The subtle strum of a guitar can be heard from outside the ballroom. Shortly after, the strong sounds of a fiddle join in, creating a unique and unexpected harmony. Dancers, both young and old, are filtering into the large, well-lit room. Tonight, there will be no such thing as personal space.
By the end of the night, strangers will become friends.
Brant Ballroom, located uptown inside the Oxford Community Arts Center, hosted the first-ever Contra Dance Night last Friday. Both students and locals were invited to try their hand at something a little bit different. For two and a half hours, newbies, novices and intermediates were taught the ins and outs of the contra dance.
This dance style, which can be loosely compared to square dancing, first got its start in 17th century England. Eventually the dance made its way to the United States, where it became popular on the East Coast.
Much like square dancing, contra features a caller who announces the steps and moves aloud to the dancers. However, unlike square dancing, contra dancers move at a quicker speed. This style also places the dancers into lines, not squares.
And when the night is done, almost every person involved in contra dancing will have danced with every other person in the room.
So, how exactly did contra dancing come to Oxford?
The woman who originally came up with the idea of bringing contra to town was Judy Waldron. Waldron has been a key figure in the Oxford dance scene for many years.
In the early 1980s, Waldron, alongside a band, helped host dances in Uptown Park. For five years, the musicians provided an opportunity to students and faculty to come out and square dance.
Recently, Waldron decided to bring dances back to Oxford. But, instead of square dancing, she wanted to show people how to contra dance. She believed that contra would fit right in with the students and locals because she could picture it happening here.
Waldron, with the help of her band, the Jericho Old Time Band - comprised of Waldron, her husband and two others, put the contra dance event together.
In the days leading up to the first dance, Waldron did not expect the turnout to be big.
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"The more people you have, the more fun you have," Waldron said.
But, when Friday approached, nearly 30 people came out to experience an evening of contra.
First-year Maggie Fryman was one of the most excited people gathered in the community arts center.
Unlike some of those unfamiliar with the idea of contra, Fryman has been practicing the dance for four years. She first became involved with dance at Miami by attending ballroom dancing. But once she heard about the Contra Dance Night from her advisor, she knew she had to come out for the evening.
"[Contra dancing] puts a smile on my face," Fryman said.
But Fryman was not the only Miami student in attendance. Sophomore Joe Strubler and junior Kala Mansfield both wanted to see what contra dancing had to offer. Mansfield, just like Fryman, has some experience with dancing. She's been swing dancing for six years.
"[Contra] is just different. In swing you don't change partners or interact with other groups," Mansfield said.
Almost everyone in the room had interacted with one another at some point over the course of the evening. When one couple left before 10 p.m., the time when the dancing was supposed to officially end, the entire room waved and said goodbye.
After a successful night, contra is going to stay for the foreseeable future in Oxford. On the first Friday of every month, people will be invited to come out to the community arts center, try something different and form new bonds in the process.