Contra dances for weddings and private parties?

The bride or groom once went to a contra dance and had a lot of fun. They'd like to share that joy with all of their wedding guests. What could be more fun?

Actually, full-on contra dances might well prove rather much for a wedding party. At most regularly-scheduled evenings of contra dances, a large fraction of the dancers have quite a bit of experience, and new dancers get swept into the action with barely a ripple. In contrast, at a wedding, few of the attendees will likely have ever heard of contra dances, and trying to get everyone up to speed could take quite a bit of teaching. Many folks attend weddings to support their friends and family members, not to take lessons in a form of dance they expect never to do again.

Instead of actual contras, your wedding party dance would more likely need to include easy, fun, "dance party" dances, ones that take little teaching, each of which stands alone, so that folks can join or drop out as they wish.

Here's a list of other concerns about a wedding/birthday/anniversary dance:

Dance "Floor"
Where do you want folks to dance? In a lovely ballroom, with a polished "sprung" wood floor? On a concrete slab? In a carpeted room? In a field? The dance surface has a substantial impact on the kind of dancing possible. Smooth, elegant dances, and vigorous contras really work best on a smooth surface. Concrete, linoleum, and Pergo™ floors aren't kind to knee joints. Carpet can be rather sticky, making smooth turns and vigorous swings difficult or painful. Unless it's as smooth as a golf green, a field can present substantial challenges, including hills, holes, wildlife, and droppings.
Will you have enough room for the dancers you expect? At a "comfortably full" contra dance evening, four dancers fit into a 10x10 foot space. That means that your small 20x30 foot ballroom might really only fit 24 dancers, assuming you don't need room for the caller or band! A 50x80 foot gym might fit over 300 people, but more typically you'll find 100-150 dancers.
Number of dancers
How many people do you expect to dance? Really? Do you expect all of your guests to dance, or mostly just the children who haven't grown too self-conscious? Will your attendees have other activities, or tables for sitting and conversation, in addition to the dance space? Will your celebrants dance, or will photographers keep them busy?
Finding performers
As an experienced caller, and former dance booking agent, I know a number of musicians. Who might happen to have the time for your event free? It depends. Did you start making your plans well in advance? (Many performers book gigs six months out.) Will your dance take place opposite a regularly-scheduled event? How convenient is your location? Asking folks to drive two hours out into the wilderness instead of dancing with their friends might not have much appeal.
If you have a large enough space for your dancers, you might well need amplification. Otherwise, your dancers may not hear all your musicians, and your caller may either lose his voice or come across as yelling at your dancers, neither of which would prove much fun. A sound system can help, but will require some time to set up, adjust, and to take down. It also needs electrical power. If you have a larger band, or a hall with tricky acoustics, you may need someone just to operate the equipment. Dancing outdoors can be lovely, but if someone has to haul heavy equipment half a mile across a field, they likely won't appreciate it quite as much.
What do you have in mind for a budget for your event? Folks performing for a wedding of their dear friends might consider the event as their gift to their friends. Getting folks to perform somewhere obscure opposite a regular gig might require payment of $50 per person per hour including travel time each way. Thus, a caller and four piece band for even just an hour gig, with 30-minutes of travel each way might require a budget of $500 or more. A two-hour gig, even if it has an intermission, with an hour's drive each way might require a budget of $1000 or more.
Encouraging dance "ringers" to attend
If your celebrants had a great time at a regularly-scheduled dance, perhaps you'd like to encourage some local dancers to turn up for your event. This could make the dancing go more smoothly, but also might change the feeling of your event. How would you draw them in anyway? Would you count on friends or fans of your performers to turn up? Will your event compete with one long-scheduled? Will you do any outreach or publicity?
One factor may make your event easier or much, much more challenging. Will you have a "dry" event, one with enough champagne for a single light toast to the happy couple, a keg behind a bush, or an open, no-host bar? If you expect that some significant number of your target dancers need alcohol to lessen their inhibitions, or that some folks will try one dance, wander off for a beer or belt or two, then stagger back, you'd do well to let your performers know well in advance!

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