Carrboro Commons

Contra dancing provides fun Friday night entertainment

Posted on November 23rd, 2010 in Uncategorized by jock

By Mary Stewart Robins
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer & Videographer

Live Old-Time fiddle music and vibrant enthusiasm filled the Carrboro Century Center’s Century Hall on Friday Nov. 19, as beginners and dancing enthusiasts donned their clean dancing shoes for a monthly contra dance. (And Carrboro Commons reporter-videographer Mary Stewart Robins was there to capture the fun.)

Every third Friday of the month, the Carolina Song and Dance Association hosts a contra dance, a style of partnered folk dancing, and live music for $8 at 100 N. Greensboro St.  The event starts with beginner’s lessons at 7:30 p.m., followed by song and dance from 8 until 11 p.m.

“Contra dancing is sufficiently out of the mainstream,” said the Buz Lloyd, the founder of the Carolina Song and Dance Association and fiddle player for the Carolina Cut-Ups, Friday’s featured band.  “A lot of people have never heard of it.  It’s sort of a spiritual experience.”

Contra dancing originated in England and France in the 1700s, where rural communities hosted barn dances to socialize, according to an article by Don Ward and John Brant on

Similar to square dancing, contra dancing is preformed in groups of dancers, with many of the same basic steps.  The main difference between the two is that in contra dancing, partners rotate throughout a long doubled line, according to

The dances are directed by a caller, who announces the series of different dance steps.  The music and the steps are repeated, and the caller ultimately stops instructing towards the end of each dance, Lloyd said.

Southern contra dance music is a mix between folk and Celtic styles, and bands usually consist of a fiddle, a mandolin, a five-stringed banjo, a bass and a guitar.  Lloyd said that in the Northeast, another popular region for contra dancing, the piano takes place of the guitar.

Lloyd said that anywhere from 100 to 225 dancers turn out to the contra dances on any given Friday.  He said there is a core group of 300 to 400 regular dancers in the area, but there are many beginners as well.

Friday’s caller, George Segebade, encouraged experienced dancers to seek out and assist newcomers during the first few dances.

“The coolest thing is how many students come,” said Karen Warren, bass player for the Carolina Cut-Ups.  “A lot of dance communities aren’t as vital as this one, and it’s because of the students.”

Michelle Grisaffi, an adult student from Greensboro majoring in peace and conflict studies at Guilford College, said she was first introduced to contra dancing five years ago at a wedding in Vermont.  “As soon as I moved to North Carolina, I googled it and started going,” Grisaffi said.

“I love how friendly everyone is,” Grisaffi said.  “It doesn’t matter if you are a great dancer or just a beginner.  The community is really welcoming, like a family.”

Lloyd described the contra dance community as an enthusiastic and clean-cut group.  “The people that do this are very avid.  Some of them will travel great distances to go to dance weekends,” Lloyd said.

Last week Lloyd attended a dance event in Tucson, Ariz., called “Dance in the Desert.”  He said these events host big name bands and dancing workshops.

David Ross, owner of Camptown RV in Newport, N.C., near Morehead City, said his two daughters got him into contra dancing.  Ross described the wide range of ages that contra dancing attracts, adding that he recently saw a 92-year-old woman at a contra dance in Carrboro.

The Carolina Song and Dance Association, originally the Carolina Square Dance Association, was founded in 1982, as a result of local interest in square dancing.  As contra dancing became more popular, the association began hosting more contra dances and changed to its current name.

The dances were held in school and church gymnasiums in the area before the Carrboro Century Center opened in 2001, according to the CSDA website.

The Carrboro dance community helped raise as much as $30,000 to pay for the dance floor in the Century Center, Lloyd said.

Because of this large contribution, Lloyd said the dancers are especially conscious of maintaining the condition of dance floor, which can take some wear and tear due to the active nature of the dances.

Additional Friday and Saturday night contra dances are hosted by other local dance associations, such as the Triangle Country Dancers and the Footloose/Contrazz Dance Series, which host dances at the Carrboro Century Center and other area venues, according to the Triangle Country Dancers website.

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