Contra Etiquette

Beginners should come to as many of our predance beginners’ classes–7:30 most Saturdays–as needed until comfort sets in with basic dance moves. Experienced dancers are encouraged to come, too, to welcome the newcomers into our dance community and help them make speedy progress.

Holding one person after another in our arms all evening is certainly not something most of us experience anywhere else but at a contra. Smiling, eye contact, and flirtation are part of the fun of dance. Many contradancers like to gaze into their partners’ eyes, which can at first prove unnerving. Experienced dancers should remember that newcomers may find eye contact unexpected or even disconcerting. Newcomers should remember that experienced dancers are not trying to stare them down.

Contra is highly social by nature and provides an opportunity for friendly interaction with an entire room full of people. We share a common love of dancing, and there are many wonderful, friendly people with whom to socialize during and after a dance.


  • Anyone may ask anyone else to dance the next contra. Women can ask men, and same-sex dance partners are common.
  • It is customary to change partners after every dance.
  • “Booking Ahead”–selecting a partner for a future dance, rather than the one about to begin–is discouraged.
  • Beginners improve more quickly if they dance with more experienced partners. We recommend that two beginners should not dance together for more than a dance or two and should wait to dance with each other until later in the evening.


  • It is important to swing with your body’s frame essentially parallel to your partner’s, and to support your partner firmly. Your own weight should be over your own feet, never hanging on your partner’s arms like a rag doll.
  • Your supporting hand–right for the gentleman’s role, left for the lady’s role–should be on your partner’s nearest shoulder blade for a safe hold.
  • Please be aware that some dancers do not like to swing too vigorously; respect any request to be more gentle, and definitely do not pick up your partner while swinging–this is dangerous not only for you and your partner, but also for the dancers around you.

Eye contact
Eye contact is an integral part of contra and prevents dizziness during swings or allemandes. If lengthy eye contact discomforts you, you can focus on your partner’s ear, chin, collar, or shoulder.

Many experienced contra dancers improvise or use flourishes during a dance. Dancing in time to the music and helping your partner to be on time is always more important than embellishments. When improvising, maintain a sense of “place” within your line. Be attentive to the safety of those around you. As with all personal interactions, respect, discretion, and common sense are your best guide to what is or is not appropriate.

Smile. We all make them. We were all beginners once (even if we sometimes hate to admit it). Forgive and forget, but keep dancing!

Sensitive Issues
Contra involves close physical contact with many other people. For the benefit of yourself and your fellow dancers, please be clean, courteous, and respectful.

  • Wear comfortable clothes and appropriate clean-soled shoes. Some folks bring extra tee shirts for a quick change during the break. If you tend to sweat, avoid sleeveless shirts—sweaty arms can be slippery. Don’t forget deodorant.
  • Please avoid wearing perfume, aftershave, or cologne to a dance. Some dancers are sensitive or allergic to such products and dancing, being aerobic, magnifies their scent.
  • Other people will be in range of your breath through the evening; think about that when choosing whether or not to enjoy onions, garlic, or spicy food just before a dance.

Dancers sometimes bring their children along. In order to maintain a safe environment for both children and adults, we request that parents prevent non-participating children from coming on the dance floor during the dance, for this may be very dangerous for everyone. Interested children are welcome to learn the dance by attending our beginners’ classes.

Country Dance * New York welcomes anyone who wishes to become a part of this dance family. We work hard to promote a safe, friendly environment for everyone’s enjoyment. The evening’s coordinator or any board member will be happy to hear from you and, in particular, to address any specific concerns that might arise at a dance.