Allemande left … circle right … do-si-do — some of the terminology might sound familiar, but it’s not square dancing — it’s contra dancing.
“Some of the moves are a lot like square dancing — swings and do-si-dos — but it’s a totally different experience,” said Holly Underwood, one of the founders of the Dayton Contra Dance Parties. “One of the things I enjoy most is the community aspect of it. It’s a bunch of people having a good time with great live music.”
Contra dancing is a type of communal folk dance in which a caller leads dancers through a series of moves. A single dance can last as long as 15 minutes.
“It’s fairly aerobic,” Underwood said. “You definitely break a sweat but you’re grinning the whole time, what other form of exercise can you say that about.”
Two left feet
No rhythm, too clumsy, no partner, too old — there are plenty of excuses not to try, but few seem valid when it comes to contra dancing.
Each dance starts with a 30-minute instructional period during which time the caller will walk the dancers through the basic moves. Those six to eight basic moves will be used repeatedly throughout the night.
“Smile if you goof up,” Underwood said. “It’s not about getting it right, it’s about having fun.”
With as many as 75 to 100 dancers in the Michael Solomon Pavilion for each dance, you won’t be the only one who circles left when the others are circling right.
There are no wallflowers, and you don’t even need to bring a partner. Contra dancing is performed by couples in two lines and dancers frequently change partners. If you don’t bring someone with you, you will have a partner when the dancing starts and will likely dance with several other partners by the time the night is over.
Too old or too young — no such thing. Dancers at the family-friendly Dayton Contra Dance parties typically range in age from 6 to 80.
Good fun and good for you
Smiles and laughs aplenty, dancing is fun but it can also be an excellent form of fitness.
From strengthening bones and muscles to increasing flexibility, dance, like other moderate low-impact activities, can have significant health benefits. Dancers are also burning calories, 150 calories or more in 30 minutes of moderate dancing. And you can easily vary the level of exertion as needed.
“It’s constant movement so there is an athletic aspect,” Underwood said.
Beyond the physical benefits, some studies have shown that dancing can help keep your brain healthy as you age. According to the AARP, exercise increases the level of brain chemicals that encourage nerve cells to grow. And dancing that requires remembering dance steps and sequences boosts brain power by improving memory skills.
The social aspect of dance is also valuable.
“The crowd is so welcoming and friendly,” Underwood said. “People of all ages are out there on the floor. It’s just a good vibe — very social and interactive.”
There are no special costumes or clothing requirements beyond dressing for comfort. Comfortable shoes are a must as you will be on your feet a lot.
The Dayton Contra Dance Parties, formerly known as the Cityfolk Contra Dances, are held monthly in Kettering. Newcomers are encouraged to take part in the 30-minute instruction period to familiarize themselves with the basic moves.
Beyond that, it’s just about having fun.
“If you’re willing to try, screw up and keep going, that’s all we ask,” Underwood said.
How to go
What: Dayton Contra Dance Parties
When: First Friday of the month October-May
Instruction: 7:30 p.m.
Dance: 8-11 p.m.
Where: Michael Solomon Pavilion, Kettering (near Community Golf Course)
Cost: $7 at the door; $5 students; children 12 and younger are free
More info: Go online to www.daytoncontra.org or Dayton Contra Dance Parties on Facebook
Schedule and bands
Dec. 6: Dan, Debbie & Whitt with Josh Moses
Jan. 3: Gallimaufry with Michael Hamilton
Jan. 12: Special fundraiser featuring Changeling with Hilarie & Mark Burhans and Kathy Anderson
Feb. 7: Jim’s Red Pants with Steve Edwards
March 7: The Corndrinkers with Kathy Anderson
April 4: Zeke’s Fancy with Kate Power
May 2: Full Moon Country Dance Orchestra with Open Mike Calling
Health benefits of dancing
Like other moderate, low-impact, weight bearing activities, such as brisk walking, cycling or aerobics, dancing can help:
Strengthen bones and muscles without hurting your joints
Tone your entire body
Improve your posture and balance, which can prevent falls
Increase your stamina and flexibility
Reduce stress and tension
Provide opportunities to meet people
Ward off illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis and depression
SOURCE: The AARP