Contra Dancing is a form of American folk dance done with live traditional music and a caller who teaches and guides the dance moves. The music is usually in the form of jigs, reels and hornpipes from the Scots-Irish tradition on both sides of the Atlantic. Sometimes these tunes are jazzed up a bit with some swing or a more southern jambalaya style. The fiddle is often the lead instrument. Dancers form a set of two parallel lines which run the length of the hall. Each dance consists of a sequence of moves similar to those in square dance that ends with couples having progressed one position up or down the set. Having a partner arrive with you at the dance is not necessary. Many people come to a contra dance alone. Dancers are encouraged to dance with many different partners throughout the evening. If there is an excess of one gender, it is customary for women to dance men's roles and vice versa to form couples and extend the set.
A relaxed, family-like atmosphere is found at a contra dance where the emphasis is on dancing and community. Dancers form a community of active friendly people who are open and welcoming to all new-comers. Many people come to contra dances to experience dancing with live traditional music.
Along with professional live musicians, there is a caller to lead dancers through the dances. The caller is always an inspiration to dancers adding his or her own character to each dance. Callers have the responsibility of holding the dance moves together by first teaching them and then reminding the dancers throughout the dance of which step comes next.