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Contra Dancing - burning calories and socializing...

Monday, April 08, 2013

A little over a month ago XC ski season was winding down and the rivers hadn’t really thawed enough to kayak on safely. And socially I’ve been a bit of a hermit over the winter, not really getting out there and meeting new people.

So I forced myself to go to a local contra dance, as a way to burn some calories and socialize. There are videos from that dance on YouTube.


I had such a good time I’ve been doing them pretty much weekly, ever since. And I even MET SOMEONE there. We have so much in common enjoying dancing and the outdoors that we eventually decided to become An Item. So, win. It worked beyond my wildest expectations. LOL

A brief search on Sparkpeople.com for “contra dance” turns up no entries in the past year.


This is kind of surprising, given how friendly and inclusive the contra dancing community is - very much in line with the Sparkpeople.com ethic.

So perhaps an explanation is in order (because many may have never heard of it). It’s a form of social North American folk dancing similar to square dancing, but a bit more athletic, and done to live traditional music. It’s family-friendly and usually alcohol-free. You can get more information at this page. www.sbcds.org/contradanc

There are some helpful tips here:

There are dances scattered all over North America, and other places too. You can probably find one nearby:
- tedcrane.com/DanceDB
- www.contradancelinks.com
- www.thedancegypsy.com/da

- www.cdss.org/upcoming-ev

Or just go to Google and search for your state and the term “contra dance.”

It’s a fun way to spend an evening. Admission at the door is typically between $5 and $10, depending on the event. For some of them, if you bring snacks they will waive admission. You don’t need to know what you’re doing, and you don’t need to bring a partner. Just bring a pair of soft-soled indoor shoes to dance in (so you won’t scratch or mar the wood floor).

You typically pair up with a different partner for each dance (women can ask men as well as vice-versa) and end up dancing with many people, as you and your partner progress down the line (sort of like in the Virginia Reel).

It is a fairly low-level cardio activity (compared with something like spin class), but the calories add up - according to my heart rate monitor I burn about 500 calories at a typical 3-hour dance (including breaks). I try to stay away from the cookies at the snack table (I sometimes bring a protein bar or two), so it’s pretty safe food-wise. Perhaps I will start bringing baby carrots and hummus or sliced bananas as a healthy alternative.

The moves aren’t terribly complicated, and the events are always beginner-friendly, and people will show you what to do and help nudge you in the right direction if you get lost. Sometimes there are lessons half an hour before the scheduled dance begins, so arriving early can be helpful. If you can walk, you pretty much can contra dance. I have arthritis in one of my knees and as long as I wear flats (no heels) it seems to be OK.

And here’s an added benefit - I can get used to how my “new” body moves, and dress it up in fun twirly skirts I find at Salvation Army. As a tomboy most of the time, it’s neat to have an excuse to channel my Inner Femme. And I get used to physical contact with others, in a friendly, non-threatening format.

As someone who likes traditional acoustic folk music, I also find it enjoyable to hear (and dance to) live Irish, English, and Old-Time tunes played on guitars, fiddles, and other instruments (one recent band had a didgeridoo).

So, if you haven’t tried it before, I encourage you to give contra dancing (or any other form of folk dancing) a shot. You have nothing to lose, and you might find a new way to enjoy burning some calories with your friends and family. You might even make NEW friends.

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