Music for Contra Dancing

Laura Lengnick got me interested in the idea of putting together a series of videos interviewing contra musicians about what it means to them to play for contra dances.  The point is, playing dance music, music to make people want to move their feet, is different than playing simply to be heard.

It is especially important for contra where, once the caller stops, the music not only sets the tempo of the dance, it tells the dancers how long each figure is and when to move to the next.  It also sets the style and energy of the figures, flowing music for heys, punchy for balances, building tension and anticipation through the end of one set of partners, exploding into the next.

Video Library Table of Contents

Some of my favorites, in maybe in the best order to view them, are:

  • The Free Raisins — a young band, relatively new to dance music and very articulate about how to play for contra dances.  Excellent introduction, with good examples.
  • Jamie Laval — a champion Irish fiddler talks about the origins of dance and how the music fits the dance.  His talk on jigs and reels is the most popular of any of these videos.
  • Andrew VanNorstrand of the Great Bear Trio — one of the most popular contra bands in the country, listening to Andrew you get a sense of why.
  • John Herrmann & Meredith McIntosh — two of the best old time musicians in Asheville show a very different side.  They focus on the groove of the music and don’t worry much about whether people dance to it or not.
  • Perpetual e-Motion — this band was extremely popular, but played in a different vein, being very electronically oriented.  Interesting, talented duo.  Although my favorite from them was the pure acoustic version of Sandy Boys.
  • Beth Molaro — one of the best callers in the country, these interviews are about efficient and entertaining calling.  Beth talks a lot about working with the band and some about her own style of calling in harmony with the band.

More Dance Videos

In addition to the actual dance footage included above, here’s some videos of some other Asheville bands and dances.

Cailen Campbell is an extremely talented fiddler who often plays with David Brown at dances.  They are Contraversial.

KudZoo, anchored by the twin classically trained fiddles of Pam and Fred Stoll, with Nic Coker on guitar and Jeff Hersk on bass.

Hot Sonata, an Asheville staple, Laura Lengnick, Karen Gaughan and Art Shuster play here in an introduction to the Old Farmer’s Ball. The lights blew out late in the evening, and they kept on playing.

Celador, Gretchen Caverly and David Hayes at the Grey Eagle.

Contraversial again, this time at the Grey Eagle Monday Night Dance.

Curious George, Laura Lengnick, Paul Moore and Steve Kemble, a swinginger combo.