Contra Culture

Beginner Friendly

Contra dance is accessible, ever new, and beginner-friendly. There are no expectations of proficiency or requirements of insider knowledge to step onto the dance floor. Dancers of all ages and all abilities are welcome.

Contra dancing is easy to learn because a caller tells dancers exactly what to do—allowing them a chance to relax, embellish, flirt or improvise as the occasion presents. Beginners’ lessons are offered before each monthly dance, and the caller will walk dancers through every dance before beginning. More experienced dancers also may gently coach newcomers during a dance.

Here are a few points to keep in mind as you become a part of the Lawrence contra dance community:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing that breathes.
  2. If you didn’t come with a partner, feel free to ask someone to dance. Women can ask, as well as men. Look especially for those wearing “Beginner Friendly” stickers. They’re expecting you, and are happy to help you gain confidence and skill.
  3. If you did come with a partner, we strongly suggest that you dance the first few dances with more experienced dancers. You’ll learn much faster and have a better evening! It is also a community tradition to alternate dancing with your partner and dancing with other community members so that we get to know one another and actively contribute to getting everyone out on the floor.
  4. When swinging, place your hand near your partner’s shoulder blade, not on the lower back. This provides both support and freedom of movement.
  5. Smile and look your partner in the eyes. Not only is this the friendly thing to do, it helps prevent dizziness!
  6. Everyone moves a little differently, so be aware and responsive.
  7. If you perspire heavily, consider bringing a couple of extra shirts so that you can “refresh” throughout the evening. You’ll feel better and your partners will thank you!
  8. Remember to thank the band and caller some time during the evening.
  9. Be aware that our contra dances are non-alcoholic events.

We strive to make all our dances a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone. If you have questions or concerns about your dance experience, a board member is always available to help you.

Check the calendar for details about our next event. We’ll look forward to meeting you there!

Live Music

Perhaps the best-kept secret in Lawrence is that anyone can hear live folk music in a relaxed, personal environment for $8 or less at least once a month. Live music is an essential component of contra culture and a way in which we support local musicians. Although most of our local dance music is Americana, contra dancers may find themselves moving to elements of Celtic, jazz, rock-and-roll, or techno. A change of pace brings delighted smiles, renewed energy and inspired moves! These unexpected twists are what keep the tradition fresh and innovative.

If you know a band that might like to perform at a Lawrence Contra Dance, send us an email at and we will give them a listen.

Real People

Maybe you’re wondering what kinds of people come to a contra dance. There are extroverts and introverts; awkward and athletic folks; people under 40 and people over; medical professionals, welders, realtors, librarians, homemakers, techies, Trekkies, and… well, “all ages and all abilities” might just sum it up. Bottom line? If you know your “right” from your “left” most of the time, and are able to count to eight, there’s a place for you here!

But the most amazing thing? For the space of an evening, people of very different backgrounds, lifestyles, habits and convictions put aside those differences in order to come together and delight in the dance.

There is a wonderful documentary on the history of Contra in the U.S. (Together in Time: a Story of New England Contra Music). This 28-minute video uses a wealth of rare archival films, animation, and traditional New England fiddle music to tell the 250-year history of an enduring form of community music and dance.