Sacramento Country Dance Society
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Organization Details


Contra dance evolved in America from English Country dances and has been enjoyed continuously since the time of the English colonies in America. Lighthearted and social, contra is danced in two lines of couples who dance various patterns or figures with one another. By the end of the overall pattern, each leading couple will have exchanged places with another couple, and the dance repeats until all couples in the lines have danced with one another. Contra dance music is in the form of lively reels or jigs in the Celtic and bluegrass traditions.

The Sacramento Country Dance Society sponsors dances in Sacramento on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and in months that contain a fifth Saturday, SCDS sponsors a "zesty" contra for more experienced dancers. Each regular dance begins with a half-hour lesson for new dancers. Contra dance is for the whole family, with some dancers as young as 5 and some well into their golden years.
Program Successes
The Sacramento contra dance was started around 30 years ago by a handful of volunteers who loved the traditional music and dance styles. It continues to be a well-attended and popular family dance event. The group sponsors several dance workshops throughout the year. Most dances are held at a local community center that is easily accessible for anyone in the area. Dances are organized and sustained completely by volunteers. All proceeds go to paying for hall rent, live music and callers, and sound technicians, allowing us to produce a high-quality experience at each event.

In 2019 and at the beginning of 2020, SCDS coordinated with the Palms Playhouse in Winters, California, to book the band and caller for a quarterly contra dance held by the Palms. These new dances were well attended and drew newcomers from the Davis and Winters areas. Our outreach at these dances resulted in new attendees at Sacramento dances.

The public health orders to contain the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to all dancing in 2020. During the pandemic we have initiated new ways to keep our contra dance community involved, holding Monthly Zoom concerts that feature well-known musicians that are either regionally or nationally known. These monthly gatherings are free to dancers, and have time set aside for dancers to talk to each other during the Zoom session. The concerts have been popular with dancers and help to keep us from suffering the effects of isolation. Participants are able to tip the performers, which also helps to support folk musicians who are suffering due to loss of their usual incomes.

Expenses in 2020 were minimal for SCDS, compared with many non-profits, as we had no ongoing expenses for hall rental once dances were cancelled. We were able to reimburse a small number of individuals, including musicians, callers, and sound technicians, to cover minimum guarantees for dances that were cancelled due to COVID-19 orders during the period from March through June. Others who were scheduled during that time declined payment, minimizing our 2020 expenditures.
English Country Dancing is a traditional dance form that existed in England from the 1600s into the early 1800s. Jane Austen refers to some of these dances in her novels. Live music is of the era: jigs, reels, hornpipes, and Baroque compositions. Modern composers and dancing masters have added to the tradition. The dances are both sprightly and sophisticated, and focus on interaction with the whole assembly of dancers making it a very sociable event. Young, old, singles, and couples dance with one another. Each dance is walked through and a caller prompts dancers. A half-hour beginner lesson, which is held before each dance, accustoms newcomers to the basic figures and moves of the dances. The music is always live and the energy high. Musicians, callers, and dancers come from the wider Sacramento area and sometimes from other dance communities across the country.
Program Successes
Over the years, dance attendance has been growing; dancers are maturing in their skills. The callers for the dances generally come from throughout the Northern California region, but a cadre of local dancers has been learning to call our dances and those individuals are polishing their skills at several dances each year. In 2018, we added a second English Country Dance each month, providing one dance in Roseville, with the second dance occurring in Sacramento. English Country dances are organized by volunteers who also provide dance tutorials and community events. The house band has become well known within the region and provides a wealth of musicians playing an exceptionally diverse mix of instruments.

In 2020, as with our other events, English Country dances were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To maintain the involvement of our English Country dance community, we have held monthly Zoom gatherings. These monthly public meetings are a mix of a little singing, a little music, and talking in a main group, then also breaking out into smaller groups for more talking. These monthly gatherings have been received positively by dance community members. The group held their yearly Christmas Tea as a virtual event in 2020, complete with visual sharing of holiday treats and various holiday activities.
Echo Summit Contra Dance Weekend takes place at Camp Sacramento each fall and is attended by 130 to 150 adults and youth from the both Sacramento region and more distant cities across the US. Nationally known musicians and callers are retained each year to provide an exceptional experience for attendees and to introduce regional dancers to talented contra experts from other parts of the country. In addition to dances, each day we offer workshops that are held to introduce attendees to new dance styles, and to improve skills, sing, and gain introductions to dance calling and/or band musicianship.
Program Successes
Echo Summit Contra Dance is very popular regionally, and is often sold out, with a waiting list, well before camp begins. Dancers rate the dance camp very highly overall. We enjoy the company of dancers from all over the Sacramento, Sierra Foothills, Bay Area, and northern Nevada areas. There are often east coast dancers, as well as dancers from other parts of the country, and sometimes we have a few international visitors. In past years, visitors have come from Australia, Canada, and Europe.

Work over the last 5 or so years to improve the finish on the dance floor, and continuing booking of both well-known and new, young bands have led to an increased level of enthusiasm for this unique dance weekend.

In 2020, the continuing pandemic meant that it was unsafe to dance and, accordingly, our 2020 Echo Summit dance weekend was cancelled. We have retained the same nationally-known bands for the planned Echo Summit weekend in 2021 and remain hopeful that we will be able to hold the dance this year!