Contra Dance Enthusiasts Far and Wide Come Together to Romp
Multi-colored skirt-clad people flooded campus last weekend for the Dandelion Romp, a three-day contra dance festival. Beginning on April 21, numerous dances and other activities attracted many outsiders and engaged students and locals.
On Saturday night, Hales Gymnasium was decorated with strands of tissue paper flowers brighter than the colors of spring. The notes of a fiddle and a guitar intertwined, laced themselves together and spun like the dancers on the floor.
Colorful skirts swirled around the room, people swung in one another’s arms; a unique community formed within seconds of the first call.
“You’re part of one form, one collective,” said sophomore Becca Derry.
College students, middle-aged couples and the occasional child were thrown together on the dance floor.
“I really appreciate the diversity [of the Dandelion Romp] — all the different types of people,” said a woman from Oberlin.
Dances were held Friday and Saturday night, as well as Sunday afternoon, in Hales. Senior Ona Lindauer, assisted by other members of the Oberlin Contra Dance Club, coordinated the event, which included workshops on waltz, hambo, fiddle style, body percussion and other elements of contra dance. Lindauer had arranged for two callers and three different bands to bring the festival to life. Nils Fredland and Gaye Fifer called out the dances to the tunes of bands Flapjack, Changeling and the Plum Creek String Band. All had the funky, folksy spirit that is essential to contra dance.
“Contra dance gives me a venue to make people feel good and really take care of other human beings,” said Fredland.
The Dandelion Romp provides just this environment, exciting broad participation from not only the town of Oberlin but towns and cities across the state and country.
Dancer Harold Cheyney drove up from Columbus for the Romp.
“[There are] good bands, good callers, good dancers,” he said.
The Dandelion Romp is a favorite of many such “dance gypsies,” people who travel around on a sort of contra dance circuit, often checking online to figure out where to go next.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” said sophomore Mog Youngberg.
Students here at Oberlin have frequently traveled to contra dance. Lindauer and fellow Oberlin Contra Dance leader, Martha Friedman, have gone the distance to attend dances in other states, mostly east of Ohio. A map of the continental United States hangs in their house, memorializing their journeys with pushpins. Most recently, the two were in Cincinnati and Toronto, joining dances there and publicizing their own event, the Dandelion Romp.
“A lot of our advertising gets done by word of mouth,” said Lindauer.
The Dandelion Romp needs little introduction in the contra world. Dance gypsies are attracted to this particular festival because of the unusual amount of student participation.
“It’s due to the fact that we have it here, on a college campus — and make it affordable for students,” said Lindauer.
While the Oberlin Contra Dance Club does not sponsor the Dandelion Romp, most of its members are involved somehow in its organization. Many are intensely dedicated to the art of contra.
“It’s so much fun!” said Young-berg, rocking backwards to the ground in excitement.
Every dance makes human contact unavoidable. The Romp brings people together by breaking down the usual social boundaries more quickly.
“You have this deep eye contact with your partner and the rest of the world is spinning,” said Friedman.
Physical boundaries are dissolved as well.
“I think of myself as a warm person, not a touching person. But contra dances change this,” said senior Adina Langer.
Not only is the nature of contra dance intimate, it helps form connections between people that last longer than the dance itself.
“My parents met contra dancing,” said senior Sarah Babbitt Spaeth.
Organized in 2000 by Eric Stewart, the Dandelion Romp attempts to strengthen
the bonds between Oberlin College and the town. The dance has pulled
participants from their homes near and far ever since.