Houston Area Traditional Dance Society

What is Contra Dance?

Word CloudContra dance is a type of American social dancing with roots in English, Scottish, and Irish traditions. The basic formation (called a ‘set’) is two long lines of dancers with the men in one line and their partners facing them in the other line. A caller teaches the figures of each dance before it begins, then cues the dancers the first several times through the dance.

Couples dance the figures with the couple next to them. They then leave that couple and move to the next couple in the set, repeating the same figures with the new couple. This progression is repeated several times over the span of the dance. Through the natural progression of the dance each couple and each person dances with everyone else in their set—and the sets can be the length of the hall.

Hall full of dancers

No lessons are required, as each individual dance is taught before it begins. Plus, there are only about 20 moves to learn. For those who would like a little more instruction, we offer a newcomers' orientation about 15 minutes before the start of a regular dance.

We always dance to live music. There is simply no substitute for the energy of a live band and for the interplay between the musicians and the dancers.

Ladies at Play

The environment is smoke-free, alcohol-free, fragrance-free, safe, and family-friendly. This is a community dance, similar to the barn dances of bygone days.

Here are two personal stories that will give you a better sense of contra dancing and how fun it can be.

The series of articles called Ten Stupid Things Beginners Do to Mess Up Their Contradance Experience is worth scanning, even if the title is too strongly worded. It really should be called Ten Mistakes.... These mistakes aren't at all stupid—they are very common and totally understandable—yet any of them really can ruin your dance experience.

More questions? See our Contra FAQ and Why Fragrance Free? pages.

I've never seen so many smiles in one place!
~ a new Houston dancer