SMCD dancers perform a “left hand star” during a BBQ at Ann Jenneman’s house. Photo courtesy of David Barnett
Contra Dancers meet for dancing and socializing every fourth Sunday
Since 2011, the San Marcos Contra Dancers (SMCD) have been meeting on the fourth Sunday every month to dance and socialize.
Contra dance is a social folk dance. Inspired by traditional English, Scottish and French dancing, contra spread throughout the United States as a popular form of social dance in the late 18th century. Since then, kept alive through various enthusiasts and niche groups, it just recently experienced a resurgence in popularity during the 1980s.
At SMCD dances, a live band provides the tunes while a caller instructs dancers which moves are next.
“Part of the caller’s job is to make the dance appropriate for whatever dancers are there. If there’s a bunch of new people, we want to call something that they’ll be able to pick up on easily,” said dance caller Ann Jenneman, 43.
Jenneman said the relationship between the band and the dancers creates a vibrant dynamic. The two entities feed off of each other’s energy in a type of symbiotic relationship that enhances the overall aesthetic of the dance.
Although attendance generally hovers around 50 dancers, the group’s organizers are now looking to attract more local residents to enjoy this unique form of entertainment.
“The spirit of the community is very warm and welcoming. When you come in, you become a part of the tradition,” said SMCD committee member Linda Byers, 69.
Dancers do not need to bring a partner, and no lessons are necessary.
Contra serves as a method for dancers to interact socially and bond.
“It’s as if the normal small talk and chit-chat that people often revert to in social situations puts you in a box,” said Byers. “With contra dancing, communication is on a different level. The question is, ‘have you ever done this before?’ If the answer is no, then it’s, ‘Wow you’re going to love it. Let me show you.’”
Byers said she fell in love with contra dancing the very first time she tried it in 2003. A San Marcos resident for the past 35 years, she grew tired of having to travel to San Antonio or Austin to attend a dance. After serving on the board for Austin’s contra dance weekend — Fire Ant Frolic — for four years, she helped to organize the monthly dance in San Marcos so that dancers like herself could have a local outlet for their passion.
Members of SMCD are excited about the unique opportunity that contra dancing provides them with to socialize and meet new people.
“I like that you are connecting with people and being social but you don’t have to talk too much. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get to know new people because I’m shy and I don’t know what to talk about,” Jenneman said. “At the dances, I get to go to this social event and feel a human connection and not have it based solely on conversation. It feels like a deeper and more genuine connection.”
In addition to being a fun and engaging social activity, contra dancing is also a great form of physical and mental exercise.
“One of the benefits of contra dancing is that it exercises the neural pathways in the brain,” said contra dance enthusiast Michael Phillips, 57. “Contra involves retention of directions followed by conversion into a sequence of physical motion.”
A web designer and owner of a vanilla farm in Ecuador, Phillips has experienced many different cultures throughout his lifetime and is passionate about finding ways to apply the lessons he’s learned. He said that when an individual mentally engages fully during contra dancing, one can reach a flow-state that can be cognitively beneficial and spiritually enlightening.
Dances take place at the United Campus Ministry Wesley Center and typically last from 1:30-4:30. The event is followed by an optional group meal for dancers who work up an appetite during the festivities.
Due to the “When in Doubt Swing” dance weekend taking place in Dallas during the last weekend of April, the next SMDC dance will be a special event Sunday, May 5.
There is no dress code for the dances but cool clothing and comfortable, well-fitting shoes are recommended. Each dance costs $10 for the general public and just $5 for students. All proceeds go directly to paying for the venue and the band.
Anyone interested in attending dances can view additional details at SMCDTX's website.
“The dance is always the highlight of my weekend,” said Byers. “When you’ve really got the rhythm and you’re in the groove, it’s almost euphoric.”