Sheffield Contra Dances take place from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm, with a lesson for beginners at 7:30 pm. There is a suggested donation at the door of $10-15 per adult and $8 per student, with a maximum of $25 for a family. All are welcome, regardless of age or ability. No partner necessary.
Contra Dancing has been an important part of this town’s social life for over forty years, reliably livening up many Saturday nights with the sound of a live band, a caller, and many happy feet.
Contra dancing is like square dancing, but takes place in long lines instead of squares. “It’s like the dancing you might have seen in film adaptations of Pride & Prejudice,” explains committee member Alice Maggio, “but it’s much more energetic!”
Contra dance is what is known as a social dance -- you do not need to bring a partner with you and you do not need to take lessons -- you can just show up. “If you can put one foot in front of another and smile, you can contra dance,” says Neal Chamberlain, another committee member. Each dance is taught by the caller, who stands up on the stage with the band. The caller continues to “call the dance” even after the music has begun.
The music is a big attraction; contra dances always have a live band. Bands’ repertoires draw primarily from celtic, old-time, and québécois traditions. However, in true American fashion, contra dance bands also often incorporate the influences of rock, jazz, blues, and reggae.
In Sheffield, Joe Baker and the Mountain Laurel Band hosted a monthly dance for 35 years. In late 2012, when the Mountain Laurel Band decided to retire from this duty, a small group of dancers determined to carry on the tradition. Since then, this loosely organized committee has put on a quarterly dance at Dewey Hall on Main Street, Sheffield, focusing its efforts on September, December, March, and June dances.
This year, however, the Sheffield Contra Dance Committee has decided to expand the dance calendar to include a total of eight dances: March 23, April 27, May 25, June 22, September 28, October 26, November 23, and December 28. This expansion has been inspired by a very exciting development: the emergence of a whole bunch of new contra dance callers.
“We’re really proud to say that all of our dances in 2019 are going to be called by homegrown callers,” says Chris Wiltshire, a member of the Sheffield Contra Dance Committee and the new “Contra Callers Collective.”
At the beginning of 2018, Jon Greene of Great Barrington began organizing regular practice sessions for dancers who want to learn how to call. The group, who range in age from 15 to 60, has met at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Housatonic on the 2nd Sunday in the Spring and Fall months.
“One of the main responsibilities of the Sheffield Contra Dance committee is to book bands and callers,” explains Elizabeth Orenstein. “Sometimes it can be difficult to book callers who live a few hours away. At a certain point last fall we were looking at the 2019 calendar and we realized we had this fabulous resource right here: all of these new contra dance callers who have been honing their craft -- it’s time to put them to work!”
The Sheffield Contra Dance is hosted by historic Dewey Hall, located at 91 Main Street, Sheffield Massachusetts. Dances take place from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm, with a lesson for beginners at 7:30 pm. There is a suggested donation at the door of $10-15 per adult and $8 per student, with a maximum of $25 for a family. All are welcome, regardless of age or ability. No partner necessary.
The dance calendar is as follows:
Saturday, March 23rd: Coincidance with Karyn Dornemann calling
Saturday, April 27th: Russet Trio with Lisa Marchetti calling
Saturday, May 25th: Polaris with Hannah Chamberlain calling
Saturday, June 22nd: Cedar Stanistreet and Donal Sheets, with Jon Greene calling
Saturday, September 28th: Wildcat Creek with Ted Randolph calling
Saturday, October 26th: Mountain Laurel with Chris Wiltshire calling
Saturday, November 23rd: Cake Jam with Maggie McRae calling
Saturday, December 28th: to be determined.
Sheffield Contra Dance is organized by a volunteer group of local dancers. More information about the dance series can be found at https://sheffieldcontradance.wordpress.com/ and questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Sheffield Contra Dance page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SheffieldContraDance/.