Ottawa Contra Dance

Are you new to contra dance?


Here's a little secret: Anyone can contra dance ... if you can walk, you can do this!

Contra dance is great fun for total beginners. It's easy to learn you'll likely have a huge smile on your face right from the start. AND... as you learn various little tricks, contra becomes even easier and more fun!

In addition to the 100 or so regular dancers at every Saturday night contra, we have about 10-15 brand new folks each evening and we give those new dancers a 'second dance free card'. This lets you come back and try a second time on us. While there's a wee bit of a learning curve to feel totally comfortable contra dancing (isn't there with learning anything new?), we're pretty sure you'll get hooked once you come a few times!

What is contra dancing?

At its core - contra dancing is all about having LOTS of FUN. Its roots are based in old English and French dancing but it has evolved a lot over the last 300 years since it began in New England. While you have a (different) partner for each dance, the structure of the dance also has you dancing with everyone around you - so it really is a community social dance. This takes the pressure off new dancers knowing particular moves as everyone is working together on the dance floor.

Each dance is taught and called. The music usually (although not always) has a Celtic or Quebecois flavour and it is ALWAYS live. If you do other forms of dancing like swing or blues, you can incorporate some of those moves into contra but you certainly don't have to have that background!

To see videos of what contra dancing looks like in Ottawa, check out our pics and video page.

Frequently asked questions

What if I have never danced before?
You are very welcome here! We have a free introductory lesson before every Saturday night contra dance (7:30-8:00pm) where you can learn everything you need to get started! All the dances are taught and our regular dancers are very supportive - we will help you. Additionally, our Tuesday night contras are focused on building skills so that's a great alternative. AND our occasional community dances are similar to contras but even easier so if you want to start there that's another option too!

Do I need to have a partner?
No! Many people come to contra dances by themselves or with a bunch of friends. Even if you come with someone in particular, it is customary to dance with different partners throughout the evening so there will be lots of people available for dancing. And, if you're uncertain about walking into a hall full of people you don't know, don't worry - we're there to help you out! If you identify as a beginner by putting on a smiley face sticker (available at the back of the hall), our regular will particularly look out for you.

Should I wear certain clothes
No. Just dress in what you feel comfortable knowing that you will likely get warm. Women often wear casual skirts while men often wear lightweight pants or shorts.

As for shoes?
Many experienced contra dancers tend to prefer leather soled shoes but as long as your soles aren't really sticky or you don't have high heels, you'll be just fine. To keep one of the few sprung hardwood floors in Ottawa in good shape, please wear outdoor shoes to the hall and change to indoor shoes before dancing.

Is contra dancing for all ages?
For sure - we have dancers who are teenagers, college/university students, young parents all the way up to folks well into retirement. (Kids start contra dancing as young as 6-7yrs.) Part of what makes contra dance so fantastic is it's a truly a multigenerational activity!

More information

Here is the beginner handout that we provide to first time dancers.

Other than that, we suggest you simply come to a dance and give it a try. If you watch some videos, contra dancing may look fast and complicated. But the videos are deceiving! Contra is truly a super fun dance style and is very accessible. We look forward to seeing you on the dance floor soon!