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Swing like it's the 17th century

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Contra dancing is mesmerizing. People weave in and out of each other, sometimes in lines and sometimes in clusters, all directed by a single caller. Swinging skirts, smiles and laughter fill the room. It's intricate and simple all at the same time, like a giant tapestry formed by small stitches. Even beginners can catch on to the simple steps. 

Not only is contra dancing fun, it's also happening in Bangor. The third Friday of every month, people of all ages assemble at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bangor to get their swing on. The dances are run by the board of directors of the Penobscot Contradancers. Mary Anne Eason, president of the Penobscot Contradancers, says there are many benefits to contra dancing.

'For one thing, it is great exercise. Also, it is a community-based event. There are few activities that bring such a variety of people together. The contra dance community is usually very welcoming of newcomers and you don't need to have a partner to come to the dance,' Eason said. Eason says that people who come to the dance can expect great live music, high-energy dancing and fun socialization with people of all ages and lifestyles.

According to Eason, contra dancing has an extensive history. 

'Essentially it came from English country dancing adopted and adapted by the French in the late 17th century,' said Eason. She says contra dancing in Bangor has a much shorter history, dating back to 2005. 

'I actually began dancing in college in the '70s. There was a contra every Monday night a block or so away from my dorm at the University of Tennessee. My husband and I still go to that dance, though it has moved one block up the street, whenever we are back in Tennessee,' Eason said. 

Like with every dance, there comes the question with what to wear. The Bangor Contra website suggests clean, dry shoes that are comfortable. Eason says that skirts are also popular for a number of reasons. 

'Women like to wear full skirts so that when they twirl, it spreads out and looks nice. Plus skirts are cooler than pants. Occasionally you'll see men wearing skirts, or kilts, for the same reasons. They are fun when you twirl and cooler all the time. You don't see a lot of them, but some men regularly wear them,' Eason said. 

The next Bangor contra dance will be held on July 19. Dances are held throughout the year on the third Friday of every month. They start at 8 p.m., with a beginner's walkthrough at 7:30. The cost is $8 a person, or $20 for a family. For more information on contra dancing in Bangor, visit bangorcontra.org.

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