New Dancers

We love having new dancers!

What is contra dancing?

The best description (short of coming to a dance!) might be a video:

The Contra Dance from Doug Plummer.

If you'd prefer words: parallel lines of dancers begin by standing opposite — or "contra to" — their partners. Two partners dance a series of moves with each other and another couple. They then repeat the same figures with another couple, and so on. A caller guides new and experienced dancers alike through a variety of dances. Music is lively tunes from the traditions of New England, Appalachia, the British Isles, Quebec and beyond; all played by a live band on acoustic instruments. These tunes, particularly those from Appalachia, have a rich and complex history, including influences from African, African American, and Native American music. You can learn more from Phil Jamison’s book Hoedowns, Reels and Frolics and from presentations by Tony Parkes and Phil Jamison here.

We'd love to see you at a dance!

What to Expect / Top Ten Reasons to Contra Dance in Madison

1. It’s fun!

Hopefully the video gave you a flavor. The music is lively and cheerful. The energy on a dance floor is electric and invigorating. The endorphins fly and the social aspect is great fun. Some people drive hundreds of miles to attend weekend-long dances. Come find out why!

2. It's easy to learn

Every dance is walked through before the music starts. You're taught everything right before you have to do it so it's easy to jump into as a beginner. If you're new to contra dancing, we recommend coming at the beginning when dances are easier and figures are introduced.

3. Always live music!

Lively tunes from the traditions of New England, Appalachia, the British Isles, Quebec, and beyond.

4. You don't need gracefulness/poise/dancing talent

Can you get good at this? Of course. But as a beginner, you can literally just walk around in patterns and actually be considered a good dancer.

5. No special shoes or clothes needed

Dress comfortably! T-shirts are common. People often enjoy dancing in skirts, as skirts flow to the music. Don’t worry about what to wear, just be comfortable. You'll probably get sweaty as you dance.

People have danced in socks, barefoot, in tennis shoes or whatever. If you get into dancing you might purchase a pair of dance shoes. To avoid damaging the floor, please clean off any grit on the soles of your shoes.

6. You don't need a partner

To get a good orientation, we recommend that new dancers dance with experienced dancers as partners for the first few dances in an evening. If you attend with a date, give each other a present by dancing with others for a while. You'll then be able to have more fun dancing with each other.

Or not. In a room full of strangers, you'll want to cling to the one you know. But go ahead, dive into the unknown — we're all here to catch you.

7. It's great exercise

For the mind and body. Dancing has many physical and mental health benefits.

8. Make community

People of a wide range of ages have formed lasting friendships in our dance community. During the summer, we sometimes get together in the park before dances for potlucks. All of this is optional — if you just want a space to dance, great!

9. Dance in beautiful, historic buildings

Built in 1863, Gates of Heaven is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a wonderful place to dance. Our Saturday dance venue (October through May), Grace Episcopal Church (the only church on the Capitol Square), has been used as a dance hall since the 1920s. Both have wood floors.

10. Cheap fun

Your donations are the sole source for our hall rentals. Please give what you can — many folks give about $5 for a Tuesday and $8 for a Saturday. For students, $3 for a Tuesday and $5 for a Saturday is typical.