilidh dancing but are traditionally done without alcohol and involve different steps.

Organizer Kathryn Gemmell first took the dance up in Nanaimo last fall. She has done all kinds of dance training in the past, including ballet, Latin, jazz, ballroom, African and modern but said this one stands out.

“I would say this is the most fun form [of dance] I’ve ever done, and I think it’s a real strong community builder.”

The dancing is done to Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton jigs and reels, and will be played by The Capering Fools, made up of fiddler Paul Gitlitz and guitar player Guy Langlois. 

Gitlitz began the successful contra dancing group in Nanaimo that Gemmell originally attended.

Gemmell said the dance steps are easy to learn and will be taught during the first half hour of the dance. She said contra dancing is becoming increasingly popular for the 20 to 30 year olds, and she has even seen a newer version of the dance that incorporates techno and pop elements.

The teacher, or “caller” of the dances is JD Erskine coming up from Victoria and Gemmell said he is a wonderful teacher who knows all the folklore surrounding the dances.

Come with or without a partner and dance as little or as much as you want, Gemmell said.

The dance takes place at the Errington Hall this Saturday, April 9 from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $12 available at Cranky Dog Records in Parksville, Back Road Java in Errington and at the door. Ages 12 and up are recommended. For more information contact Kathryn at 250-248-9227 or e-mail kgcontra@yahoo.ca.


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