The African proverb, “If you can walk, you can dance,” is what Miriam Graham likes to tell people who are new to contra dancing.
Graham plays the concertina and penny whistle in the Moab Community Dance Band that was formed in 2004 to spark the return of contra dancing in Moab. The next dance is happening on Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center (MARC).
Contra dancing has its roots in old-time English country dancing, a type of social dance in which dance participants end up spinning with everyone before the night is over. Dancers form two parallel lines with partners facing each another, and then they switch partners as dancers move up and down the floor.
“You don’t have to be graceful. Anyone can do it,” Graham said. “It’s like walking.”
This month’s dance caller is Moab artist and retired fourth-grade teacher Peggy Harty who will be calling out the dance instructions while keeping time with the music.
“It’s not fancy steps. You circle to the left, you circle to the right,” Harty said. “It’s just walking and swinging. It’s a lot of fun. The idea is to dance with everyone in the room.”
It’s unnecessary to feel the need to bring a partner to the dance, Harty said. The tradition at contra dances is to ask others to dance throughout the evening.
Harty said she loves to dance, although as caller, she remains on the sidelines, where she twirls to “feel the music” as she guides the dancers through their steps.
Dances are simple and based on a few basic steps. A Virginia reel, a Jefferson reel, or a Petronella Scottish country dance may also be performed before the night is over.
“I love to do the dancing and I’ve gotten to where I really enjoy calling,” Harty said. “It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush. It’s fun to show people a good time. The dancing exudes such joy even if watching on the sidelines. You can’t help but smile.”
A suggested donation of $7 is requested at the door. The proceeds from the dance will be donated to the music programs at Grand County schools.
In addition to the concertina and penny whistle, the community dance band includes a couple of fiddles, a Dobro guitar and a South American instrument called a charango, which is a type of plucked-string instrument that looks similar to a ukulele.
Harty said participants are welcome to bring their friends to this event to participate. Sometimes there are family-specific contra dances where adults are encouraged to bring their children.
“It’s great exercise,” Harty said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
Contra dances are held monthly, and usually on the third Saturday, although sometimes they take place on the fourth Saturday, Harty said.
No partner needed for traditional social dancing Aug. 25 at the MARC
When: Aug. 25; Workshop for beginner dancers begins at 7:30 p.m. Dance starts at 8 p.m.
Where: Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North
Cost: $7 suggested donation goes to Grand County schools music program
Information: Call 516-376-8003