Rodney Miller will supply the music for the first of three May contra dances on the North Olympic Peninsula at Forks’ Rainforest Arts Center on Friday.

Rodney Miller will supply the music for the first of three May contra dances on the North Olympic Peninsula at Forks’ Rainforest Arts Center on Friday.

Trio of contra dances starts in Forks tonight, continues in Port Angeles on Saturday

By Diane Urbani de la Paz

For Peninsula Daily News

These two men have been all over the place with their art: Rodney Miller, fiddler at tonight’s contra dance in Forks, did an apprenticeship in Oblarn, Austria, long before adopting Port Townsend as his home town. And Michael Karcher, dance caller in Forks and Port Angeles this weekend, has guided contras from Montana’s Bear Hug Mountain Festival to Nevada’s Burning Man camp.

Miller, named a master fiddler by the National Endowment for the Arts, is a shy-sounding man when you talk with him on the phone. But when it’s time to play, he’s not bashful about his purpose.

“I’m there to serve the dancers,” the New Hampshire native said in an interview in Port Townsend, where he’s made his home since December 2015.

Forks’ Rainforest Council for the Arts will host its first contra dance of the year at 7:30 tonight.

The Rainforest Arts Center, 35 N. Forks Ave., is the venue, and admission is free for all; Miller, along with his longtime friend David Cahn on guitar, will supply the live music until 10:30 p.m. while Karcher calls and cues the dances.

“This is a chance to hear live, traditional music; that alone is a treat,” said Miller, who has brought his singing fiddle to Oberlin College in Ohio and to the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, among many other gatherings.

“This fiddle music reaches deeply into the roots of where we came from,” he said.

“I play pretty hard … I dig in” while keeping a keen eye on the dancers, because this musician seeks to play off their steps.

“I’m there,” Miller said, “to provide as much energy as I can with my fiddle.”

Karcher, for his part, “has been having the time of his life calling around the U.S. and Canada since 2011. He has honed a warm and concise style of teaching and calling,” according to

“The caller is aware that a lot of people will be brand-new,” so he’ll be keeping it simple and light, said Roger Lien, an organizer of tonight’s dance.

The following night, Saturday, Karcher will arrive for more contra at Port Angeles’ Black Diamond Community Hall, 1942 Black Diamond Road. The monthly dance there will start with a beginners’ workshop and refresher from 7:30 p.m. until 8 p.m.

The Red Crow band will continue playing for the dance, which wraps up at 11 p.m. Admission to this dance is $8 for adults and $4 for those 17 and younger.

Port Townsend likewise has a monthly contra dance gathering, also with a beginners’ lesson at the start: The next one is Saturday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Quimper Grange Hall, 1219 Corona St.

Admission to this third-Saturday dance, which features the Countercurrent band, is $6 for adults and free for those 16 and younger.

Miller is looking forward to his Forks gig, having visited the schools there with the Port Angeles Symphony’s Adventures in Music program last October. During those visits, he introduced youngsters to the New England contra-dance sound.

At any of these dances, those new to contra have nothing to fret about, the fiddler said.

The caller will teach you what you need to know. He’ll school you on how to balance with a partner, Miller said: how to swing in a circle — “it’s like riding a scooter; you sort of scoot around with your back foot” — and next thing you know, you’re moving through the line, changing partners and riding the train.

“It isn’t that hard,” he promised. “Come and enjoy the sense of community.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Angeles.

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