[Callers] First Time Dancers

John Sweeney info at contrafusion.co.uk
Sat Aug 13 02:46:47 PDT 2011

Hi Greg,
            Your definition: "open public dances, with live music and a
caller, that are sponsored and hosted by a group of dance enthusiasts"
is basically any dance community - specifically contra in your case
since you added "primarily featuring duple contras".
            As to how many new dancers turn up at such contra dances in
the UK?  Well, there are less than 10 active contra dance clubs in the
UK as far as I know - they are listed at
http://www.contrafusion.co.uk/Links.html, and some are quite small. So
it is difficult to provide any sensible statistics based on such a small
            There are a few big successful ones like the monthly London
Barndance Company dance in Cecil Sharp House (never billed as a contra,
and not guaranteed to be, but generally at least 90% contra dancing to
great contra dance bands and with great contra dance callers).  Usually
around 80 to 150 dancers I believe, peaking to 300 for special events.
Most attendees are regulars; I suspect the number of new dancers is well
under 10%, but sometimes boosted by a party (literally - someone brings
their birthday party guests along for a dance) - however the party
members very rarely ever come back for another dance.
            There are of course countless community dances (One Night
Stands - weddings, birthdays, fund-raisers, etc.) but in my experience
it is very rare to get one of those attendees to come to a dance
community event.
            There is a Modern Western Square Dance community with around
150 clubs - see http://www.uksquaredancing.com/page5.htm. I don't know
how they do, but in the southeast (where I live) it has virtually died
            There is a Ceilidh community, who dance relatively simple
dances with lots of energy and stepping (hornpipe step-hops, rants, skip
steps, skip-change/polka steps, etc.) to great bands who are
experimenting with lots of musical influences (a similar evolution to
the contra dance music one, but exploring different musical genres) -
lots of information at http://www.cix.co.uk/~net-services/ec/ and
http://www.webfeet.org/ - there are usually around 10 big ceilidhs
around the country each weekend.  Sadly none in my area, so I have no
idea how they are doing at getting new dancers.  There are also lots of
ceilidhs at all the big folk festivals with lots of attendees.  This is
the dance community that attracts the most younger people in the UK.
            There are no ECD clubs in the UK (well there might be one
that calls itself that) - but lots of Folk Dance Clubs and other groups
which have a lot of similarity, but who are normally prepared to try any
dance.  Sadly the average age is quite high at many of these clubs and
so the dances chosen, and the style in which they are danced, reflect
the physical ability of the dancers.  They will happily dance contra
dances, but generally without the twirls and spins that Americans add.
Many of the clubs are quite small, but as you can see at
http://www.setandturnsingle.org.uk/ there are hundreds of them, and lots
of open dances at the weekends and at festivals.  Sadly, the percentage
of new dancers is, I believe, very small.  
            Again, the word "club" above is not intended to imply a
closed group - just a regular event open to anyone, but attended
primarily by regulars.
            So, sorry, no specific answers, but I hope that helps a
            Note: this is my personal perception of what is happening in
the UK - if anyone can add to it please do.
            Happy dancing,
John Sweeney, Dancer, England   john at modernjive.com 01233 625 362 &
07802 940 574
http://www.contrafusion.co.uk for Dancing in Kent

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