TOPSHAM – Nonstop dancing, music-making, “folk smorgasbord” day and more.

That’s what’s in store for folk arts fans from throughout New England attending the DownEast Country Dance Festival Friday and Saturday, March 27-28, at Mt. Ararat Middle School and the attached Orion Performing Arts Center.

The biggest draw of the event, celebrating its 19th season, is “folk smorgasbord” day, on Saturday when the school’s cafeteria, gym and multiple classrooms will be transformed into dance halls, workshop areas and spaces for mini-concerts and jam sessions. In the afternoon, a variety show on the main stage in the performing arts center will showcase the Highland Soles Scottish dance ensemble as well as demonstrations of English ritual and Middle-Eastern dancing.

Festivities kick off at 7 p.m. Friday with an evening of traditional New England country dancing in the gym to music by bands Frigate and Phantom Power. Typically called contra dancing, this style of dance has its roots in English country dances enjoyed by American colonists some 200 years ago. While similar to square dancing, contras are danced in a double-line formation of as many as 20 couples, allowing intermingling and socializing. The Friday evening dance will end at midnight with a last waltz.

Activities will resume at 10 a.m. Saturday with more contra dancing as well as opportunities to learn everything from waltz and tango to folk dances from Israel, Ireland, Quebec and Scandinavia in workshops that will take place simultaneously at different venues throughout the day. An equal emphasis on musicianship will be offered with instrumental workshops in fiddle, banjo, mandolin, swing guitar and Appalachian dulcimer, and vocal sessions in improvisation, round singing and Balkan women’s chorus.

“The folk arts have always been about community and family, so we’ve built into our festival a wide range of choices to keep people of all ages engaged, whether as spectators or active participants,” said festival director Lynn Plumb. A number of Saturday activities are designed for children, including arts and crafts, barn dancing, singing, instrument making, and an opportunity to march in the colorful festival parade.

Children 10 and younger will be admitted free, with students up to age 21 given a price break.

The Saturday night schedule, geared more to adults, features contra dancing until midnight, in addition to Cajun waltzes and two-steps and a festive international folk dance party.

Live music will predominate throughout the festival, with appearances by more than two dozen musical groups from Maine and elsewhere, including the contra dance bands Rumble Strip, Scrod Pudding, Crooked Stovepipe, the Sea Slugs, Catharsis, Calliope, Racket Factory, Perpetual E-Motion and the Montville Project; the Latin dance combo Tango Mucha Labia; the Cambridge International Folk Orchestra; the Cajun group JimmyJo; and the Jumbol’ayuhs.

Festival tickets are available for the two-day event or portions thereof, with prices ranging from $12 for the Friday night dance ($8 for students ages 11-21) to $35/$25 for the entire festival. Children ages 10 and younger are free at all times.

The Orion Arts Center/Mt. Ararat Middle School is on Route 201 (Main Street). For more information, call Plumb at 563-8953 or log on to

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