After 20 years gone, a rural tradition has twirled back into town

Posted Jan. 09, 2017, at 12:45 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 09, 2017, at 5:02 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — After a 20-year hiatus from the city, Portland has a regular contradance again — and this time around, the organizers have thrown out the gender roles.

Callers at the weekly, Thursday night shindig at the State Street Church stay away from gender specific terms like “ladies” and “gents” when explaining the steps. On Thursday, caller Gretchen Carroll used “rubies” and “jets” instead. That way, any person can feel comfortable dancing either role.

“Contradance being as old a tradition as it is, it’s also an evolving tradition,” said Portland Intown Contra Dance co-organizer Dugan Murphy.

The organizers are following the lead of other progressive New England contra dances.

“It was really important to us, when we started this dance, that everybody feel welcome,” said co-organizer Dela Taylor. “We have great fluidity and flexibility in how we can dance these roles. So, you don’t have to present as a woman to dance ‘ladies,’ for instance. So, this just creates a freedom and an invitation to everyone… we’re just dancing.”

Contradancing, which has its roots in the 18th century, is community social dancing. Dances start with people standing in opposite lines, facing each other. From there, dances follow prescribed patterns, twirls and hand gestures.

“It’s wildly easy,” said Taylor. “So you don’t actually need to know how to dance in order to come contradancing.”

Always accompanied by live music, contradancing has seen popular revivals come and go in the last hundred years. It has been some time since Portland had a regular dance to call its own.

“Historically, there have been contradances here at the State Street Church but not for about 20 years, or so,” said Murphy.

Their weekly affair regularly draws around 75 to 90 dancers and attracts musicians from as far away as Boston, the organizers say. They see no end in sight for their dance.

“This dance series is going to run indefinitely,” said Murphy. “When we’re really tired of running it, we’re going to have people to pass it on to. We’re really confident that this thing can live beyond us.”

 

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