New to Contra?

What is contra dancing?

Contra dancing is energetic and fun – if you can walk, follow instructions, and keep rhythm to music, you can contra dance! Check out this video for an overview of Ottawa Contra.

Intro to Ottawa Contra Dance

Contra dancing is a community social dance for all ages that has its origins in England, Scotland and France, and then became very popular in the eastern U.S.

We dance to live music – Irish, Scottish and French-Canadian tunes played by talented musicians. A caller walks us through the moves and prompts the figures during the dance. You and your partner dance the sequence with other couples down a line of couples. Partners are exchanged for the next dance.

What if I have never danced before?

We always have beginners at every dance, so you won’t be the only one!

Come to the free Introductory lesson at 7:30 – 8:00 on Saturday night dances for some basics. The first half of the dance has the easier dances and you’ll likely have a huge smile on your face right from the start.

All the dances are taught, and the other dancers will be friendly and understanding — we were all new once. Check out some videos on basics and follow one couple to get an idea of the dance patterns.

Do I need to have a partner?

Partners change for each dance.

No! Many people come by themselves or with friends. It is customary to dance with a different partner for each dance just by asking anyone (even total strangers) immediately before each dance.

Should I wear certain clothes?

We suggest you wear lightweight, casual clothes as contra dancing is an energetic activity (even in midwinter). Short sleeves, casual skirts, and shorts are not uncommon. You may wish to wear sports shorts under a skirt. Also, bring a water bottle. Please note, our hall is a scent-free zone.

Do I need special shoes?

Non-marking shoes to protect our dance floor.

Indoor shoes with non-marking soft soles are needed to protect our wooden floor. Plan to wear outdoor shoes to the hall and change to clean indoor shoes before dancing. Pick well-fitting shoes that are comfortable and do not stick on the floor.

Are children welcome?

Yes, we’re happy to dance with children. Contra dance is appropriate for all ages if you can walk briskly and follow directions independently. Some kids may start contra dancing as young as 6–7 years old. Kids uninterested in dancing can amuse themselves at the side of the room or in the foyer. (Note that we do not provide childcare; we expect caregivers to provide supervision as appropriate for their children.)

What’s the music like?

Always live music!

The music usually has a Celtic or Québécois flavour and we always have a live band. Musicians often have links to some of their music in the schedule.

Helpful resources

Here is Ottawa Contra’s beginner handout that’s given to first time dancers (can print and fold in two).

Basic contra moves: Check out these videos.

Code of conduct and etiquette: Please read our code of conduct. We aim to create a culture of safety, respect, and consent. Good etiquette is good manners.

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We look forward to seeing you on the dance floor soon!