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Bow to your corner and now promenade…

Today we learned two very important lessons:

Lesson #1: When you are given an opportunity you take it!

Lesson #2: Interested is Interesting!

Contra is danced to Celtic, Quebecois, Old Time, New England, Southern Appalachian, Jazz, Blues, and all sorts of other music played by live bands. In a contra dance, parallel lines of dancers stand opposite -- or "contra to" -- their partners. A dancer and his/her partner form a couple.

Today we were invited to a Contra Dance by a couple we met while trying to obtain Wii Fii in the Talladega National Forrest camp store. Somehow we fell into the conversation about being on ‘date night’, telling them our three children were back at the RV watching a movie; because after two months on the road and an all day hike today, we needed a ‘break’ from our darlings.

We shared our story about travelling the US and our new friends quickly became curious enough to follow us online too! Honored we stopped in their state of Alabama, they continued to tell us all the ‘stops’ we must make before leaving. [The best tips come from localsJ]

We asked what brought them to The Talladega National Forrest. They told us they were part of a dance group – contra dancing, somewhat like square dancing, and that they meet up with others throughout the state to simply dance. With contra dancing, there is a live band and about 60-80 people who come from all around to share in the love of folk dancing. “You should come watch”, they mentioned that we’d be welcome, there would be food and drink, and we could watch the dancing for some entertainment. We exchanged pleasantries and went about our way.

Come 8’oclock, Nate and I said, what the heck – why not – so we took the kids to the nearby lodge for a few minutes of entertainment. You could hear the folk music from the parking lot and the echo of the ‘caller’s’ dance moves. As we came to the ballroom, we saw 60 some people promenading and twirling around the room. After watching from the patio we got braver and decided to go in and sit. Once we entered the room we were welcomed by almost everyone who came across our sitting area.

The couple that invited us immediately introduced themselves to the kids – extending desserts and drinks to them – winning them over. Before we knew it, the leaders of the band and the caller came up to us and said, “We’re gonna slow this next one down so ya’ll can join in, we’ll find you a partner.”

Wait what??? Nate and I laughed, and next thing we know we are being dragged out onto the dance floor by our new partners – the kids too!

The group was so welcoming, the music intoxicating and the dancing fun! It certainly brought back elementary memories for Nate and me. The kids thought it was great – they were smiling the entire time. I’d peek over at them in their own square and see them smiling ear to ear. I was worried at first, but each one of them embraced the experience and had a ball.

We danced for about 45 minutes – introduced to a few basic dances, switching partners all the while. Again, so impressed by our kids, not freaked out at all by this, instead owning it and interested all the way.

As we left the lodge everyone was clapping and waving telling us to have a safe trip.


On our way home, we each expressed our favorite memory of the night... Gigi really liked her partners, especially the one who picked her up and twirled her. Olive learned something new and that her partner taught her how to spot while spinning so not to get dizzy. Angelo said he liked the fact that all five of us were doing an activity together, and having an equal amount of fun.

Nate’s rang true for me too – It was priceless - to see our children submerged into an unknown cultural experience, grabbing it by the horns and making the most of it!

Other things we learned about Contra...

Tip: You may come with you Sig O, but you need to change partners each new dance.

In response to the Caller's instructions, each couple interacts with the couple next to them to form a four person "set" and each set interacts with the sets on either side of them. Over the course of a dance each couple moves up and down the hall, interacting with every other couple in their multi-set "line."

There is no fancy footwork involved (that is the other sort of line dancing) but the instructions given by the Caller do form a series of repeating figures that dancers eventually memorize. As this happens, the Caller provides fewer and fewer prompts until s/he drops out entirely; leaving you, your partner, and the others in your line to finish the dance, accompanied only by the exciting, lilting, haunting, and/or pulse pounding music provided by that night's band. Dance Nirvana, Contra style!

NOTE: Anyone may ask anyone else to dance. Women may ask men, women may ask women, men may ask men, and men may ask women. We have no clear policy on whether dogs may ask cats.

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