Pros and Contras

By Frank Ruggiero (

Article Published: Feb. 6 | Modified: Feb. 6
Pros and Contras

According to Boone Country Dancers’ Bill Anderson, ‘If you can walk in a circle, you can contra dance.’ The group hosts a contra dance Feb. 8 in Sugar Grove.

Photo by Joe Fan

For a chairman, Bill Anderson does very little sitting.

But when your organization is Boone Country Dancers, that’s to be expected.

According to Anderson, the Boone-based group promotes contra dancing and preserves the art for future generations. Folks can see for themselves this Saturday, Feb. 8, as Boone Country Dancers hosts a contra dance at the Old Cove Creek School gymnasium in Sugar Grove.

The fun starts at 7:30 p.m. with a beginners’ session, followed by the actual dance from 8 to 11 p.m. While the introduction offers newcomers ample instruction and tips, Anderson said contra dancing is surprisingly simple.

“If you can walk in a circle, you can contra dance,” he said. “It doesn’t take much time to learn the basics, and once you have those moves down, you can really start to enjoy the whole process.”

A contra dance is a traditional, folk-type dance in which two lines, contra to each other, progress up and down the hall, Anderson explained. The accompanying music is 32 measures long, he said, and each sequence of moves — led by a caller — progresses a dancer and his or her partner to the next couple, where the dance then repeats itself. At the end of the line, a couple will work its way back up the hall.

“I think of it as ‘linear square dancing,’” Anderson said, adding that many of the basic moves are similar, such as swing and alamande, although the movement runs up the hall and returns some 15 to 20 times through the song or series of songs.

At larger dances, he said, it’s not unusual for one to dance with 10 to 20 other couples over the course of one dance. As such, contra dancing is quite the social event.

“Another fun thing about dancing is that you meet a lot of people,” Anderson said. “Although you may go to a dance with your partner, the tradition in contra is to mix it up throughout the course of a dance. It’s a very high-energy type of dance, keeps you in shape and makes you feel good. There is also a certain fluidity to it that becomes addictive, especially with the right band and caller. There are many dancers who travel around the region, going to other dances — there are three per week in Asheville — and also many longtime dancers who go to dance weekends and dance for two or three days.”

Plus, it’s fun for all ages. Boone Country Dancers’ events often attract college students, who Anderson said bring a lot of energy to the dance floor. Anderson’s daughters, who are 8 and 11, also participate, as do numerous senior citizens.

The setting also plays a part. From December through March, dances are held at the Old Cove Creek School, and from April through November, they’re held at the Apple Barn in Valle Crucis.

“These are great dances, because the building is such a classic setting, and the dance just seems to fit well there,” Anderson said.

But one of Anderson’s favorite qualities is the live music. Bands typically play old-time, Celtic, swing or any other reels and jigs that can be counted in four. One such band is Contra Culture, from Winston-Salem, which will perform for the Feb. 8 dance. Emily Abel will call.

The beginners’ session begins at 7:30 p.m., and the dance begins at 8 p.m. Participants are asked to wear soft-soled shoes and bring a covered dish for a 9 p.m. intermission. Admission costs $7 for adults, $5 for high school students and free for anyone 12 years old or younger. Boone Country Dancers events are smoke- and alcohol-free.

In addition, Boone Country Dancers presents a free swing dance workshop prior to the Feb. 8 contra dance. From 6 to 7 p.m., Russell Nasrallah and Katie Brown will lead a beginners’ swing dance workshop, focusing on the basics of partner dancing, while teaching a few basic moves. No experience is necessary, and no partner is required. Admission to the swing workshop is free.

The Old Cove Creek School gym is located at 207 Dale Adams Road in Sugar Grove. For more information, visit

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