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Contra dance a hit for St. Olaf Students

harvest stomp

The 12th Annual Harvest Stomp Contra Dance was this past Friday, Oct. 26 at Carleton College. Even though the dance was held at Carleton, a large portion of participants were St. Olaf students. The Contra Dance is open to all people, so there were dancers from St. Olaf College, Carleton College, Northfield and the Twin Cities.

Contra dancing is a social dance similar to square dancing and swing dancing, and is a lot of fun. Dancers find a partner and get into a long line. The caller explains the dance moves and calls them throughout the song. The moves are similar throughout each dance but rearranged into different patterns to create new, complex and fun dances.

Some moves found in contra dancing are ladies chain, hey for four, balance and swing your neighbor, circle left and right hand star. For most people, those moves carry little significance. However, by the end of the dance, participants were able to follow the dance and the calls with less and less instruction.

People of all skills were invited to attend Northfield’s Annual Harvest Stomp. No one at the Stomp was a professional contra dancer, and even the caller had to occasionally look at her list of dance moves. Mistakes seemed inevitable and not a big deal.

Tafari Bellete ’21 said his favorite parts of the contra dance were “dancing with new people, meeting new people and making mistakes. Everybody made mistakes so everybody could connect. We’re all related in that way.”

Also, you never need to worry about finding a partner because everyone is excited and willing to dance with you. People typically switch partners with each new song. Besides switching partners each song, participants also move up and down the line of dancers, and have the chance to work with almost everyone each song. 

For people nervous about striking up a conversation with random dance partners, don’t worry. You’ll be moving around and switching partners so quickly that you don’t have much time to get into a deep conversation. With that said, the sense of community found through dancing together forms in a way unique to dancing.

While many partner dances are very gendered, Northfield’s Contra Dance ignored typical gendered dance roles. While Robin McGalliard Nelson, the caller of Northfield’s Annual Harvest Stomp, occasionally said “ladies” or “gents” to describe which partner moves which way, the majority of people danced both parts. Oftentimes in contra dancing, people of the same gender are partners or people will switch positions to try out new moves. Gender was not a subject of worry at the event.

McGalliard Nelson, who has been calling dances for the Northfield area for around 10 years, dedicates her weekends to calling dances. “My favorite part is seeing people enjoying being together,” McGalliard Nelson said. “I love the opportunity that people have to just really look at each other and enjoy music together without having to talk or anything. I love that it creates community in the moment.”

Besides dancing, participants enjoyed music played by the band, “Delia and the Basswood Boys,” who join together specifically for Northfield contra dances. Delia and the Basswood Boys is composed of David Hougen-Eitzman ’82 and Delia Kain on violin, Reid Hendershot on guitar and Mark Fischer on bass.

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