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Country Dancing for One and All in the Eastern Townships
by Doug & Morri

Contra dancers at Lennoxville United Church

The church hall is packed. Young children frolic around the edges. Their parents and other dancers walk, sashay, skip or jig their way up and down the hall in two rows of long facing lines. On the raised stage, a fiddler, guitarist and flautist keep up a lively 6-8 beat, as soft-spoken Jackie Hall calls out the figures. Faces glow; smiles grow broader, laughter louder, as the evening progresses. Many abandon layers of sweaty clothing and even their shoes to swing unencumbered from partner to partner. This is good old-fashioned fun — socializing Townships style — and everyone is having a wonderful time!

Contra Dancers form a star.“In a room full of people who know the steps, you just fly!” says Jackie, who has been running these monthly Contra Dance events at the Lennoxville United Church for two years out of sheer love for the dance. Locals, young and old, are delighted she does, as are students from nearby Bishops University. “I discovered Contra Dance here,” says Ottawa-native Louisa Haché, a 21-year-old drama major at Bishops. “I’m a great fan. I never miss a dance!”

Contra dancers. Click to enlarge.
Bishops University students Thomas Posie and Louisa Haché dance up the line.
Despite its heretical-sounding name, Contra Dance is a form of social dancing that borrows from Old English, Old French and American folk dance. Dancers form two parallel lines stretching down the hall, with partners facing (or contra) each other; hence, the name. Unlike square dancing, where four couples dance in a square, couples progress up and down the hall, dancing with each other and other couples they meet as they traverse the line.

Jaige Trudel, on fiddle, Adam Broome, on guitar, Nicholas Williams, on flute.

Contra Dance Caller Jackie HallContra dancing is very sociable. By the end of the evening, we had danced with and met almost everyone in the hall. The steps, or figures, are simple and few. The patterns repeat and a caller calls out the steps as you go: all this makes Contra Dance very easy to learn.
Contra Dance Caller Jackie Hall with bandJackie runs a half-hour primer for beginners before each dance, which we found more than adequate. It was our first time Contra dancing, the crowd was friendly and welcoming and we enjoyed it immensely. “If you’re in Lennoxville, come and join the fun,” says Jackie, with a grin. “Anyone can do it.” And indeed they can!

Here's what beginner Contra dancing looks like.
High Bandwidth Video      Low Bandwidth Video

James Naylor (centre) takes his Knowlton beginner’s clogging class through their paces.Clogging, a folk form of tap dancing, is another popular dance style in the Townships. If there’s a country fair or civic celebration, chances are you’ll find the Rainbow Country Cloggers performing. And what a treat to watch! Ranging in age from six to 60, these 46 accomplished dancers are all students of the handsome and affable James Naylor, who can set up his portable stage, complete with a massive sound system, on the back of his flatbed track almost anywhere. A building contractor from Waterville by day, James Naylor has developed a devoted following of hundreds of clogging students in Lennoxville and Knowlton, where he has been teaching the style known as Appalachian flatfoot on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for more than five years. He’s also a popular guest instructor at regional and national clogging conventions all over North America. A second instructor, Robert Addis, runs classes identical to James’ in Melbourne and Bury on Monday and Friday evenings. Thanks to these two men, anyone wanting to clog can find a class nearby.

Since we moved to Knowlton, we’ve being taking group clogging classes from James on and off for years, never advancing much beyond beginner level but enjoying it nevertheless. Even a beginner’s class is an aerobic workout. The music is upbeat and infinitely varied, with dances choreographed to Celtic, pop, country and even hip-hop tunes.

Clogging champ Linda Cameron, 60, at Knowlton clogging class.Our clogging-class “idols” is Linda Cameron, of Fulford, whose high leg lifts and precise, percussive footwork are nothing short of astonishing. Linda started clogging only eight years ago – at 52! – has been performing with the Rainbow Country Cloggers for seven years. Last year, she took first place in freestyle clogging (in the over 45 age category) at the North Eastern Clogging Convention. “For me, dancing is more than performing,” says Linda. “When you know a dance well and don’t have to think about the steps anymore, you become part of the music.

“I’ve been to lots of conventions and I’ve never found a better teacher than James,” says Linda. “He’s patient, he’s funny and he always makes you feel good no matter what.” While lucky Townshippers have James Naylor, Montrealers can learn this enjoyable dance form from Nadia Mourani, who studied with Naylor and danced with the Rainbow Country Cloggers for 10 years. “I can’t wait to start clogging again,” says Nadia, 31, a Lennoxville native who moved to Montreal five years ago and taught clogging in Montreal for a few years before going back to school. She is now organizing a class in Montreal’s N.D.G. district. If you’re interested, call Nadia at (514) 383-9325.

Click here to see a clogging class in action.

Where to Dance in the Eastern Townships
Dancing is a great way to meet the locals in the Eastern Townships. If you’re too shy to dance, at least come and watch. You’re always welcome!

Contra Dancing in Lennoxville
Last dance in 2004 is on Saturday, November 20, at the Lennoxville United Church (corner Church & Queen). Live music by Sutton’s Grand Respire band. Basic instruction at 7:30 p.m. Dance: 8 - 11 p.m. Cost: $10; $5 for students.
Clogging classes
With James Naylor: Tuesdays, 6 – 9 p.m. at the A.N.A.F. Hut in Lennoxville; Thursdays, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., at St. Paul’s Church, Knowlton. Tel: (819) 837-2265. With Robert Addis: Mondays, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Church in Melbourne; Fridays, 6:30 – 8:30 pm., at Bury Town Hall. Tel: (819) 820- 2387. Drop-in class: $5. Watch for free.

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Last updated  14-Mar-2015      © 2015 Doug&Morri Productions