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Dancers don costumes, celebrate decade of fun

It was truly a cause for celebration for dance lovers in Jonesborough last weekend, as the Historic Jonesborough Dance Society gathered to honor 10 years together.
“Contra dance is really a new phenomenon for a new generation,” said David Wiley, president and founder of the local dance society, at the Nov. 7 event held at the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center.
Featuring the music of Gold ’n Light from Asheville, North Carolina, and the calling skills of Tom Colwell and Myra Hirschberg from Ontario, Canada, the anniversary dance also boasted dancers in medieval garb to go along with the lilting Celtic music filling the auditorium. Men, women and children from ages 4 to 70 stepped left, then right, then circled, all to the accompaniment of smiles and laughs.
“The beauty of contra dancing is it keeps the traditions of the music here,” said Patty Minx, who had come down from Asheville for the dance. “It’s also good clean fun, and you don’t always find that.”
For Wiley, contra dancing was just what the town needed when he moved to Jonesborough from Memphis in 2000.
“There was the Storytelling Festival and its programs, the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, Music on the Square,” he recalled. “What the town lacked in my view was dance. In doing a little bit of research, I found there hadn’t been a community dance here in three generations.”
Contra dancing seemed to be the perfect solution.
A folk dance similar to square dancing and English country dancing, contra dancing features lines or circles of dancers who move according to a caller’s instructions.
“It’s a group dance,” Wiley said. “It’s a walking step. And every dance is taught by the caller. It may take a couple of dances for new dancers to get into the groove, but if they keep coming back, it will embed itself in their souls.”
Such is the case with Trevor Welch from Jonesborough who was at the dance on Saturday.
“I started contra dancing when I was in college,” Welch said. “It was a great thing to do to take a break from academia.”
And he is still dancing. Welch is an example of the other trend in contra dancing; its appeal to young as well as old.
“Our median age has come down 20 years since we started,” Wiley said. “Our depth and breadth of age groups has really changed a lot.”
The dance’s growing appeal has also contributed to a growing sense of community, something Wiley had his eye on when he started the group.
Over the past 10 years, that community has broadened and the reputation of the society has spread, Wiley added, with high quality bands, renowned dance callers and dancers coming from across the region to join in.
But more than anything, it’s really about friends, neighbors and friends-to-be joining together for a night of companionship and entertainment – and Wiley hopes that will always be the case.
“This is not a partner dance,” he said. “Everyone dances with everybody. It’s really about having fun. And it’s a great recreational and social event.”
For more information about the Jonesborough Dance Society, call 534-8879.