Dancing Country Style
The young USA term, “contra dance,” is known by many other titles, depending upon culture and era.
It originated with the publication of English “country dances” in 1651. France then overpowered it with the name “contredans,” appropriately meaning “opposites dance.” Now, squabbles aside, the original contra dance itself is mostly intact and seeing a revival in communities.
It is, as occasionally heard, “like an amusement park ride we make for ourselves.”
The Boone Country Dancers are hosting a contra dance at the Apple Barn on Saturday, July 14, and every second Saturday of the month. A new dancer’s lesson is held at 7:30 p.m. and the dance at 8 p.m. Admission is $7.
The Apple Barn is located at 146 Skiles Way in Valle Crucis and six miles from this weekend’s Music Fest ‘n Sugar Grove.
Analytically, a contra dance takes place in sets of two lines, with partners across from each other in the lines. This set is subdivided into minor sets of two couples, who dance and then move on to dance with another couple, creating a new minor set. Each major and minor set’s dance is fairly simple at a community contra dance, and each is explained before the live music begins.
“We encourage beginners to dance with more experienced people,” said John Pertalion, who has been involved with the Boone Country Dancers for 15 years. “That way, everyone gets introduced and gets better. We’ve had a good feedback that it’s really welcoming.”
In its century-spanning history, the Apple Barn sheltered a mission school, girl’s school, monastery, farm, dairy, and apple cider and apple grading facility, hence its present name.
Cecil Gurganus of Laurel Creek String Band is a regular at the Apple Barn dances and has led the Todd Community Dance for five years.
He estimates that the Apple Barn has hosted community dances for the past 50 to 75 years.
“When I got involved in the 1970s, there were four or five people that called,” he said. “Most of the dancing was circle or square or step-dance. You know, contra dancing just moved into this area about 25 years ago.”
It was then, in the late 1980s, that Mark Brayshaw revived the dance scene by bringing in bands from Asheville to play, primarily for contra dances.
Since then, the monthly contra dance has culled an average of 100 dancers.
“The Appalachian mountains have a tradition of community dances,” Pertalion said. “And there’s no lack of traditional music bands.”
Noah Grunzweig is the caller for this dance, and Bob Kogut and Friends is the band.
This July 14 dance will be visited again by the N.C. State Pipe and Drum Band, which will be in Watauga County this weekend for the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.
“I would recommend for people to come simply because it’s a lot of fun,” Pertalion said. “Dancing is a basic human activity. It stretches back into our history for as long as we’ve been human.”
Two other community dance venues are the Todd dances, held once a month, and the Historic Jonesborough Dance Society dances, held twice a month.
Comfortable shoes, an extra T-shirt and a water bottle are recommended.
For more information or changes in the regular schedule, call John Pertalion at (828) 406-0580 or visit http://www.boonecountrydancers.org.