17th century dance still in style in Wareham

Jan 26, 2020

The art of contra dancing dates back to the 17th century with roots in England, Scotland, and France. According to those who practice it today, it remains alive and well as a way to socialize, exercise, and have fun. 

In Wareham, Lola Mello hosts a contra dance on the fourth Saturday of each month at the Old Methodist Meeting House at 495 Main Street from 8 to 11 p.m. 

Contra is a folk style of dance where participants dance solo, in partners, and groups of four, all to the tune of a band, and a “caller” who shouts simple directions like counting to four, walking, and switching partners to dancers. 

While bands can have a variety of instruments, Mello said that the fiddle is the most prominent part of contra music. “If you have a fiddle, you can get a contra dance happening,” she said. 

On Jan. 25 Oliver Farrell played the fiddle, with Jillian Gillman on the keyboard, and Minno Zelkin on the guitar. While all three musicians have played at other dances, this was the trio’s first time playing as a group. 

The musicians all agreed that playing at a contra dance has a different type of energy than almost any other venue, thanks to the personal connection made with the dancers. 

January’s caller was Paul Wilde, who has been dancing for over 30 years. He said he learned how to be a caller out of necessity, by teaching new dancers over the years. He was also a school teacher for 16 years, and said that his classroom experience helped him to develop his calling skills on the dance floor. 

This month, Wilde led a relatively experienced group through a series of dances, some fast paced, and others more relaxed. With his guidance, participants were able to step, slide, and stomp their way across the dance floor. 

Although there are some more advanced contra dances, many of them are easy to learn, and for Wilde, that is part of what makes the dance style so appealing. 

“People can walk in off the street, and get drawn into it,” he said. 

Mike Pol regularly attends the Wareham contra dances with his wife Laura. When asked about why he enjoys this style of dance, he said “it’s very social, you dance with everyone in the room.” 

Mello added that the dance’s historical roots, and the fact that you don’t need to bring a partner make it unique. The Wareham events also see a wide range of age groups, with everyone from high school students, to people in their 90s attending the monthly event.

Other local contra dances include those at Woods Hole on the first Saturday of the month, and Cotuit, on the second Saturday of each month. 

To learn more about contra dancing, and where to attend dances, go to: https://capecontraorg.weebly.com/, or contact Mello at 617-981-0148.