By Catherine Wu, staff writer
It’s a Friday night and I’m in a car with some friends. We’re driving to the Phillips Rec Center in Urbana, Ill. for a night of dancing with men and women of all ages, most of whom I’ve never seen or met before in my life. While it may not be the traditional college student’s idea of a fun night out, we’re headed for a contra dance.
So what is a contra dance anyway? It is similar to line dancing, but with multiple partners. You initially pick a dancing partner, but you will be dancing with them throughout the night. There will be other people you will dance with, sometimes referred to as “neighbors.”
For those who don’t typically dance, the great thing about these contra dances are their beginner-friendliness. Even if there doesn’t seem to be any other dancers fumbling around with you, people are kind and understand if you struggle to keep up.
Callers also guide people through each contra dance on what specific moves to do and generally go through a practice run before each individual dance. While it can be a little overwhelming at first, everyone makes sure you’re never struggling to keep up.
Of course, dancers make mistakes all the time. Even the most experienced aren’t always entirely clear on what’s going on or how to correct every single mistake.
For the most part, though, people just go along with a missed move or a spin going the wrong way and will try to help guide the person along in the right direction.
I’m not much of a dancer myself, but you don’t need to be in order to attend a contra dance. The moves are quite simple, and, before you know it, you’ll be having so much fun getting into the music.
The atmosphere created at every contra dance is quite special. I always smile from the sense of jittery excitement I get before each visit to Urbana. The room is full of enthusiastic dancers, spinning skirts, and a loud stomping floods the entire room at intervals throughout a dance. The live music powers on through and provides a steady, jolly rhythm.
These dancing experiences are wonders at relieving tension and anxiety. It is almost impossible to feel stressed out at these events, especially in the midst of dancing and twirling around, because you are solely invested in the moment. It’s hard to think of much else besides the moves and the caller’s voice as dancers are guided through each song. Thus, each dance is a ton of fun, as you spin and do si do your worries away.
Of course, contra dancing has a loyal following in Champaign, but the amount of IWU students attending is surprising. There is always at least one group of Illinois Wesleyan students at the dance. Contra dancers are always looking for new people to join the fun, so don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and make the trip. That’s how I came to know of them!
So, if you are ever invited to one of these dances, consider it a special favor. You are being invited to one of the most fun, although not necessarily widespread, events ever.
So, loosen up a little and enjoy yourself, because it’s completely okay to make mistakes. Just remember to keep your eyes on something still in the room while spinning. Otherwise, you’ll probably get a little dizzy!