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The original item was published from 2/27/2017 11:13:00 AM to 5/15/2017 12:00:01 AM.

News Flash

ReCreation & Culture

Posted on: January 3, 2017

[ARCHIVED] Community Contra Dance

Contra Dance 2017 Flier small.jpg

Music by Egrets Only
Dances called by Anna
Town Hall Gym, 25 Green Street

7-9pm Once a month on a Friday
March 10
April 7
May 12
The event is Free & Public thanks to TD Bank for their generous support!
Open to all ages, no experience necessary. We learn as we go!Contra Dance is a New England folk tradition. Similar to Square Dancing, one dances with a partner, but in lines, long lines that span the hall, in our case at the Town Hall Gym. 

Fiddle/Folk music plays, a Caller calls: “Bow to your partner. Bow to your corner. All join hands, circle left…” As you and your partner progress through the dance, you will, before the night is through, have di-si-dow-ed with just about everybody in the hall. 

For community building Contra Dancing simply cannot be beat. 

The Ipswich Community Contra Dance has true blue grass roots… “Egrets Only” our home grown band is lead by fiddler, Pierce Woodward, who, before moving to Ipswich, toured with Pete Seegers legendary folk rock band “The Mammals.” On stage Pierce is joined by neighbors and friends; banjo, base, hurdy-gurdy… they play, Anna Calls and the community dances!

The Ipswich Community Contra Dance is a uniquely family friendly event.  Beginners enjoy foot stomping fun right alongside seasoned devotees of the dance form.

Do-si-do, four hand star, swing your partner, promenade!

Thanks to the Ipswich Chronical for the great story:

By Brian Satter

Outside Town Hall, the night is cold and snowy. Winter is doing her frigid best to prevent people from gathering. It is a time of year when socialization is often confined to a friendly wave between neighbors, limited to minimal communication due to the snow blower's roar and the rush to escape the weather.

But inside the gym is hot. And the joint is jumping. Dozens of people who braved the conditions are now laughing, twirling, stomping their feet and dancing with people they have never met. Winter's obstacles are no match for the energetic, enthusiastic crowd here to contra dance and participate in one of the oldest traditions in America.

"This is how America was built — one downright contra dance at a time, where you do-si-do and you swing your partner and then your neighbor," said Bates, who became fascinated with contra dances that she attended on Martha's Vineyard in the 1980s. "It is community building as a dance form."

Town Hall hosted a contra dance last Friday night. Three more are scheduled this winter/spring: March 10, April 7, and May 12. The dances are free thanks to a sponsorship from the Ipswich branch of TD Bank.

If you go

Contra dances are scheduled for the following Fridays at Town Hall, 7 to 9 p.m.: March 10, April 7 and May 12

Contra dancing, which hearkens back to colonial America and remained popular in small towns throughout the northeast into the 1940s, features many similarities to square dancing in terms of the calls and the moves. However instead of "squaring off," dancers typically form two lines that face one another. Each person stands opposite their partner, whom they stay with throughout the dance.

A lively fiddle band that sets the pace for the evening and provides the music. Dance partners interact with couples on either side of them in the line, and react to directions from the caller. They balance one another. They swing. They form a hand star and circle left or right. They allemande left. They do-si-do.

Ultimately partners move up and down the line throughout the night, matching up with other couples and by the end of the evening most people will have danced with nearly everyone in the gym.

"The contra dance is a lively, tuneful, happy event," said the Rev. Rebecca Pugh, who frequents the Town Hall dances. "The band that plays is talented, energetic, brilliantly creative and lively and the caller is personable, smart, and engaging. I have been grateful to participate in these dances for several years and they always are the highlight of the weekend."

When Bates first introduced contra dancing to Ipswich three years ago, she recruited a band from Gloucester to play and the event attracted several skilled and experienced dancers. Last year, she decided to find a local musician to headline the evening and hired Ipswich resident Pierce Woodward, an accomplished fiddler, and his wife Ana Laguarda to call.

Woodward formed a band to play the dances, Egrets Only, which features a crew that all have ties to Ipswich. The band's energy is frenetic and their style is inclusive. Frequently local musicians and even children who brought their instruments will hop on stage to join the circle.

Finding Woodward to fiddle was a coup for Bates, as he was a former professional bass player who toured the country, playing folk festivals across the country. Woodward learned the fiddle from fellow band mate and the grandson of folk legend Pete Seeger. Woodward also played with Ruth Unger, whose father wrote the score to Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War.

"It's pretty magical," said Woodward, who often played contra dance music in dance tents as part of touring the larger festivals. "This is a very old form of entertainment. Before there were town halls one family would volunteer to host and they would push all the furniture out of the living room. This is how they would get their groove on in the pre-electronic age.

"We are trying to replicate that. It really works and has survived all these years because it gets people together and puts a smile on their face. It makes people feel good about their community and connected to it."

Laguarda splits the calling duties with Alex Edwards, a music teacher at the Brookwood School. Laguarda begins the night with dances that accommodate younger children, as oftentimes parents comprise the early part of the evening and she wants to make the event fun for the families.

After about an hour, Edwards grabs the microphone and provides calls to more advanced routines as the adult dancers take over. No experience is necessary to dance, but after attending once or twice, it is easy to master some of the moves.

A lot of effort and research goes into calling a dance, as the caller must be fluid with instructions to ensure the dance flows.

Adding to the ambiance of the evening is the setting Bates has provided as a backdrop for the dancing. According to Woodward, the scene boasts "colorful glowing globes hanging from the ceiling, strings of riverboat style lights framing the stage and dancing laser dots swirling around the front door and foyer of Town Hall."

So far the dances have been quite popular, and in the three years Bates has organized them, she has seen crowds as large as 120. The demographics range from parents with small children to singles in their 20s, to empty-nesters who are going out on dates again, to physically-fit seniors, all of whom enjoy a night of lively dancing.

"It's fun to meet different people from town and be around people of different ages," said Laguarda, a mother of three children under the age of 5. "Church and contra dancing are the two places you can meet people who are not in your age bracket."

Dance Away the Winter Blues, Ipswich Chronical
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