Maya Angelou once said, “Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.”
CONTRAversial Claremont, one of the burgeoning clubs here at the 5Cs, was founded in 2012 by current Pomona students. It celebrates the diversity of dance, welcomes everyone, and above all, embraces the rich cultural history of movement. This club includes members from all 5Cs, and other typical attendees range from faculty and staff to Claremont community members.
In explaining the history of contra dance, Samuel Breslow PO ’18, one of the co-presidents of CONTRAversial Claremont, said, “Contra began to take off in the 17th century under the reign of Queen Victoria, and later spread to other countries including France, Ireland, Scotland, and eventually post-Revolutionary War America.” As it spread from one country to another, this dance evolved, changing from one generation to the next to suit the needs of those who danced it.
Breslow described contra dancing as “highly social, easy to take part in, and very inclusive and welcoming.” Having been a part of the contra dance community since his youth, Breslow emphasized that the “dance preserves cultural history but has also modernized as rigid gender roles have dissolved.” He also explained that a few decades ago, a revival of contra dance began on the East Coast. Wanting to continue this revival on the West Coast, New Hampshire native Breslow became involved in the contra dance community based in Claremont.
“Contra dancing is almost always danced to live music. It is the best exercise possible in a social situation. It is very easy to learn as it is a repetitive pattern,” Frannie Marr, a dance instructor and active member of the contra dance movement in Claremont, wrote in an email to TSL. “There is no fancy footwork involved, so it doesn’t matter which of your left feet you start on. The patterns are easy and leave room for flourishes if you choose to be creative.”
According to Marr, contra dancing is a long-practiced tradition in United States and is being passed on intergenerationally. Marr regularly attends CONTRAversial events as a caller, in which she calls out the dance steps during each number.
For Marr, dance has been life-changing and has created many lasting memories. “Contra dancing really improved my self confidence. I was very shy when I started dancing—I would go to the dances and hope someone would ask me to dance,” she said. “Since I began calling, I now have the ability to encourage others to try to dance with new folks or to try a new dance role.”
Through contra, Marr even found romance. “I met my husband at a contra dance. We danced our way to a friendship, which blossomed into a lifetime partnership. We had a huge contra dance wedding, with friends from 17 states coming together to dance with us,” she said.
Marr’s novel story shows that contra dancing is sure not to disappoint, serving as a fun pastime, a cultural phenomenon, and a great way to form lasting friendships.