On this page, you will find info on:
The community band (goals, format, etc)
General contra dance band & music resources
Photos from various band events
.....Start lookin'!


What is the Ottawa Community Contra Dance Band?

We are a group of trad music players who play for contra dances. :) Essentially, anyone who is interested in playing for contra dances can be in the band with the wee caveat that it's fit for the group at that time (e.g., more than one bodhran player on the stage at once isn't great for dancing but three fiddlers can work). Please contact us if you're interested - we'd love to hear from you (outreach@ottawacontra.ca)!

*If you are interested in playing trad music generally and don't have a specific affinity for learning/playing for contra dances, then there are many many other bands/sessions around for other trad forms of music.

We play for the community contra dances in Ottawa. These dances are held monthly on the 4th Tuesday from 730-10pm. (Band members to be there no later than 7:15pm.)

Group goals: (...feedback always welcome)

  1. Fun + community oriented!
  2. Be a place where local musicians can play (and learn to play) for contra dances.
  3. Play tunes that are wickedly awesome for dancing, focusing on a diverse and uniquely contra-oriented repertoire (e.g., looking to other dance bands and scenes across North America for neat music to try).
  4. Play in a pretty decent way so that dancers really enjoy the band's music (e.g., look for new tricks/grooves/approaches to excite dancers; play as a tight group as much as possible for a community band; play at the right tempo... both basic and more advanced stuff!).

Why be part of a community contra dance band??? Here are a few of the reasons that folks joined the group when it first started. In no particular order:

  • To have fun during my free time, playing is fun, FUN!
  • Feeling of community, more chance to play with friends (structure)
  • I want to learn more tunes, sharing tunes, learning new tunes, learn more tunes, learn awesome tunes good for dancing, play/share contra dance specific tunes (no sessions with this type of music in Ottawa)
  • Harmonize and see what works, build dynamics, learn tricks for groove and playing, learn how to be in a band (communication with caller; dynamics of band)
  • Fiddling is for dancing
  • Improve my skills, get better as a player, motivation to play, share what learn, opportunity to expand experience in other directions
  • Something lower key (not pressure of Sat night)
  • Potluck @ Emily's
  • The high of playing for dancers
  • Like the music, share with like-minded people

Format of the group:

The group started in October 2012. Below are a few details of our current structure but this is open to suggestions/changes!

  • Leadership: Emily is the band leader, pulling together sets, people, gigs, equipment, etc. Folks are more than welcome to help out as there's lots to be done!
  • Practices: We hold weekly practices on Tuesday evenings (8-10pm). Optional potluck beforehand starting at 7pm most weeks. Email outreach@ottawacontra.ca for directions. While we know not everyone can make all practices, we need to have a tight enough group to play the dances. Hopefully the will be fun and inspiring and will lead to a great community band sound!
  • Tunes: We're working on getting about approximately 20 sets nailed down with groves, arrangements, etc. All band members can share tunes with selection happening through looking at the bigger picture of sets that we have, flavours, feels for particular dances, playability, etc.
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If you have any ideas of resources to share, please email them to outreach@ottawacontra.ca. They'll be added to the list!

Online Info Resources

There's some great stuff... start enjoying :)

  • THIS PAGE has oodles and oodles of good links for contra dance musicians. Go here and check out the links! (I won't repeat them here.)
  • Resources listed by The Portland Collection here
  • Contradancelinks.com has resources for musicians at the bottom here
  • One person's description of criteria for bands playing contra dances here
  • CDSS's info on playing for contras (not too long!) here
  • Article... The Squeal Index: Can Old-Time Bands Make It on the Contra-Dance Scene? here
  • What is contra anyway?
  • Listserve for contra dance musicians... not many people are on it yet but here's to hoping it becomes more active here
  • There are many camps at which to learn contra music. Ashokan Northern Week is one and Pinewoods has various options as well.

Videos of some great contra dance band music moments for inspiration... feel free to suggest others!

