May 4, 2005

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Get a girl and learn to dance
Contra dancing opens up all sorts of doors
By Richie Victorino  rvictorino@hippopress.com

If you’re looking to get hitched, or at least looking for love, all you have to do is dance.

Contra dancing, formed in New England when states were still colonies, has always been a form of meeting new people, according to Ryan Thomson.

Thomson, a.k.a. Captain Fiddle, is a fiddler for the contra dance band Smoke and Mirrors. Smoke and Mirrors is set to release its latest CD, Really Smokin’, at a contra dance in Windham this weekend. The album is meant to spread the word of contra dancing, and perhaps bring dancing back into the forefront of entertainment. Who knows, you could meet your longtime love just by dancing, just like Frank Woodward did. Woodward is a contra dance caller (he helps people learn the steps for different dances).

“I found that contra dancing was something I could do on my own,” Woodward said. “I didn’t need a date … it took a lot of social pressure off me.”

What is contra dancing?
Back in the day, when we didn’t have the Internet or movies, there wasn’t much to do to entertain ourselves. Our esteemed forefathers, when they lived in Europe, were accustomed to spending their nights dancing. Folks in Ireland danced to Irish tunes; the English danced to English tunes etc. But in America, these different cultures merged into one musical form, contra dancing.

Everyone dances with everyone else at a Contra dance, but it’s not square dancing. There are many dances performed at a Contra dance, and that’s where the caller comes in.

The caller
The caller goes over each dance step for those who aren’t too sure of what they’re doing.

Woodward acts as caller for many contra dances in the state, as well as in Massachusetts. He talks people through the steps, making sure everyone knows what they’re doing. He’s an encyclopedia of contra dances, and he’s invented his own dances, including his personal favorite dance, the Spinning Yarn.

The music
Smoke and Mirrors’ music comes from of a fiddle, piano and hammered dulcimer (which predates the piano). They perform songs that can be hundreds of years old. They perform high-energy folk dance tunes. Really Smokin’ is made up of 40 songs (packed into 13 medleys).

“Part of the reason for the album is to try and bring back contra dance,” Thomson said. “The other part is people were just asking for it.”.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com

Now with 98% less Oliver North
Smoke and Mirrors performs live on Friday, May 5, at the Windham Town Hall. They celebrate the release of their album, Really Smokin’, an album filled with 13 medleys aimed to keep you dancing.

Windham Town Hall is located at 3 North Lowell Road, Windham.

For more on Smoke and Mirrors, go to www.contrafire.com.

For more on local dances, go to www.nhdances.org.