On Saturday April 14th, fiddler Gretchen Priest-May and her Fiddle & Pick Contra-Band will be playing for a free Contra Dance at the Pegram Train Station. During last week’s Pegram Fish Fry, Gretchen was overheard discussing “Dine & Dance at The Depot” with County Commission Chairman John Haines who is preparing a free spaghetti supper at 5:30 at the depot just before Gretchen’s Contra Dance at 7:30.
“What the heck is a contra dance?” John asked. After listening to Gretchen’s description of contra dancing John shrugged his shoulders and mumbled “I’ll just stick to the cooking”. Gretchen retorted “Oh no, John, if you can hold hands and walk…you can contra dance!”
Contra dance has been alive and well in the Northeastern U.S. since the 1700’s but a recent revival in the Ashville N.C. area has spread the traditional dance across the South. Contra Dance groups have sprung up in Tennessee towns like Maryville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Morristown, Chapel Hill, Sewanee, Nashville, Shelbyville and now Pegram! The term “contra” refers to the opposite-facing lines formed by dance couples. A “caller” gives instructions to dancers who form figures with the couple in the opposite line. The same dance figures are repeated down the line until all couples have danced with each other.
Nashville Contra Dance caller Heather Sevcik said that she became enamored with Contra Dance while taking a square dance class at Warren Wilson College near Ashville NC. She explained that her instructor worked a bit of Contra Dance into his square dance class.
“What I began to appreciate about contra dance was the smoothness of it….it was like ice skating. I fell in love with the dancing”.
After a few years of participating in contra dances, Heather decided she wanted to try her hand at calling dances. When she first started a couple of years ago, she was totally intimidated, but today one of her favorite sights is to see a room full of contra dancers following her calls and gliding effortlessly across the floor.
“The Caller explains the figures, then he/she has the couples walk through the moves before the music begins. By the end of the dance everyone looks like a pro.” Heather further explained: “The music is much the same as square dancing and some of the calls are the same but the movements are smoother than square dancing, it’s more fun and a great event for hearing old time live music. It’s easy to catch the contra dance bug, you’ll leave with a smile on your face!”.
“Dine & Dance at the Depot” is Saturday April the 14th in the historic Pegram Train Station. The Spaghetti Super begins at 5:30 and Contra Dancing is scheduled for 7:30. You’re invited to attend either one or both events and there is no charge. The Pegram Community Club will gladly accept donations to its new depot roof fund.