Happy as a Lark

East Bay Contra Dance rearranges roles with gender-free dancing

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In Warren, one collaborative is working to bring the community together through the power of music, movement, and tradition – now with a non-traditional twist.

East Bay Contra Dance (EBCD) started back in 2013, when founder Elwood Donnelly and his wife, Aubrey Atwater, moved to the East Bay and saw a need for a space where people could come together and dance, and not the kind you need years of experience to enjoy.
“Contra dancing is a social dance that one can attend with or without a partner,” Elwood explains. With mixed origins in English and Scottish country dance, as well as French styles of the 17th century, the folk dance can be boiled down to this: meeting people, making new friends, and having fun.

This year, the collaborative introduced Gender-Free Dancing in an effort to include people who may not identify within the constraints of the binary. Rather than the traditional roles of the dance, where gents stand on the left and ladies on the right, dancers are invited to choose whichever side they’d like to dance, as long as they take on the correct choreography of that role. Elwood explains their system of “Larks and Ravens”: if you want the role of the Lark, you will stand on the left, while Ravens stand on the right.

The whole dance is pretty simple. Says Elwood, “The dancers form couples, and the couples form sets of two in long lines starting from the stage and going down the length of the dance hall. Throughout the course of a dance, couples progress up and down these lines, dancing with each other couple in the line.” Newbies need not worry about getting lost in the steps; instructions are called throughout the dance, and sequences are taught before the music even starts. Basically, all you need to know is to how to count, listen, and hold onto someone.

East Bay Contra Dance typically holds Gender-Free Dances on the first Friday of each month.