The Bloomington Old-Time Music and Dance Group’s weekly contra dance session acted as preparation for the 34th Sugar Hill Dance Weekend, which is Friday and Saturday at the Ransburg Boy Scout Reservation.
Some attendees practiced fencing before the dance, so as foils and sabres were put away, instruments came out.
Eager dancers sat on the bleachers before going out on the dance floor and practicing spins and turns. Others chatted about the upcoming festival or how some dancers hadn’t missed a Wednesday dance night in 25 years.
“The band doesn’t stop playing until people stop dancing,” IU junior Adam Nichols said. “We’ll do like 14 or 18 hours of dancing this weekend.”
Nichols said he has been dancing for two years, but contra dance is open to all expertise levels. Bloomington resident Michalene Reilly attended Wednesday for the first time.
“I’m a noob who tried,” Reilly said. “My friend started doing this four years ago, and I wanted to get some exercise, so I decided to come.”
Contra dance originated in New England at the end of the 17th century as a fusion of French court and English dance styles.
Caller Keith Tuxhorn traveled from Austin, Texas, to call — provide dance step cues for the dancers — the practice and festival this weekend.
Tuxhorn has spent his five-year calling career traveling to Portland, St. Louis and Kansas City for contra events.
“When I go dancing myself, I ask the caller what dance it is when I like one,” he said. “That’s why I like being a caller, it’s like a recipe — a Cajun recipe that you can change up every time.”
Tuxhorn stepped up to the microphone and asked the dancers to form a line along the center of the gym. The live folk band cued up and Tuxhorn began to voice the moves to be performed: left hand star, one-time round and a do-si-do.
Dancers followed Tuxhorn’s call and threw in improvised turns and twirls along the way. With the close of each song, from “Blackbird Pie” to “Barn Mixer,” Tuxhorn reminded the group of contra’s sentiment.
“Contra dance is a social dance, we’ll meet a lot of people tonight,” he said. “So, grab a new partner, and let’s get going.”
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