Contra dance is a centuries-old New England folk dance tradition. It's the rowdy red-headed stepchild of English country dance (the kind of dancing you see in Jane Austen movies). Contra dancing is done to live old-timey music in a variety of styles, from lilting Celtic-inspired tunes to rollicking bluegrass. All dances are taught by a caller, who "calls out" instructions throughout the dance.
Queer contra dance takes the traditional division of the dance into "gentlemen" and "ladies" and gives it a queer twist. Instead of gender roles, dancers choose whether or not to wear an armband, which determines their role. (If you're curious, the "armband" role corresponds to the traditional gentleman's or leader's role, but there's not much difference between the two roles.) The caller uses the term "armbands" or "bands" to refer to the dancers wearing armbands, and "barearms" or "bares" (no, not bears) to indicate those without armbands.
There are gender-free contra dance groups in four states under the umbrella of the Lavender Country and Folk Dancers.
Queer Contra Dance began with a kitchen table conversation among friends. Their conclusion: the Bay Area needed a friendly, folksy venue for queers and friends to meet and contra dance. So, in April 2004, "the little dance that could" sprang forth in San Francisco, and after a few years, settled into Oakland on the other side of the bay.
In 2008, Queer Contra's weekend dance camp debuted at Monte Toyon, a camp facility in the redwoods near Santa Cruz. The camp was a wild success, and now occurs annually in spring.
Described in the press as "attitude-free" and "the friendly barn dance," Queer Contra continues to welcome everyone with its unique mix of spirited dance, hot music, and great people.
Ben caught the contra bug in 1993 while living in Connecticut, where he ran across the now-defunct Hartford gender-neutral dance. Soon after he attended his first LCFD dance camp in Becket, Massachusetts and immediately recognized that contra dancing could be earthly paradise. Dismayed by the dearth of happy and wholesome gay social venues in NYC, Ben—along with Joanna Sharf—founded the New York City queer dance series in 1998, and since 2004 has been helping organize the San Francisco Bay queer contra dance.
Bex is addicted to dancing. She first started dancing contra in her hometown of Miami, FL in 2001, and got hooked more deeply after moving to the East Bay in 2003. Bex keeps attending camp ever since 2010, rain or shine, and especially enjoys bird-watching between workshops . Her favorite call is anything Beckett, and give and take, and laugh-inducing dance partners! When it's not contra, it's Scottish country dance, morris, and all-position square dance (her newest addiction!), so, yep, she's addicted! Bex even created a gender-free Scottish class in SF in 2011, before realizing that organizing a new dance class is rather masochistic. For the past year, Bex keeps poking the camp website to keep it saying useful things. Crikey!
What's my favorite contra dance move? Gypsy! Being able to execute this move (with a man in my case), with whom you might just get a wink, or seductive smile makes it for me! Contra is a complete symbiotic organism where we all interconnect with one another in such magical ways. Truly the GLBT is fully spelled out and every one explodes [metaphorically! -ed.] in a delightful array of queer energy, all set to music. With a few semesters of international folk dance, then morphing into Ritual English Morris Dancing with The White Rats (look for us at Folsom) and Apple Tree Morris I was led to contra. Blessed be to the founding Mothers and Fathers of SFBQCD, where I found the love of my life 6 years ago. (I do love to gypsy other men, even though I am in a committed relationship!)
Arcadia started contra dancing in college, and seeks to channel her overcaffeinated, overstressed, and overjoyed 20-year-old self every time she dances. She attended the first San Francisco queer contra dance in 2004, and within a year had leveraged her expert command of skirt-swirling to become a power behind the throne. She loves the energy and exhilaration of queer contra, and her favorite dance moves are gypsy meltdowns, butterfly whirls, and twirling partners much taller than her. If you ask nicely, she will teach you to waltz. [It was Arcadia who created the attractive website that you're now experiencing. -ed.]
Robert's entrée into contra was the legendary Minneapolis LezBeGay 'N' Dance. Fervent, unhinged contraphilia took hold, and after various relocations, he discovered the queer contra dancers in New York, where, once again, he could balance and swing with whatever human he pleased. Robert loves contra dancing for its unabashed joy and exuberance, and gender-free contra for dropping normalcy from the equation: everyone enters the floor as-is, to dance with whomever. Now a Calfornia resident, the SF Bay Queer Contra Dance has kept Robert a busy organizer.
I was introduced to contra dancing at an outdoor weekend festival in Maine in the fall of 2005. Love at first dance, though I was not to experience it again for many months. I happened to come across a contra dance in Port Townsend's Fiddle Tunes festival the next year, and shortly afterwards found myself living in San Francisco. What excitement I felt at spying a little (pink?) flyer at a bookstore advertising Queer Contra—I went to that dance and (almost) haven't missed one since. I am addicted to the amazing, friendly folks that show up to our dances month after month—it truly feels like a community.
We want all people to feel safe and comfortable at Queer Contra Dance. Harassment of any kind won't be tolerated. If someone's behavior is offensive or harassing during the evening, we encourage you to speak with one of the organizers.