Several our friends suggested that we try Contra Dancing and in January 1997 we went to the Gender Free Contra dance in Jamaica Plain (JP). We were hooked immediately. This dance was twice a month and we have hardly missed any since then (excluding the pandemic when it has been shut down of course). Unless there is an enticing concert or we are travelling we always go.
There we learned about the weekend gender free dance camps organized by Lavender Counntry & Folk Dancers (LCFD) - also gender free. We went to the first one in the fall of 1997. At these camp there iss lots of Contra Daning and some English Country Dancing and variouys other activities. They are twice a year until 2020 - and I haven't missed one - that's 45 + 1 virtual one. Robert missed one because he was ill. In 2008 the west coast group (people who were regulars in LCFD camps) started one - called Queer Dance Camp. We missed two of them - one because we were on an English Country Dance trip in Florence, and once because it conflicted with NEFFA - more about this later in the post.
And there is a gender free English Country Dance in Jamaica Plain - twice a month - and we are regular there. Robert and I are members of the organzer groups of both JP dance series and I am a board mmeber and treasurer of LCFD.
There is also a twice a month contra dance in Cambridge and we go there regularly as well. In Concord, MA at the Scout House there is a contra dance every monday and every thrusday night as well as one on the first friday of each month. We go to some of these. Other spinoffs of the JP dance are Village Contra in NYC and Rainbow Contra in Northampton and we go to some of these. And also to the occasional dance in Gloucester. And we did a litle contra dancing in Boston Pride - in the march, on Boston Common, and Boston City Hall plaza.
Every year the New England Fok Festival (NEFFA) is a weekend event near Boston with lots of all kinds of folk dancing including Contras and English. Our group has run a food booth there selling on-site made italian food, cookies, coffee, teas, etc. as a fund raising event for the gender free dance grouops - 3 days, about 30 volunteers and lots of fun. I always say I like my career as a food-service worker for one weekend a year with lots of nice customers.
At the JP dance we learned about a trip organizer, Ken McFarland (sadly deceased), who organized dance oriented and other trips. We went on 14 of them (sometimes several trips one right after another). Not all are dance trips - a contra dance trip on a boat in the Greek islands, English Country Dancing in Western Ireland, Florence, and a French Chateau. Many of the people on those trips are dancers and in some of the non-dance trips we did a bit of dancing: on Easter Island, in Tanzania, on a boat on the Amazon river in Peru, in Myanmar for example. Also we've been on George Marshall dance trips on St Croix and the Big Island of Hawaii. We went to a local contra dance in Paris and one in Melbourne - and English in Sydney; and several days in Merida, Mexico.
In a typical year we go dancing on about 90 days.
In traditional Contras or English the roles are labeled Ladies and Gents - in gender free Contra he current labels are Larks and Robins and people of any gender can dance in any role; in English positional terminology is used. Over time lots of other dances have been adopting gender free treminology.
Contra dances and English Country dances almost always have a small band - 3-5 musicians, occasionally 2. And a caller who teaches the dance and then calls for a few rounds. For English there is a direct relationship between tunes and dances. For Contras there are many tunes. Since in both cases the theme gets repeated many times and the musicians usually insert very interesting variations on the repeats so musically it is also interesting.
And one of these days dancing will restart again.