Traditional, progressive and frequently improper, contra dancing is new-to-us but part of the Tasmanian Folk Federation regular line-up. Every second Monday night, the back hall of Hobart’s Wesley Church is brought to life by a group of eager dancers who learn the steps of each dance together and then step, twirl and switch partners to the lively music of a folk-music trio.

Contra dancing, Hobart, March 2014
From the very first night we came along, Cathy (and her partner David — not pictured) have made us feel very welcome.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that our children can participate in activities that happen after the bed-times of school kids who need to be up early in the morning! A week-day night is no different to a weekend, and so Monday night is the perfect time to go out dancing.

We first approached the contra dancing regulars timidly. David Wanless — who calls the dances along with Sarah Lewis — wasn’t sure how well the girls would be able to follow the steps, and two weeks ago, only Brioni was determined enough to participate in most of the dances. We were the only family with children who attended, and the older folk generously helped the girls through the repetitive movements.

Folk band at contra dancing, Hobart, March 2014
Part of the charm of the dance is the live music! Tonight, Moonshine Whiskers (on fiddle) is accompanied by The Ragged Pony.

On Saturday, we returned to the main church hall for a Scottish ceilidh. Our last ceilidh was in New Zealand a lifetime ago so I knew more what to expect — circle dances, progressive partnering and lots of different ages. Other children were dancing, and with Ágúst as a partner, Aisha gained confidence and practice.

Contra dancing, Hobart, March 2014
Many of the contra dances involve a group of four people dancing together.

Tonight, it was a pleasure to return to the hall for contra dancing, knowing that both Aisha and Brioni would participate eagerly. While we’re dancing, Lana and Calista usually do their own thing — sometimes watching, sometimes playing together. Occasionally I missed dances because I was doing something with them, but as other dancers were happy to have a longer breather, my absence didn’t affect anyone negatively.

Contra dancing, Hobart, March 2014
Aisha loves being partnered by Ágúst! After just two dance-nights, she's now a confident participant.

In my mind, I’ve imagined that we would need to be settled in one locality before the girls could get into dancing or other formal lessons, but our participation in the contra dancing has shown that even while travelling full-time, we can become — if only temporarily — part of a dancing community wherever we are!

If you’re interested in contra dancing in Hobart, check out the Folk Federation’s website for details of what’s going on. The local group is so friendly and welcoming, we recommend it as a great activity for fitness and fun!