Touch One Thread–a contra dance documentary project

Kelly Carey at a BFS community dance (some years ago!)

On a cold day early last spring, I attended a panel discussion as part of a Belfast Flying Shoes “Contra Connections: Dance Documentaries” event. I listened to young panelists talk about why they contra dance and relate their ‘first dance’ stories. Later on, I reflected on my own experience of discovering contra dance as a teenager, taking extended breaks at various phases of my life and returning–sometimes years later–to find that the exact things about contra that first captured me were still thriving.

I thought about the little kids who used to sleep in the corner and have now grown up to be dancers themselves; about the myriad couples who have met, courted, married, or split and are still on the dance floor; about my early dance mentors who are now becoming elders; and about the elders who are no longer with us. I watched dancers arrive at the Legion Hall every first Friday, some from hours away and some from their homes down the street. What a strangely dynamic and durable scene this is! This exact scenario has replayed itself at dance halls around the state for hundreds of years, with few material changes. How deeply motivated we all must be.

Why do we do this?

Touch One Thread is a documentary project that was formed to explore exactly what themes and experiences link contra dancers and underlie the dedication that we all take for granted. What happens when we do-si-do, allemande, get untangled, and do it again for hours on a freezing February night? What needs are being met, and what are we building?

In a series of oral history collections, my Touch One Thread collaborator, Anu Dudley, and I invite small groups of dancers to sit down and tell us what drives them. What’s magical about contra dance? What do you remember? How does dance affect the rest of your life? How has it shaped who you are? We want to hear from dancers of every age and experience. We have questions that we ask everybody, but each interview is unique, led by the individual’s passions and experience.

We want you to join us! Sign up for news and updates, or enroll as a prospective interviewee, by clicking here.

Your interview will be meticulously recorded and transcribed. We’ll take some photos as we talk. And your story will become part of a body of research on this incredible, living, breathing community that we love.

The completed collection will be a testament to Maine’s inventive, durable, and inspiring folk culture. It will be presented as a gallery and web installation, in a written publication, and will find an eventual home in a stable archive. Anu and I are eager to share what we learn about what makes this vivid community work–about what it contributes to the lives of individuals and to the areas where dances happen. We live in an age of disconnection and loneliness, and we believe contra dance has vital lessons to teach us about how communities can engage people across their lifespan.

In the spring, the Belfast Flying Shoes board of directors accepted our proposal and Touch One Thread is officially a BFS outreach project. We’re grateful to the Maine Arts Commission and the Maine Humanities Council for their generous financial support via through the Maine Arts and Humanities grant. We also are grateful to our youth assistants, May and Raelin, for their brilliant participation and invaluable help.

We hope you’ll stay in touch with Touch One Thread. We look forward to seeing all of you on the dance floor!

~ Kelly Carey (and Anu Dudley, May Young & Raelin Callahan)