The love of contra dancing, a folk dance originating in Scotland, has brought islanders together each Monday at the San Juan Island Grange, and every third Saturday as well. On Sept. 15, dancers can learn to waltz, Celtic style, as well. Longtime folk dancer, Judy Zeidel will be coming over from Bellingham to provide some instruction.
“People are often surprised by the sheer playfulness and fun (of contra waltzing),” said Zeidel, adding that there is almost no footwork involved, only footsteps.
There will be the usual jigs and reels, Sept. 15, 7 p.m. at the San Juan Islands Contra Dance in the Grange, but this time, from 7-7:30 p.m., Zeidel will teach some new dance moves. Tickets are $10 by donation at the door. Seattle based group, The Luddite Ramblers, will provide the music. The trio consists of Laurel Stone on fiddle, Craig Shaw on flute, fife and whistle, and Jay Finkelstein on guitar.
“This band has a special way of making a full sound with a small group,” said Alice Deane, one of the event organizers. “They don’t use a piano, but sound grand just the three of them, accomplished and delightful.”
Typically, in contra dancing, the evening is broken into a set of contra dances, a set of waltzes, a set of contra and back to waltzes. For those imagining “Strictly Ballroom,” this is no ballroom waltz.
“In ballroom waltz the posture is formal, there is no eye contact and it is pretty much only box step,” Zeidel explained. Contra waltzing is flexible, relaxed, no one is the leader, there is eye contact, dancers aren’t concerned about “spaghetti arms,” or maintaining a stiff pose, therefore it is more frisky. Given the modern days’ tendency toward fusion dancing, a little salsa, or a little swing can also be thrown in.
“Anything goes as long as you modify it to the three-four time,” Zeidel said.
She first got involved in folk dancing during college, studying abroad in Sweden. An avid dancer most of her life, she quickly fell into Swedish folk dance. Later, upon returning home, she was introduced to contra dancing. The two styles of dance were incredibly similar, according to Zeidel, so not only was she able to pick it up quickly, she was soon recruited to be a caller. A caller Zeidel explained, is someone who calls out the moves, similar to a square dance, so dancers know what is coming next.
“I love dancing so much I didn’t really want to be a caller,” Zeidel said, adding that it is her way of giving back to the contra community.
“They are always such a supportive group, everywhere you go,” she said, telling stories of attending dance conferences and dances across the country, needing rides or places to stay. Fellow dancers never ceased to amaze her with their generosity, stepping up and offering their homes, to drive her places, whatever she needed. In return, Zeidel is always prepared to call as long as the dancers want to dance and the musicians want to play. It was through this community that she connected with the island dance organizers, Alice Deane and Katy Nollman. The group usually attracts 20 to 40 attendees, Deane said, and many of them lately have been younger and eager to learn. For those interested, Zeidel encourages everyone to give it a try, noting that partners are not necessary, as dancers are switched up constantly they all end up dancing with each other at some point during the evening.
“Everyone should try it at least once, what do you have to lose? It’s live music, ” Zeidel said.
For more information, visit the San Juan Islands Contra Dance Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Community-Organization/San-Juan-Islands-Contra-Dance-275816592483130/.