Houston Area Traditional Dance Society

Contra Dance FAQ

If you haven't looked at our About Contra page, please start there.

Is contra dancing difficult?

No it isn't, especially compared to other forms of dance. If you can walk smoothly, have a good sense of space, and can follow directions, you can probably contra dance, although we'd be lying if we said that everyone can do contra. There are only about 20 basic moves and no special footwork. You will learn most of the moves in two or three evenings.

Contra dance is done to the beat and phrases of the music. If you can't hear the beat or phrases, then you may have some trouble. However there are ways to compensate, and you can learn to hear the beat (some of our best dancers had to!), so don't stay away because you think that you have a tin ear.

As with any other activity, the more you do it, the better you will become; the better you become, the more you will enjoy it!

⇧ Top of Page

What if I make mistakes?

Don't worry about making mistakes during a dance—everyone makes them. You just smile (or laugh!) and keep moving.

Plus, one of the wonderful things about contra dancing is the willingness of the more experienced dancers to teach those who are new to the dance form.

⇧ Top of Page

How much does it cost?

We currently ask $10 for the general public, $6 for members of HATDS (cash and checks only; no large bills, please). Young people under 18 are free.

When you come the first time and pay full price you will receive a card that allows you to come three more times at the members' price. After that we hope that you will become a member and continue to receive the discount.

⇧ Top of Page

What are the ages of those who attend your dances?

Contra dance attracts people of all ages. Most of our dancers range from their early 20s into their 70s—that's quite a range!

The dances are appropriate for dancers about 10 years old and older. Kids younger than 9 or 10 may do very well or could be a danger to themselves and others; it depends on the child.

Parents are always responsible for their young children, especially those who are not dancing!

Nationwide, teens and the college crowd are discovering contra. Our dances are no exception!

⇧ Top of Page

Do I have to bring a partner?

No! If you do bring a partner, be ready to dance with others. It's contra dance tradition and etiquette to be sociable and dance with different partners throughout the evening.

If you're new to contra dance and you come with a partner, do yourself (and everyone else) a favor by dancing with more experienced dancers for the first few dances. That's the best way to learn quickly.

⇧ Top of Page

How should I dress?

There is no dress code, however we suggest that you dress comfortably. Contra dancing can be aerobic exercise and you're very likely to perspire, so wear clothes that are not restrictive. If you perspire heavily, consider bringing an extra shirt or two.

In order to protect you and our wood floor, we urge you to wear comfortable low-heel shoes with soft soles that won't mar the floor. Many dancers bring a special pair of dance shoes. There are inexpensive bowling shoes that work well.

Women often wear skirts that can flare out during swings and twirls, but that is not a requirement.

And—very important—please do not wear fragrances such as perfume, cologne, and after-shave. Read our Why Fragrance Free? page for the reasons.

⇧ Top of Page

Is contra dance like square dancing?

Yes and no. There are some dance figures they have in common, and both dance forms have a caller, but that's about where the similarities end.

Plus, to confuse the answer more, there are two main types of square dancing. Traditional "old-time" square dancing is a closer cousin to contra than the club dancing that became popular in the 1950s. In fact, HATDS occasionally sponsors a traditional, old-time square dance.

For a more detailed comparison between contra dance, traditional square dance, and modern club square dance, click here.

⇧ Top of Page

I still want to know more!

Then come to a dance!

If you're still hesitant, Gary Shapiro has a page of descriptions, and the Wikipedia article on contra dancing is good. There are also many contra dance videos on YouTube and other video sites.

But really, the best way to learn about contra dance is to experience it. Won't you please join us at a dance?

Smiling Dancer

Contra dance is Real People in Real Time with Real Music. It is Real Life.
~ from Gary Shapiro's "What is Contra Dance?" page.