July 23, 2024

Nonprofit news: What is ‘contradancing’? Like square dancing but different!

Southern Oregon Contra Dancers take part in a contradance.
October 20, 2023

Stop by The Grove at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, and find out

By Steve Shapiro

Have you seen flyers around town about Ashland’s monthly contradance? Have you wondered what’s it’s all about?

Many of us experienced square dancing in grade school. You might have had fun, or thought it was dorky — or both.

Turns out there is a cousin to square dancing called “contradancing.” Over the past 30-plus years, across the country (and beyond!) it has become a popular (although often hidden) pastime.

Contradancing is a lively, family-friendly social dance that anyone can attend with or without a partner. Over the course of each dance, folks interact — not just with their own partner, but with everyone else in the set.

No experience is necessary and all dances are completely explained and “walked through” by the caller before the music starts. Since your feet are hardly asked to do more than walk to the beat of the music, many people find contradancing easier to learn than other forms of social dance.

A typical evening of contradance is 2 to 3 hours long, with a break. The band will usually play music for a couples’ waltz before the break and another at the end of the evening. Water and snacks are frequently provided at the break.

Southern Oregon Contra Dancers take part in a contradance.

Contradancing is usually done in a dance hall with a stage where the musicians play. Unlike square dances, dancers form couples and the couples form “sets” of long lines starting from the stage and going down the length of the hall. There is a caller who teaches the sequence “figures” or “moves” of the dance before the music starts. Couples dance this series of figures with one other couple. When that series of figures is complete, you move (progress) to the next couple and repeat the same figures. This continues, moving down the line, dancing with each of the other couples.

Contradances are danced to live music. The music played includes, but is not limited to, Irish, Scottish, old-time Appalachian, French-Canadian and bluegrass folk tunes. The fiddle is typically the lead instrument, although other instruments such as mandolin, accordion, flute and clarinet are often used. Guitar, keyboard, bass and drums (often the Irish Bodhran) are used to provide rhythm. Music played for the dance is often a medley of tunes, and key changes during the course of a dance are common.

Contradances are social dances. It is an opportunity to meet folks that you might not otherwise come in contact with, folks of all generations and backgrounds. Some people come and dance every dance but others need to take a break and use the opportunity to chat with each other. In some communities, folks go out after the dance and have food and drink.

Southern Oregon Contra Dancers take part in a contradance.

Where do you find contradancing in Ashland?

Contradances are usually held every third Saturday at The Grove Recreation Center (1195 E Main St. #2271, Ashland).

Learn more about contradancing:

Watch a cool video:

There is a half hour lesson that starts at 7 p.m. Once you learn the basics, you dive in and get moving. Dances early in the evening are easy to learn, which gives everyone the opportunity to make sense of it all. As the patterns repeat throughout the evening, you catch on and it gets easier.

Once you get it, you get hooked. If you take a look at the numerous YouTube videos of contradance, you will find lots of people with smiles on their faces. There’s a reason for that. Join in and see.

The next contradance is Saturday, Oct. 21. The band is The Carrflowers (the Carr & Blanchflower families). The callers are Becky Nankivell and Kayla Blanchflower.

More information can be found at or welcomes profiles of area nonprofits. Submissions of 500-700 words may be emailed to Please attach a photo or two, and include your name and contact information.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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