  • Leaf 2010 with Nightingale here
  • Wild Asparagus @ Greenfield here and here
  • Techno Contra @ Greenfield here
  • Nor'easter (calm!) in Boulder here
  • Nor'easter at Scout house here
  • Contra Carnival 2010 with Notorius, Elixir and Nightingale here
  • Swallowtail dance weekend with Elixir here
  • Andrew & Noah VanNorstrand @ Youth Dance Weekend 2011 here
  • Great Bear Trio @ their weekend here
  • Swallowtail and Elixir playing for Moneymusk here
  • Ooh La La! dance weekend with Crowfoot here and here
  • Dance at Greenfield Grange MA with Tidal Wave here
  • Dance at Glen Echo Park with Nightingale here
  • Dance in Tacoma with Nightingale here
  • Dance in Nipimo CA with the Groovemongers here
  • Dance weekend in Glenside PA with Swallowtail here
  • Spring Breakdown 2009 with Nils Fredland & Great Bear Trio here

Ideas for CDs

There are SOOOOOOOOO many fantastic CDs from contra dance bands out there. Just a few are listed that seem to represent more of a live dance-hall sound (rather than studio production for more listening). Suggestions are welcome!

  • Becky Tracy, Andy Davis, & Keith Murphy made an album of more trad-sounding music for dancers to use (Any Jig Or Reel). It's super lovely to listen to and has a great basic dance groove
  • Wild Asparagus has a live recording called Live From the Grange. It's brilliant, illustrating different grooves, styles of tunes ... plus so much fun to listen to!
  • Our local Old Sod Band has a great recording (Grass Roots) which demonstrates lots of gorgeous dance grooves. Worth it for sure!
  • The Greenfield Dance Band plays straightford New Endland dance music with a lovely dance feel on Moving Clouds

Ideas for Books

There are lots of great tune books of contra dance music out there. Most can be purchased from CDSS or Great Meadow Music.

  • Getting started step 1... The Portland Collection (Vol 1&2) are basic staples for contra dance playing here
  • Getting started step 2... The Waltz Books (Vol 1,2,3) are chalk full of contra waltzes of various feels, styles, etc. They are great resources here
  • Other multi-composer books: There are various other books with tunes from various composers/trad tunes. Two of the more popular ones are The Fiddler's Throne here and New England Fiddler's Repertroire here
  • Composer-specific books: There are OODLES of options here. A few of Em's favourites are The Crowfoot Tunebook (Crowfoot) here, Black Isle Music (Keith Murphy) here, and The Curvy Road to Corinth/The Reckless Reel (Larry Unger) here
  • English Country Dance Music: It's a distant cousin to contra dance music with some cross over. The two really big books are Barnes' Book of English Country Dance Tunes 1&2 here
  • 'How To' Books: I haven't found much here. Peter Barnes has a great book for contra piano players called Interview with a Vamper here

Contra-dance specific tune lists (often with tune notation) from other community/open bands

Here are a few links to tune sets from other community/open contra dance bands. Inspiration but let's make our list our own!

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FEBRUARY 2013: This was a great community dance with guest fiddler Harvey Tolman from Nelson, NH

Feb 2013: Jonathan reigning over us with his bombarde!

Feb 2013: A closer look...

Feb 2013: Nice dance!

Feb 2013: The band with our guest fiddler Harvey :)

NOVEMBER 2012: A few photos from our second community dance.

Nov 2012: A nice crowd :)

Nov 2012: Peter calling his first ever contra

Nov 2012: Catherine looking after the callers :)

Nov 2012: Dance action

Nov 2012: Tim showing us some nykelharpa action.

OCTOBER 2012: Our first gig ever ... the Ottawa Community Talent Contra.

Oct 2012: Our first gig! It was Oct 31st so we were dressed up... the misfit morris or something of the like. :)

Oct 2012:Our leg costuming.

Oct 2012:Dancers were well dressed too!

Oct 2012: A picture from our first ever gathering/practice ever (Jamie Ferguson missing). Wohoo! :)

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