About the Rehoboth Contra Dance

The Rehoboth contra dance was founded in 1981 by the band Geese in the Bog, whose members included fiddlers Dan Lanier and Kerry Elkin, guitarist John Alden, accordionist Carol Entin, and, later, pianist Ruth Richards. The dance is currently run under the auspices of the Rehoboth Country Dance Society, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity organization classified under Section 509(a)(2), which was incorporated in the State of Massachusetts in the year 2000.

The dance is held throughout the year: twice a month, on second and fourth Fridays, from September through June, with an occasional fifth-Friday dance, and on second Fridays only in July and August (this home page will have updates on schedule changes).

The dance is held at Goff Memorial Hall on 124 Bay State Road in Rehoboth, off routes 44 and 118 in southeastern Massachusetts (a 20-minute drive east of Providence, RI). The admission charge is $8 for adults, $5 for children 16 and under, and $18 for families with children 16 and under. The dance begins at 8 p.m. and lasts until 11:00 p.m. Occasionally, a workshop will precede the dance at 7:30 p.m. Beginners are welcome, and it is not necessary to come with a dance partner. Dress is casual, and layered clothing is recommended due to the warmth generated when dancing. For the same reason, dancers are encouraged to bring bottled water.

Every contra dance has three components: the caller, the band, and the dancers. The caller walks everyone through the dance moves before they are put to music, and continues calling the steps until they are familiar enough so that the dancers do not need to have them repeated. The caller brings a stack of cards with different dances (which employ different dance figures) to choose from. The dances have been created by many callers over the decades.

The evening usually starts with simpler dances for the sake of any beginners in the crowd; the dances become progressively more challenging as the evening continues. A circle dance near the beginning of the evening is sometimes called, in which partners change frequently so dancers get to know who is there for the evening. Some callers also call a couple of contra squares (square dances) during the evening. There are also usually two waltzes played, one before the break and one to close the evening.

While some dance figures of contra dancing are similar to those of square dancing (do-si-do, allemand right, swing your partner, etc.), contra dancing is more akin to English country dancing than square dancing (some believe its origin is the court dances of 15th- and 16th-century Europe). Instead of country/western music, the music for contra dancing is Celtic in origin--Irish, English, and Scottish jigs and reels. Despite its similarity, contra dancing is more energetic than English country dancing. The moves are done to a quick walk, with a smooth, easy gait being the objective. The highlight of contra dancing is often the swing, which can be done in such a way and with such momentum that a "natural high" results.

The second component of contra dancing, the band, is the life and soul of the dance. The musicians at the Rehoboth contra dance are all experienced, top-caliber talents. They are based in New England but some perform around the country at dance camps, folk festivals, and monthly contra dances. The musicians' energetic and soulful playing raises the spirits of the dancers and unites them in movement.

The dancers bring enthusiasm and an appreciation for the music and each other. Beginners are encouraged to ask experienced dancers for a dance. Most dancers willingly help newcomers learn. There is no specific protocol for asking someone to dance--the dances are usually very informal. Even couples who come together change dance partners. Contra dancing is a social event whose main objective is to see that everyone has a good time and is included in the fun!

Why do people like contra dancing?

1. The music--people love to hear the music. These traditional Celtic tunes are quite beautiful. One could just sit and listen all evening and consider it time well spent. But it's just about impossible to sit still--even on a Friday night!

2. The sociability--people love to talk and mingle. There is a core of people who come to almost all of the dances and who have created over the past three decades a dance community that is composed of some of the nicest people imaginable.

3. The dancing--the dances are fun and provide aerobic exercise. Each dance lasts about 10 minutes, and the dancers are often in constant movement. But there is something deeper that is touched by contra dancing. The weaving figures of the dance also weave a fabric of community. The physical contact in this context helps people connect to each other's humanity.

What is special about the Rehoboth dance in particular?

1. The hall--Goff Memorial Hall, which also houses the Blanding Library, is on the National Historic Register and is a perfect dance hall. It has smooth wooden floors, a raised stage at one end where the musicians perform, and many windows for ventilation on warm summer evenings. The hall can comfortably hold about 100 people; attendance ranges from 80 to 130 people.

2. The music--because we bring in the most acclaimed and popular callers and musicians, dancers are guaranteed an enjoyable evening. Our callers are "user friendly," helping beginners but also satisfying the experienced dancers' need for more challenging fare. Our musicians provide a wide range of styles of fiddle playing and flavors of contra music, from traditional Celtic to jazz-, swing-, and Cajun-flavored.

3. The people--contra dancing must be a genetic predisposition, because the nicest people seem to be drawn to it, one of whom created and maintains the Rehoboth contra dance home page. Ages range from six to sixty and over, with college students in attendance when school is in session, as well as a growing number of area teenagers. Though children are welcome, the dance is not especially geared toward young children, and there are no babysitting facilities or children's rooms available. Parents who bring youngsters usually dance with them until they are comfortable with the dance steps. Smoking and alcohol are not part of the evening, but dancers are encouraged to bring home-made cookies to share at the break.

In addition, there is something indefinable about the Rehoboth contra that distinguishes it from other dances. Many dancers, some of whom drive almost two hours to get to Rehoboth, and many musicians who have played around the country say it is their favorite dance. It is this special quality that has resulted in the success of the dance for over two decades.

The Rehoboth Country Dance Society is incorporated in the state of Massachusetts. Its officers are Shawn Kendrick, president and secretary; Lucia Watson, vice-president; and Robert Elliott, treasurer. Board members at large are Joel Echmalian, Kim Echmalian, Suzanne Elliott, Benjamin Foss, Chris Jastram, and Charlie Seelig. Jeff Ratsch (1955-2008) was a founding board member and served from 2000 to 2008. Founding board member Bruce Hooke served from 2000 to 2010.

Return to the Rehoboth Contra Dance web site.

Text by Shawn Kendrick
Last updated on January 19, 2016