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Swing your partner at monthly contra dance
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Community dance

When: Potluck, 6:30 p.m. Saturday; lesson, 7:30 p.m.; dance, 8 to 11 p.m.
How much: $8 adults, $7 SNCA members, $4 students
Where: Sautee Nacoochee Center Gym, 283 Ga. 255 N., Sautee
More info: 706-878-3300 or Contra & Square Dancing in Northeast Georgia

Learn to contra dance

When: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 20, Feb. 3 and 17 and March 3 and 17
How much: $3 adults, free for kids age 12 and younger
Where: Sautee Nacoochee Center Gym, 283 Ga. 255 N., Sautee
More info: 706-878-3300 or Contra & Square Dancing in Northeast Georgia

When you contra dance, you should look your partner in the eye, pay attention to the calls and hold your partner's hand in a medium grip - not too floppy, not too firm.

These are a few of the things you might learn if you attend the Learn to Contra Dance class, organized and called by Walter Daves the first and third Tuesday of each month at the Sautee Nacoochee Center Gym in Sautee.

"It's for beginners and other people can come, too, but we try to keep things gradual," Daves said.

Daves said the word "contra" is derived from "country," and modern contra dances have roots in English country dances.

Somewhat like square dancing but less precise, contra dancing at the Sautee Nacoochee Center is often accompanied by Appalachian music, and partners face each other in two lines rather than forming a square.

"You need to be on time in both of them and you need to know what you are doing, but contra dances tend to be more forgiving. And moves such as the partner or neighbor swing allow you to catch up if you happen to have gotten off of the program briefly, and there are other moves that allow you to catch up," Daves said. "We encourage dancers to help each other and that kind of thing."

Daves said the caller mainly participates in the dances to help the dancers learn, but "the sooner the caller can drop out the better. Really, the connection between the dancers and the music is what makes it really fun."

The contra dance has taken place at the Sautee Nacoochee Center Gym for almost eight years.

"I think that really what got us together was, in part, the dancing, but even more, it's the community experience," said Julianne Wilson, who publicizes and helps coordinate the Saturday dances, which are for all skill levels and take place one Saturday per month.

"One of the neat things about the dances is, whether you have three left feet, have danced for 20 years, have never danced before, or just want to come, you know, sit and watch, once you walk in the door, you're part of the community for the evening and it's a very uplifting and joyful experience," she said.

Wilson said about 10 basic steps comprise contra dancing, which are combined to form various formations that create the different dances.

"So one of the things that's nice about contra dancing is it's very easy to learn," Wilson said.

"You can come the very first time and after the initial 20- to 30-minute lesson, you can dance the rest of the night and have a good time."

Daves said dancers get the chance to express their individuality while still working as a group.

"If you were to watch the Saturday night dance, you'd see quite a variety of different styles and abilities and they're all dancing together," he said.

Daves said one helpful thing to learn is how to control dizziness while "swinging," or spinning with a partner.

"You focus on the partner's nose or eye or something to control your eye movements. That works for some people, and for other people, they do what ballet dancers learn to do, and that is look from one spot on the wall to the next. Shift your gaze very quickly, so you're still controlling your eye movements," Daves said.

"When your eye movements get out of control, that's when you get dizzy," he said.

Daves' wife, Jeanie, plays with the Cage Free String Band, which performs for the Learn to Contra Dance classes, and about twice a year for the community-wide Saturday dances.

"It's just a wonderful community thing that involves all ages, and it doesn't require a lot of preparation," Jeanie Daves said. "It's something you can do to get exercise and learn a little bit of cultural history, you know, through the history of the music and the dance of this area."

This Saturday's dance will feature live music by the Blue Ridge Rounders and will be called by Becky Walker.

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