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Society to host Roaring Twenties contra

‘Riverdale’ contra dance band will perform at the Jonesborough Visitors Center, 117 Boone Street on Jan.18, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (Photo contributed)


The Historic Jonesborough Dance Society welcomes the “Riverdale” contra dance band from Knoxville on Friday, Jan. 18. They will perform at the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center, 117 Boone Street on Saturday, Jan. 18, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The dance will be led by caller, Nick Boulet, from Greensboro, North Carolina.

 Admission to the dance is $7, and $5 for members and full time students. A workshop for new dancers will begin at 7:30 p.m. No partner is necessary. All dances are taught by the caller. 

 The Roaring Twenties were a decadent historical heyday. Flappers, gangsters, and bootleggers reveled in secret behind the closed doors of the speakeasies that littered the American landscape during prohibition. 

The atmosphere was sensual and electric. Underground clubs pulsed with ragtime and the music of Cab Calloway, Al Jolson, and Louis Armstrong. Women adorned in feathered head wear, pearls, and Mary Janes kicked up the fringes of their glimmering dresses as they danced. Men in pinstripes and pencil-thin mustaches sipped cocktails and smoked fine cigars in spite of nationwide alcohol bans. 

“While we will only be serving “mocktails” (alcohol free) and will not be smoking fine cigars, the room will be decorated in period style by our artistic director, Dana Kay Kehs. Dana will use her creative magic to set the tone for the dance party,” said David Wiley, president of the Historic Jonesborough Dance Society. 

There will be snacks, door prizes, a photo booth and a swing dance lesson at the 9 p.m. break. Period dress is encouraged but not required.

 Riverdale is a high-energy father-son duo featuring Nick Shoemaker on the nyckelharpa and Ed Shoemaker on the baritone guitar. With a repertoire of tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton, Quebec, New England, Sweden, and the Southern Appalachians, Riverdale offers a little something for everyone.

 Riverdale comes from Knoxville.. The name “Riverdale” comes from a small community along the French Broad River where the Shoemaker family has lived for quite some time. 

Riverdale started playing for Contra Dances about two years ago. Nick plays a version of the nyckelharpa known as a fiddleharpa. A fiddleharpa is a variation on the Swedish nyckelharpa; a stringed instrument dating back to the 14th century. It consists of 16 total strings: four are bowed, and 12 are resonant. A keybox is used in place of the fretboard, with keys in half-step intervals.

 Unlike the traditional nyckelharpa, a fiddleharpa has four rows of keys and is tuned like a violin (G-D-A-E). This expands the range and allows fiddle players to maintain familiar finger patterns. Fiddleharpas are rare, even in Sweden, and they are nearly non-existent in the United States, with numbers barely reaching double-digits. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful-sounding instrument with plenty of untapped potential.

 The term fiddleharpa is actually a bit redundant. Nyckelharpa translates roughly to “key fiddle” in English. That makes fiddleharpa a “fiddle fiddle” in its most literal translation. Nevertheless, the term has stuck and four-row harpas with fiddle tuning have become known as fiddleharpas. For discussion purposes, it is correct to refer to all of these instruments as nyckelharpas.

 Nick Boulet began dancing in Knoxville in the 1980s and calling in the 1990s. He has called in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, Dayton, Damascus , Virginia, Greensboro, North Carolina, Winston-Salem North Carolina, Berea Kentucky, Huntsville Alabama, as well as Jonesborough. He is known for dances that he has written like “Warmin’ Up The Car.” He loves to dance and calls dances that keep the energy up.  

 Contra dancing is a traditional form of American folk dance that evolved from the long ways country dances popular in English society centuries ago. Contra dance communities now thrive all over the country. There are websites that can direct you to contra dances in most states. The modern contra dances provide dancers of all ages and experience levels with the opportunity to smile, move, connect, flirt and create an evening of dance nirvana with each other. No previous dance experience is necessary. No fancy footwork is required. If you can walk and count to eight, you can contra dance!

Contra dances are community events. At almost any contra you will find people of all ages and all dance skill levels, from young to old, beginner to expert. Contra dancers form a very open and welcoming group of people. You can come alone or with others since it is a tradition to dance with a variety of partners throughout the night. It is perfectly acceptable for either a man or a woman to ask someone to dance. It’s a great way to make friends with someone they haven’t met before. You will find contra dancing a great way to make new friends. 

 For more information, please visit or call dance coordinator, David Wiley at (423) 534-8879. Come and join the fun. You don’t have to be a skilled dancers. Remember the phrase “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. Get in the game of life” Learn to dance and be a part of our community.