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Community-Building Through Contra Dance

By Kelly Church

The Sautee Nacoochee Center in Northeastern Georgia is home to a variety of community programs including yoga, choral music, and contra dance. If you've never heard of contra dancing, it's related to English country dancing which the French called "contre danse".

In some ways it resembles square dancing, although the dancers stay in lines rather than square sets. Dancers choose partners and dance with another couple one time through a tune (64 musical beats.) Then the choreography takes the couple to an adjacent couple and the figures are repeated. A dance may go on for around 10 times, giving each pair the opportunity to dance with many other dancers. For many, dancing with a variety of other dancers is one of the most positive aspects of contra dancing.

Walter Daves, one of the many volunteers who help produce the Sautee community dance program, says that while the focus is on contra dancing, other dances are often called as well. "During an evening a caller may call circle dances or square dances or Appalachian 'running sets,'" Daves said. "The term 'contra dance' as an evening event often refers to all of these forms. Some groups simply call it a 'community dance,' or a 'barn dance.'"

The community atmosphere is a driving factor for the program, which began at the Sautee Nacoochee Center when a few dedicated dancers discovered that the Historic Gymnasium was available. In March 2000, the group opened up a monthly dance- and it has been a running community program ever since.

The program offers one big dance per month, usually held on the fourth Saturday. However, newcomers are welcome to attend twice-a-month dance classes to help them feel comfortable for the main event. Daves says that, while these classes are intended for people to learn contra dance, the classes are not entirely made up of newcomers.

"Some folks have been coming to our Tuesday dance for eight years," Daves said. "They are good dancers, but like the intimacy of a smaller group."

The contra dance community at the Sautee Nacoochee Center welcomes dancers from other areas such as Atlanta, Gainesville, Athens and other states. Daves believes that bringing dancers together will help "make the world a better place."

"It involves generations of people having fun together in a friendly environment where the activities are structured and safe," Daves says. "I don't think a 'good' dance can happen without a 'good' sense of community."

This sense of community is what Daves believes is being built through contra dance. Their devoted population of dancers is growing and features dancers from all generations."We are known as a friendly dance community committed to having fun together," Daves says.

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