Out & About: Contra dance returns to Sharon

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/1/2023 2:06:57 PM
Modified: 2/2/2023 9:12:19 AM

In a return to its venue’s past, the Seven Stars Arts Center will hold a country dance Sunday evening.

Seven Stars — a Sharon-based nonprofit organization known for its folk and Americana concerts, as well as music lessons — makes its home in what used to be a Grange Hall.

“The country dance fits in with what we’re trying to do, people participating and meeting each other,” board member Victoria Fullerton said.

The dance will take place from 7-9 p.m. at 5126 Route 14. David Millstone will call a mix of English and American dances, in addition to contras and squares. Live music will be provided by Aaron Marcus on keyboard and concertina, Emerson Gale on fiddle and Chris Rua on winds. All dances will be taught and beginners are encouraged to attend. Masks are required. Admission is $10 to $20; children 12 and younger get in for free.

The idea for a dance was inspired by well-known caller Dudley Laufman, who visited Seven Stars last summer for an evening of music and stories. At the end of that event, Laufman called a few dances to the delight of the audience.

“One of our teachers (Rua) said it’s time that we held our own dance,” Fullerton said.

Last year, the board sent out a survey to the community members to ask what types of events they’d like to see at Seven Stars. Among the responses were potlucks and community dances.

“We have a great wood floor for dancing,” Fullerton said. “It’s still available to be used that way, so we feel we should honor that tradition.”

The grange was founded in 1909 and bought the building from a church in 1913, Fullerton said. It remained a grange until 1978. Between then and 2002, when the Vermont Independent School of the Arts took it over, there were various attempts to keep it a community space. It became the home of Seven Stars in 2016.

“Any arts center that’s anchored in a community wants to find different ways of offering activities for its community, and this seems like a perfect fit, especially given that there used to be dances in that hall,” Millstone said. “I’m just thrilled to be able to bring the dances back.”

Dances have started to make a comeback in neighboring communities. Millstone is calling a dance in Reading, Vt., on Saturday. Norwich’s Tracy Hall — a hotbed for contra dancing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — has been resuming its weekend dances.

“I think some of it is pent-up desire to get people together again, as we’re starting to see light at the end of the COVID tunnel,” Millstone said. “People are hungry for social contact, and dancing historically (is) a way that people get that contact.”

The dances are part of a centuries-long New England tradition and some of the dances Millstone will call have been taught for generations.

“I like think there are little dust motes floating around in the air that absorbed all the music over the centuries, and we’re reenergizing them,” Millstone said.

Fullerton recalled the fun of attending dances in the 1970s growing up in Lincoln, Mass. People of all ages would turn out. One of her hopes is that the dance at Seven Stars will have the same appeal.

“It’s important to me to be part of something where we try to use the arts as a connecting force,” Fullerton said. “I think they’re very helpful for people’s state of mind and to be inclusive.”

Millstone will walk dancers through the steps of each dance. More experienced dancers will be on hand to help beginners.

“That’s really the goal of the dance — it needs to be stressed — the point is to have fun,” he said. “You’re moving, you’re getting physical exercise, you’re getting mental exercise, all set to toe-tapping fiddle tunes.”

The dance also provides an opportunity for people to meet others who they might not usually interact with — or who hold opposing viewpoints at Town Meeting. Seeing people in a different context could provide some common ground.

“The fact that you’ve danced with someone, you’ve held their hand, you see that person as a person and then you can maybe agree to disagree in a more caring way,” Millstone said. “That’s what communities are about. Everyone doesn’t have to agree, but you have to listen to each other and treat each other with respect and a dance is a great way to practice those skills.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the dance, visit sevenstarsarts.org.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnew s.com or 603-727-3221.

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