A Kinrowan Estate story: Contradances (A Letter to Svetlana)

Dear friend,

You asked me why we call our dances here contradances and not English country dance or something akin to it.

Well, a bit of history first. English Country Dance is a form of social folk dance which originated in Renaissance England, and was popular until the early nineteenth century in parts of Europe, the American colonies and later in the United States. It is considered the ancestor of several other folk dances, including contradance and square dance.

Well that part was easy. Now more history. I asked Iain, our Librarian (and sometimes caller at our dances), for the etymology of the name: ‘At the end of the seventeenth century, English country dances were taken up by French dance masters. They called these dances contra-dances, a corrupted form of contredanses. As time went on, these dances returned to England and were spread to the United States where they naturally evolved yet again, and eventually the French form of the name came to be associated with the American folk dances, where they were sometimes called country dances except for northern New England where they were always called contra dances.

He thinks they became contradances here in the Seventies not long after the second group of yurts was constructed giving us more room for groups to stay here. (We also doubled the size of the kitchen which as you know is actually in the basement taking over a storage area for the bakery. The lack of windows there was a blessings for maintaining an even temperature and humidity!) Why he believes this that in digging into the Archives, he found a poster from the summer of 1973 that was Midsummer Contra Dance with the caller being Liath ó Laighin and a band by the name of Chasing Fireflies (and yes, that name’s still being used here) playing to ‘greet the Summer Solstice in in a proper manner.’ His guess is that they just liked the name and kept it.

As a librarian, Iain has a reading recommendation for you if you’re interested in getting a grounding in the history of the dancing most of us do: Dancing Through Time: Western Social Dance in Literature, 1400-1918, a collection of essays edited by contra dancer and caller Allison Thompson. She also did a neat chapbook, Lighting the Fire: Elsie J. Oxenham, The Abbey Girls, and the English Folk Dance Revival which I’ve read and which is well-worth your time.

Oh and your sister says that The Steward has agreed that there’s a space for you here if things get more ugly with the sword rattling that Putin’s doing. He says that we can always use you as another staffer for our Apprenticeship programmes as it looks like Gus will be adding apprentices this coming year and Catherine says she’ll be having four apprentices in the Kitchen this coming year as well.

with love, Reynard


I'm the Pub Manager for the Green Man Pub which is located at the KInrowan Estate. I'm married to Ingrid, our Steward who's also the Estate Buyer. If I'm off duty and in a mood for a drink, it'll be a single malt, either Irish or Scottish, no water or ice, or possibly an Estate ale or cider. I'm a concertina player, and unlike my wife who has a fine singing voice, I do not have anything of a singing voice anyone want to hear!

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