“So [Bingley] inquired who [Jane] was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again . . . ”
This scene in Pride and Prejudice in which Mrs. Bennet rattles off Mr. Bingley’s dance partners is quite amusing, but it can also be confusing to people in modern times, especially University of Dallas students with an unfailing loyalty to swing dance.
Mrs. Bennet is describing English country dancing, a form of folk dancing and social dancing that was developed in the late 16th century by the English gentry.
Out of English country dancing came contra dancing, a more Americanized folk dance that can be traced to Scotch-Irish immigrants in Appalachia.
University of Dallas students are bringing this little-known American tradition back to life through the Contra Club, which held its first dance of the semester on Sunday afternoon in Upstairs Haggar.
Being both a Jane Austen fanatic and someone with dance experience in everything from ballet to two-step, I was anxious to try contra dance as soon as I heard about the club. I was the only newbie on the dance floor, but the patterns weren’t difficult to learn. The dances were comprised of do-si-dos, balances, allemandes and swings, all of which were called out by Colleen Hammond from the North Texas Traditional Dance Society (NTTDS).
Contra dancing, like square dancing, is a line dance; couples move up and down the floor by repeating a pattern. Each dance lasts for several minutes, and the patterns are repeated until the song ends.
We were accompanied by UD alumnus Greg Rogers, ’73, and his sister Mimi Rogers, both of whom played string instruments. Although a fiddle is a must for any contra dance, wind instruments are often played.
After a few dances, I sat down with freshman Dominic Dougherty, who is part of the new club leadership that also includes freshmen Katie Kuplak and Laura Aumen. Dougherty has past experience planning contra dances at his parish, and he took over the club this semester when former officers either left campus or went to Rome. Dougherty said that the club has gone to several dances in the Dallas area hosted by the NTTDS on Saturday evenings, but Sunday’s event was the first dance held on campus this semester. UD Contra Club plans to host its next dance on Sunday, April 29 in Upstairs Haggar.
When asked why he prefers contra dancing to the UD favorites, swing dance and two-step, Dougherty responded, “I find it easier because you know what’s coming up.”
Freshman Kathleen Ramirez enjoys contra dance because it’s an insight into an older culture; she believes it takes the respect for the girl that is shown in swing and two-step to an even higher level. “There’s just nothing like it,” she says.
So, to all you dancers who like to spend your Wednesday nights at Sons of Hermann or your Thursday nights at Red River, try something new and take a step back into the past with a little contra dance.
As Dougherty says, “No one ever comes just once.”