Contras and Squares

Zesty music and high-energy dance are the main features of London Barndance events.

London Barndance events are now mostly Contra dances. Sometimes a few squares, trad and modern numbers get thrown in for good measure. The exact mix of dances depends on the interests of the caller, and also on the audience: callers often adjust their programme to match the skills and mood of the dancers.

Dancer walking forward What makes a 'real' contra event? Lots of people have their own ideas on this, but all agree that really good zesty music is vital. Some comments from the Contra-Corner mailing list set the scene: Contra Dance is high energy dancing like our ceilidhs, but the dancers appear much more aware of their partners and neighbours and thus contra dancing is less agressive than ceilidh dance. ... in the US it is expected that everyone will change partners for every dance. ... Twirls even before the ladies give right hands in a ladies chain ...Each dance is played at least 15 to 20 times through so that everyone, even in the longest of Contra lines, has the opportunity to dance as Couple 1 and Couple 2. ... ...the music: The Americans use the term 'zesty' ... The majority of formations danced are duple minors with the occasional triple minor. ... Eye contact is intense! And great fun once you get used to it. You can flirt all you want with your current partner as its accepted that it is just for this dance! ... high energy music, probably including French-Canadian reels, probably fiddle led, and tending to swing ...

Have a look at our Dance Gallery - near the bottom you will find some video clips that show exactly what we mean, but if you are short of time just watch Doug Plummer's The Contra Dance on Vimeo - it really captures the essence!

For more information on the style of dance, you might like to follow some of these links. To really find out though, there is no substitute for coming along and trying it!

Note that the comparisons between UK and US dance culture are rather old, and mainly describe non-contra events. At events advertised as Contra Dances it is normal for most dancers to change partners after each dance, so everyone can dance whether they come with a partner or not.

We ask our callers to use traditional gender-based role names or to use positional calling, but everyone is welcome to dance whichever role they like and some people even swap roles as they progress through the dance.