Grab your partner, do-si-do, circle left and … bust a move? Yes, that’s correct: Bust a move. Not the lexicon typically attributed to contradance, but then again, this isn’t going to be your normal folk dance experience. With dim lights, disco ball and a pumping sound system, this is anything but traditional.

Bates College’s Freewill Folk Society, a student organization that plans folk dancing events at the college, is throwing its second alternative contradance following the success of a March 2009 hip-hop themed contra. Led by the organization’s president, Blaise Thompson, a college junior, with the help of folk dance caller Chrissy Fowler from Belfast, the event is gearing up to be a jammin’ good time.

“It’s fun because it’s unique and even a little bit silly,” says Thompson.

Traditional contradance goes back to the 17th century English country dances and usually features music by a live band, playing jigs and reels. Dancers form long paired lines, facing each other and, with a few exceptions, don’t need to follow specific footwork, but rather move through the calls according to their own comfort and ability. A caller goes through the steps for each individual dance before the music starts, and calls throughout the dance to keep participants on track. Generally, the steps of the dances are common to most country dances

The hip-hop/alt theme gives the tradition a quirky update. Originally the idea to host an alternative contradance came up at last year’s New England Folk Festival where Thompson and a fellow Bates student were introduced to the concept.

“What we’re doing is in no way revolutionary,” explains Thompson. “Other contradancers have done this sort of thing.” The novelty and creativity of the idea interested the students and they decided to bring the concept back to Bates and the Lewiston-Auburn area, hosting their first convergence of dance cultures to all-around positive feedback from participants.


“People who came had a blast,” recalls Fowler. “In fact, some dancers from New Hampshire that are psyched about traditional contradancing are really excited about coming up and trying (the alternative contradance) this October.”

Instead of the live jigs and reels, popular music and modern jams will boom from electronic sources. Although the Freewill Folk Society and Fowler in no way want to replace traditional contradance — especially the aspect of having a live band — this occasion offers something unique for those interested in trying something a little different. Seriously, how many contradancers have ever allemanded to MGMT or Jay-Z?

“Musically, it inspires just a little different type of dancing,” says Thompson.

“There seems to be a lot more hip and shoulder with the popular music,” explains Fowler. “Music absolutely affects how people move.”

At the March event, dancers did the buzz-step-swing (a contradance move where a couple in ballroom position puts weight on the right foot and pushes with the left foot like on a scooter) to a contemporary song like Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and proved that modifications were definitely needed. Noticing that holding on to the traditional form of the movement wasn’t working with these types of tunes, Fowler encouraged dancers to let their hair down and respond to the music, even doing an impromptu demo of how to let loose. “That got a few laughs,” she jokes.

A lot of work is going into creating a playlist of techno, alternative and hip-hop music for the upcoming event. Thompson, with the aid of computer programs, is manipulating and splicing together songs so the beat falls into the common 16-count phrases familiar to traditional contradance.


Regarded as an accepting, friendly bunch, contradancers welcome new members. There’s no dress code (women — and even some men — often don swirling peasant skirts as comfort is the name of the game) and evenings are usually chem-free. No experience? Not to worry. Not only will Fowler be calling the dances, but newbies will be paired with experienced dancers to help them get the hang of it.

“This type of dance is about coming together and cooperating. In a lot of ways it doesn’t matter what the music is, because at the core is people collaborating with each other,” says Fowler.

Hosting an unconventional contradance tends to attract an audience who wouldn’t normally attend a traditional dance, opening opportunities for locals and students to join the contra community.

“Contradancing is a great way to meet people,” says Bates College junior and FFS member Kate Webber. “Hip-hop and techno have the dance beat built into it anyway. You’ll get more physical contact than you normally would (in traditional contradancing) and like, for the swing segments, you might have people just grinding.”

Alternative Contra-Dance

When: Friday, Oct. 30

Where: Bates College Merrill Gymnasium, dance studio (upstairs)

Time: 7:30 beginners workshop; 8 p.m. dance

Cost: Adult community members $8; students with college ID $5

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