Adding new life to an old tradition

Every Monday and Thursday evening, you can find crowds of contra dancers twirling and stomping to the beat of live music at the Concord Scout House on Walden Street.  New England contra dance music finds it roots in English, Celtic, and French Canadian traditions brought to America by early settlers. After a lull in popularity, there was a revival of interest in the 1970s, which continues today.

But when does a revival end and become its own tradition? With new choreography and compositions, contra dance has evolved into a tradition in its own right. So-called “old chestnuts” are performed and danced side by side with modern creations.

Recently in July, veteran caller Linda Leslie called contemporary dances such as “Happy as a Cold Pig in Warm Mud,” “A Good Feeling,” and “Snow in July.” She also chose a more traditional “double contra” dance in which two couples travel through the dance together as a set.

 

The Monday crowd tends to be a bit older, but when the hot-shot band of Perpetual e-Motion, (made up of Ed Howe on 5-string electronic violin, and John Cote on synthesized electric guitar, didgeridoo and foot percussion) played, the room had the feel of a disco. Strings of lights draped the darkened room, young couples were flapping their elbows and jiving the wave among eighty-something regulars.  The tempo moved at a frenetic rate. At the end of swings, young men dipped their partners.

With roots going back to early America, over the last 50 years, contra dancing has evolved into a fresh, contemporary style.

photos and blog by Lesley Ham

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