The 14th annual DownEast Country Dance Festival opens Friday night in Topsham. The event attracts hundreds of dancers and plenty of musicians.

The 14th annual DownEast Country Dance Festival will open Friday, March 12, in Topsham.

TOPSHAM – Everything from fiddles and flutes to bagpipes and bouzoukis will fill Mount Ararat Middle School and the Orion Performing Arts Center when the 2004 DownEast Country Dance Festival takes place Friday, March 12, and Saturday, March 13.

While some of the music is just for listening, most of it serves to fuel the feet of the hundreds of people who flock to it each year for 20 hours of nearly nonstop dancing from 7 p.m. to midnight on Friday, and 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday.

The mainstay of the program is traditional New England country dancing – or “contradancing,” as it is more popularly known – but participants also can choose from a wide assortment of other dance styles.

Saturday is workshop day, offering a full schedule of classes in introductory waltz, schottische, Scottish and English country dancing, Renaissance period dance, Quebecois step dance and a number of other ethnic dance genres such as zydeco, Latin, Turkish, French, Romanian and Gypsy/Rom.

In response to popular demand, this year’s celebration will feature several workshops in swing dancing, augmented by jitterbug demonstrations and capped off by a two-hour swing dance party ( 5 to 7 p.m.) to the music of the combo Big Chief. Cajun music fans can enjoy a midafternoon fais-dos-dos of two-steps and waltzes featuring the band JimmyJo and the Jumbol’ayuhs.

Those looking to expand their musical horizons can learn to play the bodhran (Irish hand drum) or the didgeridoo (an aboriginal Australian wind instrument), brush up on their improvisational fiddle skills or join Shape Note, Scottish mouth music or round singing sessions. There will also be activities for children and families, including arts and crafts, contradancing and singing.

The two-day festival kicks off on Friday at 7 p.m. with five solid hours of contradancing in the Mount Ararat Middle School gym. Providing the music will be the bands Wake the Neighbors and Honk the Moose, with callers John McIntire and Rick Mohr.

On Saturday evening, dancers will have a choice between contradancing – to Phantom Power and The Latter Day Lizards, with callers Sue Rosen and Steve Zakon-Anderson – or an international folk dance party featuring the Alleround Orchestra and dancing led by Marie Wendt.

Mount Ararat Middle School and the adjacent Orion Performing Arts Center are located on Route 201. More information on the dance festival is available by calling 563-8953 or consulting the Web at

Admission prices for the DownEast Country Dance Festival range from $10 to $30, depending the number of sessions a person attends. Children age 5 to 12 are admitted at half-price, and there are also price breaks for students and senior citizens.

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