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Contra Etiquette

Help Create a Welcoming Environment

All Contra Dance organizers and dancers are encouraged to help in creating a welcoming environments.
Strive to maintian a safe and comfortable space for everyone, both mentally and physically!

Welcome all dancers regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability.
Always be respectful and avoid inappropriate language.
Discourage harassment and discrimination. Ask for assistance from an organizer if necessary.

Be Gentle: Avoid dance actions that might cause physical harm.
Mainstain hand holds with counter pressure rather than squeezing.
Speak up if something is uncomfortable:
“That hurts!” -- “It would be more comfortable if you…” -- “Please swing slower”.

Partners: Anyone can dance with Anyone, and Anyone can ask Anyone to dance!
Women can ask Women, Women can ask Men, Men can ask Men, and Men can ask Women.
If you want to dance, indicate your desire by standing near where lines are forming.
Look to the sidelines to see if there is someone who sat out the last dance who would like to dance the next.

Mixing: In some groups it is the custom for most dancers to change partners for each dance.
Generally, dancers wait until a dance is over before asking someone for the next dance.

Equalize Experience: When a new dancer partners with an experienced dancer it reduces confusion and increases enjoyment.

Decline Politely: Everyone has the right to decline an invitation to dance, without an explanation.

Smile: Remember to smile and to make eye contact during the dance.
Thank your partner at the end of each dance.



Come Clean: Maintain good personal hygiene and make yourself presentable.
Shower before the dance, bring antiperspirent, use breath mints.
Dress in layers and consider bringing a spare shirt or blouse.
Carrying a kerchief, bandana, or small towel is a good idea for mopping your brow.

Footwear: Please wear proper footwear: clean, soft-soled shoes protects the floor and your body.

No Scent: Please do not wear perfune, cologne, or other scented products to the dance.
Many dancers are allergic to scented products and will be uncomfortable or become ill.

Comply with all local protocols to avoid sharing germs. Stay home if you feel sick.
If you have to sneeze or cough -- do so into your arm, not your hand.
Use hand sanitizer and wash your hands throughout the evening.


Contra Structure and Progression

Start at the Beginning Arrive in time to participate in the first dance of the evening.
If there is a new dancer introduction before the dance, arrive in time to participate.
Essential terms will be reviewed in the first few dances.
Often the difficulty increases through the evening so be aware when such announcements are made.

Structure: Each contra dance is composed of one sequence which usually takes about half a minute to dance.
That sequence is walked through and explained before the dancing starts.
The sequence is designed to end with a progression that moves partner pairs along the lines in some way.
During the dance the sequence will be repeated several times with prompts given as needed.
As dancers master it and synchronize with the music, the tempo may increase and the prompts decrease.

Proper Lines: The most basic contras are two facing lines where partners dance mostly with each other.
At the end of each sequence the couples at the top (usually near the caller) move all the way down to the foot.

Duple Contras: Most contras involve groups of two partner pairs who dance together through one sequence.
Then one of the couples moves down the line and the other couple moves up the line into a new group.
As the dance continues you and your partner will gradually move all the way up or down the hall.
At the ends of the lines, each couple has half a minute to catch their breath before they start back the other way.

Making Lines: When it is time to make lines for the next dance, find a partner and join one of the long lines.
Hands Four from the Top: Dancers immediately begin at the top and join hands in small circles of four dancers.
Keep Lines Equal: Additional couples should join at the bottom of the shortest line.

Teaching: When the caller is teaching, be courteous and give your full attention.

Mistakes: If you make a mistake, or miss a figure, don’t worry. Find the hole and keep going.
Instead of rushing through the botched figure, skip it, and go on to the next.
Some calls such as Dosado and Swing can be omitted without serious consequences.
Try to be with your partner and ready when the next progression moment comes.

Emergencies: Avoid stepping out of the contra line except at the bottom or the top.
If one couple leaves, it will disrupt the progression of the whole line.
If something goes wrong, a lone couple in the middle should step out and go to either end to rejoin.

Enjoyment: Greet each new couple with a smile.
Acknowledge our shared joy in the dance, the music, and the people.
Enjoy yourself and do your best to make the evening fun for others as well.


Styling Tips

Timing: Listen to the music and dance each figure within its musical phrase.

Giving Weight: Keep arms firm to support each other through the figures.

Smooth and Gentle: Move with an easy walking step in time to the music.

Eye contact is an important part of contra dancing. It is more fun and it reduces dizziness during turns.

Alertness: Be sensitive to others' needs and preferences.

Swinging: Eye contact with your partner will reduce dizziness.
If extended eye to eye contact makes you uncomfortable, look at your partner’s ear.
If dizziness is a problem, just tell your temporary partner and turn just enough to be in position for the next call.
Learning to swing smoothly takes time and practice. Ask for guidance from someone who has mastered the art.

Solo Spins: Energetic dancers often add counter-clockwise solo turns during a Dosado.
These are an optional flourish and should never interfere with the floor space needed by another dancer.

Flourishes: Twirling the lady is a common and popular embellishment in contra dancing.
The man typically leads the woman into a twirl, but it is the woman's prerogative to follow the lead or override it.

Basics First: Learn the basics before trying to put in the extra flourishes.
Fancy styling can be added gradually while you enjoy the dancing.



Welcome Newbies: Experienced dancers should welcome newer dancers into our community by asking them to dance, and helping them to have a fun, satisfying evening.

Dance Smoothly: Do your own part correctly and in time with the music. Gently make hand connections to clarify formations.

Minimize Verbal Instructions: Keep verbal instructions to an absolute minimum.
Point, tap on the shoulder, use other signals, or call their name to aid a lost dancer.

Avoid Confusion: Refrain from twirls, spins, and other flourishes with newer partners.
Flourishes can be disorienting and confusing for less experienced dancers around you.

Mistakes are OK: When helping other dancers, keep the atmosphere light.
New dancers will relax when they sense your enjoyment. Focus on flow rather than perfection.

Skip parts when necessary: The goal is to recover from mistakes and face the right direction.


For All Dancers

Share the Joy: One of the great joy of contra dancing is the interaction with many other dancers.

Handholds: Hand connection should be a comfortable and easily releasable hold. There are various regional stylings.

Give Weight: Arms should be held with elbows bent to create a spring and allow the dancers to "give weight".
Give just enough weight with your arms to keep a firm and springy connection that supports and centers the turning actions.
This requires mutual sensitivity and adjustment. Don’t squeeze too tightly or bend your partner’s wrists.

Continuously adjust to the needs abilities of each dancer.
If you dance with 30 people in line, big or little, older or younger, you’ll need to dance 30 different ways.
Aim to please every person (both genders) that you dance with.

Vigorous Swings: Refrain from vigorous Swings unless there is clear communication of mutual enjoyment.

Dance: The goal is smoothly flowing interaction that moves all the dancers successfully through the movements.
The musical beat synchronizes the dancers steps and the musical phrasing times the calls.


(Updated or Revised March 2021)