BY JUSTINE MCDANIEL
On a bustling Thursday night in downtown Silver Spring, a unique scene can be found inside the civic building’s cool, spacious great hall: scores of people, young and old, spinning and stepping in rhythmic folk dances.
It is the Silver Spring Contra Dance, a newly established community activity that gives locals a chance to learn and practice the art of contra dance, a type of folk dancing that has its roots in English country dances and has long been part of the American folk culture.
“It’s been a dream of mine for many years to start a dance in Silver Spring,” said Busy Graham, who founded the Silver Spring Contra Dance. “We’re still hovering between 60 and 100 [participants], but we’re hoping to really grow…. Once people come, they think, ‘Oh my god, this is great. We’re coming back.’”
Though many attendees are experienced dancers, contra dance is beginner-friendly and easy to follow along with. The first half hour of every dance is devoted to teaching beginners the basic steps.
Rousing traditional music comes from a live band and a caller gives instructions as everyone moves through the dance. The eclectic group and simple steps make an atmosphere where anyone can join in.
Dancers say it welcomes a diverse community and is a great opportunity to meet new people. Though dancers partner up, the dances take place in lines, circles and groups, so participants dance with everyone during the course of the evening.
“The thing about it is it’s really, I think, a different dance scene—the communal nature of it, the way you’re dancing in a line and with everybody, it brings a small-town feel,” said Ed Gertler, a 65-year-old engineer who has been doing contra dance for 15 years. “It’s not a pick-up scene. There’s no alcohol, no smoking.”
The Silver Spring dance, which occurs the second Thursday of every month, started in April, but contra dance has long been popular in the D.C. metro area’s active folk community.
Music, exercise, people
“You can do it six nights a week in this area,” said Joshua Boraz, 32, of Laurel, who travels about a half an hour at least three or four nights a week to dance. “It’s one of the very few places where you can get live music, exercise, and you can meet people of all ages.”
Glen Echo, which hosts dances every Friday and Sunday, is the epicenter of Washington folk dance, said Jeff Kenton, a member of the Silver Spring Contra Dance committee. Many of those dancers have been attracted to the Silver Spring dance, which is still growing.
“There’s a big community in Silver Spring and Takoma Park that love to go to the Glen Echo dances but can’t always make that extra time to get on the Beltway,” Graham said. “We thought, let’s bring a dance to Silver Spring at least once a month and begin building a dance community that will then also benefit from having the Glen Echo dances to go to because people will really catch the bug.”
Graham is highly active in the local arts community as a consultant in arts programming in the D.C. area and Calvert County and as the founder of Carpe Diem Arts and Class Act Arts, both of which sponsor the dance.
The dance is also supported by Montgomery County’s Community Access Pilot Program, which makes it possible for non-profits to rent space like the Great Hall.
Kenton said the dance has attracted great crowds to the “fabulous” facility, and the committee hopes to keep both new and experienced dancers coming back for more.
Juneau to Silver Spring
Gertler, who took up the hobby after being rejected by a contra-dancing girlfriend, has traveled as far as Juneau, Alaska to dance. Like many, he’s excited about the Silver Spring dance because he “had to walk all of four blocks to get here.”
“I’ve always liked the music,” Gertler said. “I go to a concert, I sit there tapping my feet. Now I can get up and do it with my whole body.”
The Silver Spring Contra Dance is held on the first Thursday of every month from 7-10 p.m. at the Great Hall, Silver Spring Civic Building (October 10 location to be determined).