In the beginning when people first heard about the local Contras, they might have wondered if they were affiliated with the Nicaraguan Contras, but it didn't take long for the community to understand that this group of Contras was about as far away from a military group as Kenai is from Nicaragua. "We're talking contra dance here - one of the most enjoyable things to do with about a hundred friends and strangers ever invented," said Heidi Chay, one of the founders of local Contra dance movement.
The dances were first started in October of 1998 by the Kenai River Folk Dancers, and have been growing each year, drawing between 60 and 200 people to their monthly gatherings. The roots of the contra dance can be traced to the barn and country dances brought to America by European settlers. The dances feature live music, a caller who teaches the steps, and a variety of easy-to-follow circle, square and line dances. Fans call contra dancing, "Food for the soul." The dances are an opportunity to meet people at an alcohol and smoke-free environment while getting some exercise.
Contra dances are a multi-generational activity, with children as young as five dancing along side parents and grandparents. The fifth season gets underway this weekend with a community potluck dinner and contra dance at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School on Saturday, September 28th. The kick-off event will feature dance caller Tom Paul from Juneau and Irish tunes by Palmer fiddler, Jeff Graham, with Karen Rosene on the penny whistle and flute. Dancers are encouraged to bring clean, dry, non-marking shoes. Admission is only $5 and all children under 16 accompanied by an adult are free. Here are Heidi Chay's top 5 reasons to attend a contra dance:
1. Your significant other likes to dance, but you're sure you "can't."
2. You like being around friendly people who try new things, laugh when they make mistakes, they try again.
3. You think you and/or your family is spending too much time in front of the TV, DVD, or Internet.
4. You value Americans coming together and sharing a stronger sense of community.
5. You haven't danced much in the last 5 or 25 years, but you still vaguely remember that it was fun.
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