By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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Never, in his long playing life, has Jay Finkelstein gone to a contra dance in a library.
But he's ready for the first time tonight as his band, RiffRaff, has that very gig: a free contra dance in the Port Angeles Library living room, where musicians, caller and guests will dance among the books.
The event, with RiffRaff and Port Townsend-based dance caller Nan Evans, is just the first of this weekend's contra-dance festivities, all of which are open to absolute beginners, advanced movers and those who'd like to just come listen.
The Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St., is the place for this evening's 7 p.m. dance, which will start off with a lesson for novices. Admission is free; this all-ages dance is part of the library's new “Get Moving” series of fitness activities.
Evans, known for calling and teaching at dance camps around the Pacific Northwest, will lead the lesson. Contra, a folk dance from New England, is good exercise for body and mind, added Finkelstein.
Since single people, couples and families all dance together, “this really is a wonderful community experience, with live music.”
When this month is up, the Bellevue guitarist will have played eight dances from Olympia to Friday Harbor.
“The contra dance community is really welcoming of new dancers,” Finkelstein added.
The next contra-dance opportunity in these parts comes Saturday night at the Sequim Prairie Grange Hall, 290 Macleay Road, as the Old Time Fiddlers and caller Tony Mates step up.
All ages are welcome again, while admission is $5 for those 16 and older or free for guests 15 and younger.
“Come as you are, but come on time,” at 7 p.m., advised Mates. “The dances will build on each other as the evening progresses.
Up and dancing
“My job as a caller is to get folks up and dancing as quickly as possible,” added Mates, who has been calling contra and square dances for the better part of three decades.
“Natural high spirits will prevail,” he predicted.
As for the music, “give it a good listen, and watch the players, who are putting all their heart and skill into it.”
About a dozen local Old Time Fiddlers — who include mandolinists, guitarists, banjoists and bassists — will play contras, waltzes and at least one polka, said member Tim Cullinan.
The band will consult with Mates about which tunes to play, but there's a good chance “Soldier's Joy” and “Buffalo Gals” will be on the agenda.
“We'll be led by Kristin Smith, one of the premier violinists/fiddlers on the Olympic Peninsula,” Cullinan noted.
Third and final
Finally, one more contra dance will fill the Quimper Grange Hall, 1219 Corona St. in Port Townsend, with music and movement at 7:30 this Saturday night. Evans will be back to call and give a workshop to start the festivities; then Marsha Weiner and the Hot Dogs will play from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Admission will be $6 for adults and $3 for children age 3 to 18. Kids 2 and younger get in free.
Dances most months
If dancers want more after this weekend, they won't have long to wait. Contra gatherings happen at Port Angeles' Black Diamond Community Hall on most first Saturdays of the month and at the Quimper Grange in Port Townsend on the second Saturday of the month.
For information, see www.BlackDiamondDance.org and www.OlympicPeninsulaDance.com.