The Good Life: Contra Dancing
The Good Life will take you places once a month where people are living the good life HOWEVER THEY DEFINE IT. This month, we go to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center where people from all across the Southeast and beyond have come together to dance. The event is called Chattaboogie. It's the biggest dance of the year for the Chattanooga Tradtional Dance Society.
The evening event starts with waltzing as a warm up for the main event. Contra Dancing is more like the Old World meets Appalachia. Contra dancing is two lines "counter or contrary" to each other. There is always live music and a caller. Susan Kavra, a Professor of French and American studies at Vanderbilt University, is also a contra caller. Describing it roots, "It's British Isles, French and then the musical influences are all over the place. Appalachian music as well as French Canadian, Irish and New England are played. You'll do a series of figures that will last less than a minute. Then, you and your partner advance and dance with another couple."
Eye contact is a social part of contra but Ryan Worden proves you don't need eyes to FEEL the dance. Ryan is trained violinist and blind since birth. Contra dancing sparked a passion in him. "It's exhilarating. Being a musician, it's a way internalizing that beat and expressing it and expressing it", says Worden. And on his choice of wearing..a kilt? In keeping with contra's European roots, he says the style of it is very free and very accepting so you'll see men wearing skirts sometimes.
Other rules of Contra are that it's OK to mess up you can show up solo. You'll make quick friends dancing with a variety of people.
If you're still wondering just WHAT is it? Worden says, "One of the best descriptions I've ever heard is you take the dancing you see in Pride and Prejudice, set it to the driving beat of Riverdance then, throw in some square dance moves you learned in middle school and drop it all into Woodstock. That's contra dance!" And with that said, it's back to the dance floor.
by: Beth Neuhoff
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