TOPSHAM – The DownEast Country Dance Festival will celebrate its 15th season of traditional music and dance March 11 and 12, at Mount Ararat Middle School and the attached Orion Performing Arts Center.

The annual event draws hundreds of participants from throughout Maine and New England for hours of nonstop dancing and music-making as the facility’s auditorium, cafeteria, gym and multiple classrooms are transformed into dance halls, spaces for performances and jam sessions, and workshop areas.

The festivities kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, March 11, with a program of traditional New England country dancing in the gym. Typically called “contra” dancing, this style of dance has its roots in the English country dances enjoyed by American colonists more than 200 years ago. While similar to square dancing, contras are danced in a double-line formation of as many as 20 couples, allowing a great deal of intermingling and socializing. The evening will end at midnight with a last waltz.

The action resumes at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 12, with more contra dancing as well as opportunities to learn everything from basic waltz, rumba, jitterbug and Charleston to a spectrum of international dance styles, including Scottish, Scandinavian, French, Israeli and Bavarian. An equally wide variety of activities is planned for those who want to enhance their musicianship, including workshops in fiddle, accordion, banjo, guitar and other folk instruments, as well as vocal sessions in shape-note, Balkan and round singing styles. There will also be music, dancing and craft activities designed especially for children and families.

The Saturday night schedule features contra dancing until midnight in addition to a festive international folk dance party.

Live music will predominate throughout the festival, with appearances by more than two dozen musical groups from Maine, Vermont and beyond, including the contra dance bands Calliope, Wake the Neighbors, Frigate, Frostbite and the Mere Mortals, and the DisSonatas Renaissance music ensemble and the Alleround International Folk Orchestra.

The Orion Performing Arts Center and Mount Ararat Middle School is on Route 201, which is Main Street in Topsham. More information is available by calling (207) 563-8953 or consulting the festival Web site at

Admission prices for the festival range from $10 to $30, depending on the number of sessions one attends. Children age 5 to 12 are admitted at half price, and there are also price breaks for students and senior citizens. Kids under 5 are free.

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