A decade of Contra Dance at Rockport Old Church
Autumn event will be Oct. 18
October 12, 2017
Fiddle player Danielle Montague-Judd said there is nothing like performing at the contra dances at Rockport Old Church.
"The best part of performing is seeing the dancers, the dance [patterns] and the music come together to create something that is bigger than the sum of their parts," Montague-Judd told The Park Record. "When the dancers get into the dance after going a couple of rounds, an infectious and fun energy flows amongst everybody from the musicians to the dancers and back while the caller facilitates it all."
Montague-Judd is the organizer of the dances at the church, which is located at Rockport State Park in Wanship.
The event will celebrate its 10th anniversary with an autumn dance on Saturday, Oct. 14. Doors open at 7 p.m. A dance workshop will begin at 7:30 p.m., and the dancing will run
from 8-10 p.m.
"We're really excited to have been able to keep this going for 10 years," Montague-Judd said. "It means something to us to continue to celebrate one of the community's self-built entertainment. But at the same time it doesn't seem like it's been 10 years."
Contra dance was developed a few hundred years ago in England and France. Dances were originally a social activity based on walking that featured a handful of turns and partner switching, Montague-Judd said.
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"Unlike other social dances, the contra style isn't a waltz or tango," she said. "It's like a Virginia Reel."
As with the spring session, the autumn contra dance at the Rockport Old Church will start with dancing instruction.
"All steps and formats are taught, and the dancers rotate partners so there is no need to bring a partner," Montague-Judd said. "That way people can get familiar with the format and practice a little bit."
Before each actual dance, dancers will go through short refresher courses.
"This makes it so people don't need to know how to do the dances before they come participate," Montague-Judd said. "It's always fun to see new people show up and try it out or see what it's about."
Attendance to the event has remained steady through the past decade.
"We had 40 people come the first time we did it, and attendance over the years has varied between 20 and 40 people," she said. "So much depends on the weather and what is going on in everyone's lives."
The event has also built up an email list of people who are interested in contra dancing.
"We've gathered a dedicated and core group of people who do contra dance regularly and circulate through the dance events that are held in the region," Montague-Judd said. "And 40 people is a nice capacity for the dancing, because when you get that many people together for the dancing, it's a lot of fun."
The dancers' ages also vary.
"We get dancers from children who are in upper elementary school and their parents to older teens and the elderly," Montague-Judd said. "This is an intergenerational experience."
Rob Snow does the dance calling.
"Rob has called most of the dances over the past 10 years," Montague-Judd said. "We do have a couple of other callers who also do a great job when Rob is unavailable. But Rob is a veteran caller and works really good with new dancers."
Montague-Judd plays fiddle in the house band called Loose Shoes and the Rockport Dam Band, which provides the music for the dances.
"Since we play traditional tunes, there isn't much we change, and that's part of the fun," she said. "It's good to know that there are hundreds of these tunes."
Montague-Judd considers herself and the band music preservationists when it comes to contra music.
"We enjoy introducing new people to the music, because I don't think there are a lot of people who are familiar with this traditional music that has been around for hundreds of years," she said.
The cost to dance is $5 per person. All proceeds will help a nonprofit called Friends of Rockport Old Church maintain the building.
"That's right," Montague-Judd said. "The church can get fresh coats of paint and everything else fixed up when it needs to be."
The 2017 Autumn Contra Dance, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14,at Historic Rockport Old Church in Wanship. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 per person. Proceeds will go to the upkeep of Rockport Old Church. For information, email this address or visit this website.