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Volume 24, Number 8 — August 2017

Contra dancers gather in Jonesborough for fun

Contra dancers enjoy dancing and friendship at the Historic Jonesborough Dance Society's events, which are  held twice monthly at the Jonesborough Visitors Center.
Contra dancers enjoy dancing and friendship at the Historic Jonesborough Dance Society's events, which are held twice monthly at the Jonesborough Visitors Center.

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | July 27, 2017

David Wiley, president of the Historic Jonesborough Dance Society, got hooked on contra dancing at Merle Fest in 2005.

"I grew up in Memphis, the home of rock "n' roll, rhythm and blues and soul music. I never was much of a dancer, as I was not taught social dance in my youth. When I moved to East Tennessee, I discovered contra dance at a festival in Black Mountain. The action on the dance floor looked like so much fun.I dreamed of me being one of those doing the dance.

"I was volunteering at Merle Fest in North Wilkesboro on April 29, 2005, and noticed that they had a dance tent featuring a variety of dances including contra. I went to the contra time slot and was greeted on the edge of the dance floor by an experienced dancer.She encouraged me to give it a try. After two dances with her, I was hooked.I became a dancer whose life was forever changed by that experience. I started going to Asheville twice a week for their local contra dances. By midsummer, I decided that it was time to start a contra dance in Jonesborough. This became my gift to the community. Restoring community dance for all ages became my passion. Twelve years later after some 350 dance events, we are going strong," Wiley says.

The society holds a contra dance the first and third Saturday of the month at the Jonesborough Visitors Center. The dances are family oriented, and families are encouraged to come together. They offer a special $15 package for parents and all their children.

"We have dancers from ages 8 to 80. We think this is the only intergenerational event of its kind," Wiley says. "We teach all ages at the dance. Occasionally, we will have our "Contra 101' workshop, which is a two-hour class separate and apart from our dances. Most people come and learn as they go. It's a lot to take in all at once, but you learn more and more each time. Children as young as 7 to 8 can do contra.

"Our callers are all experienced at molding and shaping a group of beginner level contra dancers into a harmonious group alongside all our experienced dancers. In our lesson for beginners at each dance, the caller goes over various steps, formations and the flow of the contra dance as an overview. Beginners start dancing immediately. As a dance organizer, with a goal of building community, I spend a lot of time trying to connect with our new dancers so that they feel welcome, appreciated and followed carefully. It takes that special touch to make them want to be a part of this community

"People attend contra dances for the live music, the guided instruction and the opportunity to be a part of community and interact with real people.We will do 12-15 dances in one session.You usually change partners for each dance. The interaction is stimulating, as well as the physical part of moving to music which is as innate as breathing. We were born to dance.

"Most people are looking to make friendly connections where they live.Contra dance is the perfect social icebreaker, because you will immediately have connections on the dance floor. The caller usually encourages everyone to introduce themselves to their neighbors in the basic circle of four formation.We often do potluck dinners or themed dances where some decorations or costumes are encouraged. We have a waltz and Klondike Bar break at 9 p.m., at each dance, where for 30 minutes our dancers have some social time. We have had each year people who have met at our dances and started up a relationship that resulted in marriage. We do carpool together to other regional dancing, therefore having time to get to know each other better. We seem to as a community look out for each other through social media.

"Many of the dances were written or composed many years ago and are classics.In addition, contemporary composers or choreographers are writing new dances all the time. Our dance community has had three dances written for us including "The Jonesborough Way,' "The Joy of Jonesborough' and "Serenity Knoll Stroll.'

"Once the choreography for each dance is different, the caller always teaches the dance or does a practice walk through before the music starts. You really do not need to know anything about the dances before you come to contra as they are all taught. No special footwork is required. The most common type of movement is a smooth walking step," Wiley says.

The organization is all-volunteer, non-profit and all inclusive. Everyone is welcome to come dance, socialize in a safe alcohol and smoke-free environment. The Jonesborough Visitors Center is conveniently located with lighted parking and a wonderful dance floor. The admission price is $7 for adults, $5 for students and $15 for parents and children.

For more information, visit www.historicjonesboroughdancesociety.com or find them on Facebook.

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Topics: Dance, Festival