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Dancing the night away

The social events have been a part of Shepherdstown for 30 years

The social events have been a part of Shepherdstown for 30 years

February 05, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Contra dancing has long been a form of social dancing in the United States since the country's early beginnings.

Once a month on Saturday nights in Shepherdstown, the modern world embraces time old-traditions with a contra dance.

Since 1979, Shepherdstown Music and Dance has hosted contra dances in the War Memorial Building on the corner of German and King streets.

"All but one dance has been held here," says Joanie Blanton, Shepherdstown Music and Dance concert chairperson.

Contra dancing, Blanton explains, is a traditional dance that has two lines of dancers facing each other. Each dance is taught by a caller and then each dancer does the same pattern repeatedly, she says.

The dancers go down the line, dancing with someone new similar to square dancing.

"It's a chance to be social," she says.

The word contra, Blanton says, means cross. "The dances derive from English dances that were done in long halls," she says.


Blanton says people of all levels can learn how to contra dance. She says the dance steps aren't difficult. Some of the dances can be more complicated, but the moves are repetitive and allow the dancers to learn as they go.

"If you blow it the first time, by the time you get down the set they've forgotten," she says.

Paul Burke of Shepherdstown says he started attending contra dances about 30 years in Washington, D.C. About 20 years ago friends told him about the dances in Shepherdstown.

Burke says it's the socialization he likes.

"It's fun. It's good exercise," he says. "It's a chance to see people I haven't seen in months."

Joanna Morrison and Bob Kelly, both of Keedysville, say they've been attending contra dances in Shepherdstown for a couple of years.

"It's great energy," Morrison says.

Kelly agrees. "It's a very social dance."

Blanton says the contra dances attract a wide range of ages and have recently seen more high school and college students participating.

About half of the crowd, she says, are from a 10-mile radius, but some have traveled even farther to attend the dances.

Becky Lidgerding, Shepherdstown Music and Dance dance chairperson, has been involved in contra dancing in Shepherdstown for 19 years.

Lidgerding says contra dancing is "just kind of infectious."

"You feel happy while you're doing it," she says.

It also brings a feeling of togetherness, she says. "It's a big community interaction."

"I love being able move with the music and be able to relate and socialize with everybody in the room," Blanton says. "You have this tremendous energy."

If you go ...

WHAT: Contra dance

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 7; workshop begins at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: War Memorial Building, corner of German and King streets, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: $10 nonmembers older than 12; $7 for members older than 12; $5 for dancers younger than 12

CONTACT: For more about Shepherdstown Music and Dance, go to

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