With roots in stately English Country Dance, contra dance evolved in the barns of colonial New England, where Americans gave it a more free-wheeling and energetic style. Contra dance had a renaissance in the mid-20th Century and has spread throughout the U.S. and Canada. It can also be found in the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Can it spread even further?
“We need some Latin American representation! Let’s start a monthly contra dance in Mérida,” declares Charleston, S.C., native Brook Hart.
“Contra dance is a community barn dance, where everyone dances and socializes with everyone else,” Hart wrote on a Facebook post that invited readers, both Yucatecan and extranjero, to try. “It is easy to learn and easy to dance. Each choreographed dance of the evening (there can be as many as eight) is taught right before the dance begins, and is prompted once the music starts. It is similar to square dancing, but not square. Instead, it is danced in long lines where you and your partner eventually dance with all the other couples in the line.”
Contra is smooth and easy on the knees, Hart says.
“You can dance with a lot of energy and flair, if you like, but all that is really required is walking to the beat of the music.”
A contra dance event is broken into two halves with a refreshment break in between. Each of the two dancing sessions are capped off with a waltz. You may bring a partner, but partners are not necessary. In keeping with the “community” aspect of contra, it is traditional to change partners for every dance of the evening. However, if you prefer, you are welcomed to dance with the one you came with all night long.
What if the boy-girl ratio is a little off? Gender imbalance is not an issue in contra dance, Hart says, because it is about community dancing with community, and it is acceptable and welcomed for amigas to partner amigas, and amigos, amigos.
“No one ever needs to be a wallflower in a contra dance,” says Hart.
Anyone who’s ever been to a square dance has a head start on the learning curve. “Contra uses a lot of the same moves and you dance to a caller,” says Hart.
Hart is no stranger to contra dance groups, having run a contra dance in New York City for seven years. After living in Mérida full-time now for four years, Hart admits he misses the tradition.
“I have been involved here with Yucatecan dancing, like jarana and danzón, and I know how much the Yucatecans love music and dance. I also know we have a large and growing population of expats who welcome new things to do. So I thought contra dance would be a good way to bring everyone together.”
He is aiming for the first dance to be in November with a space to be determined.