Work up an appetite for Thanksgiving dinner on the dance floor.
Peeling potatoes, making pumpkin pie, sharpening the carving knife -- if you're hosting the Turkey Day dinner, that's what you'll be doing the night before.
But if you're not in charge this year, put on your dancing shoes and head to the Peterborough Town Hall -- the Monadnock Folklore Society is holding its 24th annual Thanksgiving Eve contra dance from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
It's a good way to work up an appetite and make some room, poundage-wise, for all the goodies the next day. "It's three hours of fairly aerobic activity," says Rich Hart of N.H. Dances, which coordinates information about contra, country, square and barn dancing. "I guess it's just about as good as running."
If it seems like an odd time to throw a contra dance, it's not. Hundreds of people show up. There's even one on Christmas Day at the Nelson Town Hall. "That started one year because Christmas fell on a Monday when the regular dance was scheduled," says Hart, an Amherst resident. "Now it's every Christmas and it's better attended than most winter dances."
If you've never done contra dancing, fear not. It's easy, says Hart: "If someone goes to dance, they can join right in. In a week or two, they'll know as much as anybody."
Hart says contra dancing is similar to square dancing (you'll hear "circle right," "dos-si-dos your partner" and "alamande left") but the dancing (mostly jigs and reels played by fiddle and piano) is not done in a square. It starts with partners facing one another in two long lines and shifts into circles with two couples who dance together for 64 beats and then move on to another couple. There are variations on that pattern as well.
Contra dancing has long-ago roots in English country dancing, but Hart says early on it mixed with French-Canadian music and then, in the 19th century, with Irish music and, more recently, with American music like blues and rock.
Dress for contra dancing is casual, but women often wear long skirts. Soft-soled shoes will preserve the floor.
This article appears in the November 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine