‘Contra’ draws large following

The Oswego Music Hall Dance Series brought over 40 of the city’s residents together on Feb. 3, at the McCrobie Civic Center. Oswegonians ranging from ages five to 70-years-old participated in contra dancing.

“Contra dance is a heck of a good time,” said Oswego Music Artistic Director Ellen Wahl. “The quality of people who participate in these dances are amazing.”

Sharon Dellinger, the dance coordinator, said that people of all ages, whether experienced or not in contra, can come out and have a good time. She also said it helps to bring people from the community together in one place.

“It’s a cheap night out and you don’t need a date,” Dellinger said. “When you come to one of these things it has such a hometown community feel to it.”

Contra dancing is a type of partnered folk dance from New England. Couples dance in two, facing lines and a caller, (or leader of the dance), will call out the instructions to the dancers. The dances last for about 10 minutes with participants changing partners after every routine.

Staying with the same partner is frowned upon in the world of contra, it is known as “hogging a dancer,” according to Wahl. It is important during contra that individuals meet new people. If you see someone on the sidelines it’s not unusual to go up to that person and ask for a dance.

“It’s kind of like square dancing for hippies,” Kaitlyn Van Norstrand said. Van Norstrand has been contra dancing for 10 years and often comes to the dances with her husband.

According to Van Norstrand, contra is newcomer-friendly and a great place to connect with people in the community.

“My husband plays in a contra musical band and I’ve been to contra festivals in Saratoga with thousands of people there,” she said.

Van Norstrand described Contra as square dancing without the cowboy hats and boots. The music is more traditional, but with elements of the electric guitar thrown in.

The atmosphere as a whole was exciting. The band started playing as soon as they got there, which included a fiddle, electric guitar, banjo and piano.

Newcomers and seasoned veterans adorned the dance floor as words like “do si do” and “promenade” rang through the civic center.

Peter Mahan, an Oswego resident, said it is fun to come to these contra dances to meet new people, get some exercise and listen to good music.

“There’s no way you can do this type of dancing and be depressed,” Mahan said.

“Everyone one here is so friendly and accepting,” Mahan said. “Just come in and ask someone to dance. If you’re new at it that’s okay, people want to teach you.”

The dance floor was a sea of flannel shirts and flowing skirts as the men paraded the women in elaborate circles, twists and turns.

“When I go I usually wear a flowy skirt that way it looks pretty when I’m doing my turns Wahl said. “Some dedicated men who contra dance actually wear skirts; I haven’t seen any at these events but they’re out there.”

Wahl made a point to address newcomers explaining that this is an informal place to have fun and be comfortable.

Wahl explained that the Oswego Music Hall first started doing the contra dances in 2006 in Phoenix, NY. The location they used became too small, forcing them to move to Oswego’s McCrobie Civic Center.

The Oswego Music Hall is run by a 17-member board of directors. The hall has been open for three decades and strives to offer a venue for “the unheard voice, new ideas and to those who use song to reach out from the edges of our culture,” according to the Music Hall’s website.

Contra is not the only thing that the Music Hall coordinates. It often features folk artist performances taking place from September to June every other Saturday, 8 p.m., at the McCrobie Ball Room in Oswego.