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Warm Up with GALA Contra Dances!

The Laker - January 2, 2018

Brier Hill Band will perform at the Jan. Contra Dance.

The Community Contra Dance Series hosted by Global Awareness Local Action (GALA) kicks off 2018 on Saturday, January 27 at the Wolfeboro Town Hall’s “Great Hall”. Dances run from 7 to 10 pm, with the first half hour dedicated to a brief overview of the basic steps of New England contra dance. Dances are a fun and energizing night out for all ages and abilities, even if you simply prefer to cheer the dancers on from the sidelines.

The headline band for January’s dance is Brier Hill Band. Brier Hill has been playing local farmer’s markets and dances in the Wolfeboro/Ossipee area for the last four years. Named for one of the roads in Canaan Valley where they started playing, the band serves up standard New England dance tunes drawn from the French Canadian and British fiddle traditions that make up most of the contra dance repertoire. Brier Hill is comprised of Lane and Scott Evans, Patrick O’Hagin, Michael Haeger and Tim Morrison. Eric Rolnick will be calling the dance with the Brier Hill. Eric is from Conway, has called many GALA dances, and has also performed at many Wolfeboro First Night events with the Caribbean steel band, Mango Groove.

The Community Contra Dance Series continues on Saturday, February 24 at the “Great Hall” from 7 to 10 pm, with the first half hour dedicated to a brief overview of the basic steps of New England contra dance. The headline band for February’s dance is Puckerbrush, a lively quartet of musicians who live in the puckerbrush of northern New Hampshire and western Maine. They play acoustic music from the old-time, Celtic and French Canadian traditions, with a little bit of Klezmer and Nordic music showing up at times.

The band is made up of Shana Aisenberg, from Wolfeboro NH, playing fiddle and mandolin; Gale Johnsen, from Porter, Maine, on fiddle; Peter Kimball, from Ossipee NH, on guitar; and Candace Maher, from Eaton NH, playing accordion, cello, flute, and penny-whistle. Eric Rolnick will be calling the dance with Puckerbrush.

The name “Contra Dance” refers to partnered folk dance styles, where couples dance in two facing lines. Contra dance is a hybrid of English country dances and French court dances. At the end of the 17th-century, French dancers began to incorporate the English country dances with steps from their own court dances and in turn called these dances contra-dance, or contredanse. Many of the moves called out during the dance originate from the French terminology.

The contra dance was very popular throughout America from the 1700s well into the 1800s, but with the arrival of the square dance, waltz, swing, and other forms of dance its popularity was mostly confined to rural areas. It is interesting to note that before the contra dance’s revival, it was not known to be called a night of “Contra Dancing.” Rather it had other names such as Barn Dance, Kitchen Junket, Old Timer’s Ball, and The Dance. These dances were held in church halls, grange halls, town halls, barns, and even places like kitchens and living rooms. There was a time in New England when contra dances were so popular that one band might be booked six nights in a single week!

There are a lot of reason to enjoy dancing, but here’s a fun fact – dancing is one of the more impressive ways to increase our brain’s cognitive reserve, something good for the brain at every age, but a particularly valuable protective force for maintaining cognition into old age. In a New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study, dancing was found to reduce the risk of dementia more than any other physical or mental activity studied. Bicycling and swimming, for instance, while excellent for the cardiovascular system, reduced the risk of dementia by 0 percent, as did playing golf. Reading reduced the risk by 35 percent and puzzling out crosswords at least four days a week, 47 percent. Frequent dancing, however, reduced the risk of dementia by 76 percent!

What does contra dancing have to do with GALA’s commitment to sustainability? Aside from strengthening community relations, warding off cabin fever, and keeping the blood moving to stay healthy, GALA is known to claim contra dancing as, “the most sustainable way to stay warm on a cold winters night”!

Dance admission fees are: $8.00 for adults, $5.00 for 6 to 18-year-olds, and age 5 and under free. Anyone experiencing financial hardship is invited to pay what they can and no one will be turned away for financial reasons.

In an effort to protect the newly refinished wood floor in the Great Hall participants are encouraged to bring an extra pair of shoes for dancing that do not have a black sole. If you are unable to bring extra shoes, there will be a brush at the door for you to remove dirt and snow before entering. GALA is also looking to fill a few volunteer shifts for the dances this year if you are interested.

For more information about this event, or to sign up to volunteer visit, call the office at 539-6460, or email

Global Awareness Local Action (GALA) is a nonprofit organization based in Ossipee, NH, working to translate sustainability education into local action that is practical, effective, and fun. Through strong cross-sector collaborations, GALA offers educational, skill building, and community service opportunities that help participants grow food, conserve energy, save money, and strengthen both personal and ecological health.

The organization’s most popular program is called Sustain-A-Raisers, a volunteer driven “eco” home and yard makeover initiative modeled after the barn-raiser. Each “raiser” consists of GALA volunteers installing raised garden beds, compost bins, rain barrels, cold frames, and clotheslines at private homes, schools, food pantries, assisted living residence, and other community sites.

GALA also offers a monthly Re-skill-ience Workshop where attendees can learn skills including how to make nontoxic household cleaners, basic beekeeping, food preservation and canning, bike maintenance, campfire cooking, compass and map navigation, and more.

During the winter months, GALA hosts a Community Contra Dance Series and offers support for starting small sustainability Study Circles. To learn more about programs, become a member, or otherwise get involved, visit the website at or call the office at 539-6460. 

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