Each month the Community Dance Band plays music for a lively night of contra dancing.
But, on Saturday, June 8, Larry Unger and Karina Wilson will provide the music.
“This dance is different from those we have done so far because this time, we are bringing two professional contra dance musicians who will be the primary players,” said Miriam Graham, who plays in the Community Dance Band. “We often have ‘ringers’ sit in with us, especially during the Moab Music Festival, but they play along with us, rather than present their own music in their own style.”
Unger has written more than 600 fiddle tunes and waltzes, many of which have been recorded by one of his bands, or by other bands. His tunes are widely played at contra dances across the country.
“Larry Unger is one of the country’s most popular contra dance musicians as well as a composer of many well-loved dance tunes,” Graham said.
Graham said that contra dancing is similar to square dancing, except the dancers are in lines. The dance form began in New England and spread out across the country. The public is invited to come and dance at the dances held regularly around the year. No partners are needed. Beginner’s lessons are available at 7:30 p.m., a half-hour before the dance begins at 8 p.m.
“Our local caller, Peggy Harty, will be calling the dance as usual,” Graham said. “I’m really excited that she’s getting the opportunity to call to the music of these top-notch players.”
Chris Layer, an artist-in-residence with the Moab Music Festival, organized the monthly event eight years ago.
He spoke with Cory Cox, who told him the history of social dancing that was popular in the 1870s and began to die out a hundred years later. Similar community dances had been held in Moab in the past.
Layer wanted to bring the community dance back. He interviewed Moab senior citizens to find out more.
Unger will also be hosting a workshop for the Community Dance Band and interested community members.
“Larry Unger has written hundreds of tunes, so I’m hoping he’ll be playing some of those, and also teaching them to the band during the workshop,” Graham said. “Band members, if they want, will also be able to sit up on stage and play behind Larry and Karina. This is how some of the best contra dance players got their start, by listening to great players and playing along, as well as by imitating their special style and tricks.”
Unger has been a full-time musician since 1984 and has presented a diverse range of musical performances across the United States, Europe, India, Afghanistan and Scandinavia. Titled “master guitarist” by Dirty Linen, Unger has played with many top contra dance bands, usually these days with Notorious, and has accompanied such fiddlers as Judy Hyman, Matt Glaser, and Lissa Schneckenburger.
Wilson is the daughter of a caller and began playing fiddle at age five. She mastered classical violin and Zimbabwean marimba on her way to swing dance fiddling with a hot rhythmic style that rocks and rips at your heart strings at the same sweet time.
There’s one more benefit to having Unger and Wilson at the contra dance. The Community Dance Band will get to join the dancers on the floor for the evening.
“For once the band members will get a chance to dance. This is really important for contra dance players, to be able to feel what it’s like to respond to the tempo and driving force of the music,” Graham said. “When you’re up there on stage, it’s sometimes hard to tell what works and what doesn’t, because you get so focused on what you’re playing.”