by Gary Newman, board member
Some might think that the mission of Contra Borealis Dancers is just to have dancers have fun. But there is so much more.
Our mission statement in our bylaws read “The Contra Borealis Dancers, Inc. is organized to promote the education of the general public in the art of traditional music and dance”. We do this through promoting our events and interfacing with the community about what we do. Every dance is a performance in a sense – dancers, callers, and band. This being said, there is a larger back story.
Contradancing can be fun, but an essential element is teamwork. Unlike many other forms of dance, it isn’t just couples interacting. One dances with many people in a single dance. Everyone has their own style of dance, but the success of the dance comes from everyone working together to follow the moves of the dance. It may seem like magic, but we all contribute. Awareness of others is essential.
Contra Borealis Dancers provide a venue for teaching how to contradance, but also to provide instruction and a venue for callers and musicians to gain experience and learn their craft with live dancers. With every special event in particular, we work to advance their skills from nationally renowned experts in their field.
The caller is the one who determines what the dance will be and gives the instruction. It is up to them to program the best mix of dance to match the skill level of the dancers and to nimbly fix things on the fly as needed. They also work with the band to find the best selection of tunes to match the moves in the dance. Some interesting thoughts are from long-time caller and musician David Kaynor.
The band develops their repertoire of tunes and learns to play live for dancers and follow the direction of the caller. It may seem like it just happens, but they spend a lot of woodshed time in practices learning not just tunes, but coming up with a compatible mix of tunes and learning tempo, dynamics, and communication within the band, all essential parts of making a dance enjoyable for those on the floor.
An extension of the teamwork concept, involvement in contradancing teaches one about developing community. Those who have served on our board or volunteered to help for dances, special events and our weekend camps have gone on to working with other organizations for both pay and volunteer. We foster an intergenerational group. From dancers in their 80’s to kids in single digits, learning to work together for a pleasurable dance experience becomes more than the sum of its parts.
There is a long history of contradancing and predecessors ‘country dance’. Contra Borealis Dancers is a member of the national organization Country Dance and Song Society. CDSS provides support to groups around North America. Various folks have written about contradancing. From reviewing the many papers written, it is an excellent academic question – a blending of mathematical formulations of the construction of a dance and the tune played for it, matching the moves to the music. Like has been said, music is just math, but actually resonates on an emotional level for humans and some in the animal kingdom as well.
To summarize: good music and people, learning teamwork and experiencing community = fun. Nothing wrong with that.