Tamworth Contra Dances Through the Years

For information on current and ongoing programs, the following links will take you to Second Saturday Dances.

New Year’s Eve 2015

It was a magical moment to walk into the Tamworth Town House on New Year’s Eve 2014 and find Dudley Laufman telling everyone to find a partner and line up in two lines—just as he has been doing since 1965. As the evening progressed, more and more people came. Two lines became four, and then we had a hall full of squares. The familiar music with Jacqueline Laufman, Beverley Woods, and Bob kept a steady beat.

Dudley has gone on to achieve national prominence over the years. He was honored with the National Heritage Fellowship presented by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009. It’s the nation’s highest honor for folk and traditional arts. Yet here he was on a major holiday playing for a dance that he has loved for fifty years.

October 31, 1979

The Tamworth Outing Club has been sponsoring dances since its beginning in 1935. Ned Behr was the first caller. Originally the dances were held in Huggins Barn until it burned in 1961. Ned and Joan were a stately couple, dancing in the old way—one that Dudley insisted that all of us follow as well. Occasionally the young would let their swings take over, and Dudley would remind us that this was a dance, not a sporting event.

The dance moved to the Brett School for a few years, and Dudley actually came once there. However, Helen Steele, who took over management of the dances in 1965, was responsible for recruiting him as a regular caller. Helen and Dana went down to a dance in Canterbury and persuaded Dudley to come to Tamworth. Before that, Ned shared the role with folks like Fred Pulsiver, Bronson, and Tod Whittemore.

1n 1966, the dance moved to Staffords in the Field, where Dudley and Ned traded weeks all summer for the Thursday night dances. That was the year we built our cabin as well, and we became regulars. We’d bring the children, putting them to sleep in the car after an hour or so, and we’d keep on dancing. It was easy to learn, and soon Peggy and David became experts as well. I remember Nancy Coville coming up to ask David, age four, to dance—thinking that she was doing this little guy a favor. She came back grinning, saying, “Boy, can he swing!” Helen confirms that David is still one of the best dancers around.

The dances lasted at Staffords until their renovations began in the late 80s, and then moved to the Town House, where they’ve been held ever since. Their popularity waned a bit in the early 2000s, but, judging from the crowd on New Year’s Eve, contra dancing is back in style. Watch for the notice of the next dance and give it a try. It’s great fun!

—Betsy Loughran



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