You can click a remote and watch Dancing with the Stars or click a mouse and get tickets to the Joffrey Ballet, but you have to click your heels to enjoy the live music, new friends, and artsy aerobic workout known as contra dancing.
Contra is very popular in Chicago—one dance and you’ll understand why.
Someone once described contra dancing as making new friends set to music. There’s a lot of truth to that, as most contra dancers are friendly folk who welcome newcomers.
Contra dance is descended from 17th century English country dance. It involves a caller who works with live musicians to guide new and experienced dancers through a series of moves. Think square dancing, although the formation in contra is different. Square dancing pairs couples in squares; contra dancing couples start out facing one another in long lines.
Anyone can participate because there are no special skills required.
Meg Dedolph, president of the board of the Chicago Barn Dance Company, plays for the Cosmic Otters, a popular local band.
“It’s a team sport; the success of a dance depends on everyone working together,” Dedolph says, adding that more experienced dancers are interested in seeing that everyone learns and has a good time. Most dances offer instruction a half-hour before the dance.
It’s best to dress casually in short-sleeved shirts paired with skirts or loose pants and soft-soled, comfortable shoes.
This summer contra will be featured at Chicago SummerDance on Sunday, July 27, in the Spirit of Music Garden at Grant Park. Join old-time band Steve Rosen and Friends and Dedolph, who will be the caller, for an evening of free live music and quick-stepping fun for all ages. Lessons take place from 4-5 p.m. and the dance from 5-7 p.m.
Visit chicagobarndance.org to find other upcoming dances.