The Wyoming Valley Contra Dancers will bring out their dancing shoes Saturday, beginning their 24th season after a summer break.
But if you want to join them on Saturday evening at the Church of Christ Uniting Fellowship Hall in Kingston, don’t worry about needing special footwear. Many people sport sneakers to the dances, which tend to be relaxed, informal and welcoming.
“Anybody can do it,” longtime dancer Carol Hussa of Wilkes-Barre said, encouraging beginners to give it a try. “You don’t have to know how to do it ahead of time, and everybody helps you.”
That’s one of the hallmarks of contra dancing, organizer Dave Martin of Centermoreland said. Experienced dancers try to make it a point to guide novices through the do-si-dos, allemandes and “swing-your-partner” steps.
The sequences, taught by a caller, are similar to square dancing, but they are usually danced in two long lines instead of in the shape of a square. Dancer Michele Schasberger of Kingston appreciates the patterns the dances make.
“It’s dancing that involves a specific set of steps, instead of just waving your arms and legs around. It’s mental as well as fun and exercise. It requires a little bit of discipline, and I like that.”
“It’s also one of the few places you get to dance to live music,” she said.
For Saturday’s dance, Unbowed, a duo from the State College area, will provide the dance music. As the name suggests, they will play a little differently from usual — without fiddles.
During the past two decades, plenty of fiddles, banjos, guitars, hammered dulcimers, drums and even such percussive instruments as spoons have contributed to the music at local contra dances.
And people of all ages have taken part, occasionally filling a dance hall.
But last season, Martin said, attendance was down. Some long-time dancers have moved away; others may have had extra constraints on their time.
In an effort to bring in more participants, members of the dance committee decided to waive the customary admission fee and make this first dance of the season a pay-what-you-wish event as a gift to the community.
People are welcome to make a donation of any size or to dance for free if they wish.
“I think it’s worth a try,” committee member Vicki Prekel of Tunkhannock said.
“The more people who come,” Martin said, “the more fun it will be.”