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Archive for Friday, November 17, 1995

CONTRA DANCING HAS COMMUNITY FEEL

November 17, 1995

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Barn dancers are getting a chance to kick up their heels.

The first time Lawrence resident Madeline Finch attended a contra dance, she didn't know a circle left from a lady's chain.

That was two years ago. Now she's an advanced dancer and encourages friends to attend dances with her.

"It's hard to convey to people how much fun it is," she said.

The fun isn't just in the dancing.

"I've gotten to know a lot of great people in the community," she said. "I like the idea of community-building with events like contra dancing. It's a pretty sociable group of people."

Contra dancing comes from 18th- and 19th-century English country dancing. Performers often start a dance by lining up, with partners facing each other. Contra dancing is not performed the same way as square dancing.

The Lawrence Barn Dance Assn. sponsors contra dances on the third and occasionally the fifth Saturday of each month, usually at the Lawrence Senior Center, 745 Vt. But this month, they've taken the dancing one step beyond the Saturday night routine.

The group is planning a pre-Thanksgiving event, "Pilgrim's Progression: A Dance Classic," Friday through Sunday, which will include dances, workshops and a potluck brunch at various locations. Special guests include the Vermont-based band Nightingale and Tony Parkes, a caller from Boston.

Parkes is well-known in the world of contra dance and has led dancers through steps since 1964. He has choreographed original dances and conducted calling workshops throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

"It's a big thrill to see how much interest there is in calling," he said in an interview from his home office. "It's mushroomed in the past 20 years."

Parkes will lead a calling workshop when he swings through Lawrence.

"My advice to anyone who wants to do it is make sure you've danced regularly for at least two years because each call affects the relationship between the dancers and the caller," he said.

Parkes said he enjoys watching dancers learn and perform new dances.

"The most fulfilling part for me is watching people connect," he said. "It's great to see people who are new to it light up and say, 'Hey, I can do this!' because anyone can do this."

A beginner's session is part of the weekend's activities, said Brad Levy, Lawrence Barn Dance Assn. board member.

"We try to make it fun for everyone," Levy said. "We just ask that you make an honest effort."

The dances are open to anyone who wants to come.

"Everyone from the very young to the very old can be a part," he said. "It's a chance to have social contact in a clean, safe setting, and you don't have to bring a partner."

Levy said the relaxed atmosphere puts newcomers at ease.

"We dress casually," he said. "And at the regular dances, everything is taught as you go. You don't need to know 50 moves. The emphasis is on it being a positive experience rather than, 'Oh, did you do that right?' or perfect form."

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