Formal and informal dancing has been a part of American society since before we transformed into United States, and one group in Savannah has kept those early traditions of dance alive.
The Savannah Folk Music Society promotes the enjoyment and conservation of the living art of folk music with genres spanning from bluegrass, blues, world music, country, to '60s folk revival and contemporary folk music. The nonprofit volunteer-based organization showcases live performances, which benefit the community by setting the stage for a wider audience.
For 21 years, the group has held First Friday concerts each month featuring local and travelling performers, as well as large concerts. First Friday is held at First Presbyterian Church in Savannah.
"It is such a thrill to be a part of the SFMS," said Clark Byron, musician and songwriter. "I found it online and followed it closely, more than a year before I moved to Savannah nearly seven years ago. I had always hoped to get to perform on the First Friday stage. I never dreamed that after only three appearances, circumstances would be such that I would become host of this fine monthly concert event. To play in this prestigious venue is a privilege. To host it is a true honor."
As a family friendly event, the group also offers monthly contra dances, usually on the second Saturday, at the Garden City United Methodist Church.
For those unfamiliar with contra dances, society President Joyce Murrlless and Treasurer Bob Beattie explained contra history.
"A contra dance first of all is a community-oriented social activity with lively music driving the activity," said Murrlless. "It shares many figures with square dancing, but is danced more closely to the musical phrase. Contra dances are started in long lines of many couples (10 or more couples), each person facing a partner. A square dance is grouping or square of four couples. The basic step is a walk, each dancer interacts with all the other dancers in line following a prompted pattern of calls. These elements together make contra dancing particularly easy for newcomers."
"Both contra and square dances are rooted in traditions from the country-folk dances of England, Scotland, Ireland and even France," said Beattie. "In America, those settlers simplified and mingled their dance traditions. Contra is danced in long lines (think movies like "Pride and Prejudice") but that didn't fit well in the log cabins of Appalachia. So the lines were bent into a square set of four couples."
"Contras and squares have changed a bit over the past couple hundred years," he added, "but retains their patterns of repeated moves enjoyed and prompted to the beat of the music. These are both simple dances intended for social relaxation at the end of a day or week of labor. As our society became less formal, so did these dances."
Darlene Vincent with the society's promotions committee, said they also host waltzes to slow things down a bit and give couples a chant to dance to "a sweet melody at Â¾-time (a 1, 2,3, 1,2,3 count)."
Society Secretary Anna Shearouse Curran said the dances offer beginner friendly courses.
"There's no pressure, and the basic step is walking forward. Experienced dancers are always looking out for beginners and helping them along. Relax, smile, and laugh, and you might find you have a passion for dance."
IF YOU GO
What: Savannah Folk Music Society Contra Dance
When: 7:30 p.m. July 29
Where: Garden City United Methodist Church, 62 Varnedoe Ave.