Pandemic Contras

By Daniel Clark

Six socially distanced people do a contra dance on an outdoor basketball court

Members of the Walla Walla, WA, area dance community have been enjoying a new dance format we call Pandemic Contras, which we’ve developed since last August.

As I was missing the in-person contra dances, and not finding virtual dances satisfying, I began working on a new in-person contra dance format intended to be both safe and legal under COVID-19 guidelines. Our local pandemic rules in effect at the time limited gatherings to no more than five people other than members of our own household, so we began with just two or three couples who were intimate partners, and we danced outdoors with masks, gloves, recorded music, and social distancing except with our partner.

Our basic Pandemic Contra (PC) format requires a minimum of six feet between all dancers other than intimate partners. With that spacing, we’re able to dance all of our normal contra moves with both our partner and our neighbor, usually allowing 16 beats rather than eight beats for neighbor figures because of the added distance involved.

We swing with an intimate partner in the traditional way, and enjoy zesty neighbor swings with gloved dancers giving weight on the ends of a six foot sash.

Because of the distance and time required for interaction with non-intimate dancers, we’ve had to write new dances or modify old ones, which we’ve then worked on as a group to adjust to the new timing and spacing. In addition to dancing outside, we’ve also needed larger than normal dance space, and we’ve been using outdoor basketball courts and parking lots.

After at first dancing only with intimate partners, we then introduced what we call Pandemic Hybrid Contras, which are written and timed to allow for either intimate or non-intimate partner moves. Since the official limits on the number of participants in outdoor dance events has been eliminated in our area, we’ve also been able to add live musicians, but still wanted to limit our events to just a few couples, and continued to make participation by invitation only.

Now that we’ve had some experience with the hybrid model, and there are still no local limits on the number of participants allowed in outdoor settings, we’ve realized we could return to public dance events that accommodate dancers without a partner, as long as they follow our distancing, masking, and glove requirements for use of the sashes.

Our current list of PC dances includes contras, circles, waltzes, a reel, and a square. Two of the dances follow, and five more are featured on our Walla Walla Friends of Acoustic Music website (, along with videos and dance instructions.

With the relaxed protocols for fully vaccinated people recently announced by the CDC, for our May Third Saturday Dance we decided to limit attendance to fully vaccinated dancers. By continuing with our masks and gloves, we were able to enjoy normal dance moves and close interaction with all dancers, which was a delight.

We’ve been greatly appreciating the sociability and exuberance that Pandemic Contras have brought back to our lives, and encourage others to give them a try.

Happy return to the dance!

Daniel ClarkDaniel Clark is a lawyer in Walla Walla, WA, who has been dancing, calling, and composing contras since 1987. He is the author of Come Dancing—A Collection of Contras, Circles, Squares, & More (2014), as well as several other books. He can be reached by email at

Contra Dance: Make Hey

By Barbara & Dan Clark
Written January 23, 2021

Improper PHC*

A1 Forward and back with your neighbors (8)
Back and forward with your partner (8)
A2 Follows begin a right shoulder hey up and down the hall (16)
B1 Hey back (16)
B2 Couples half do-si-do with their neighbors
and face a new couple (16)


For A1, after the forward and back with your neighbors, back away from your partner, then return. For B2, couples pass neighbors by the right shoulder as a couple.

* In the PHC format (Pandemic Hybrid Contras), those couples who are intimate partners may dance normally, while those who are not maintain social distance at all times. All dancers wear masks and gloves. The dances are held in the open air in a space large enough to allow the required social distancing. Swings with your neighbors or non-intimate partners are usually done by the dancers giving weight from opposite ends of a 6-foot sash.

Circle Mixer: Pandemic Circle Mixer #2

By Dan Clark
Written December 16, 2020

A1 All into the center and clap on 4, then back out (8)
Face-to-face do-si-do your partner (8)
A2 (Balance and) swing your partner (16)
B1 Face-to-face do-si-do your neighbor and sash up* (16)
B2 Swing your neighbor, leads leave the follows on your right (16)


The face-to-face do-si-do move is done by the dancers circling each other face to face in a clockwise direction. In A2, intimate partners can balance and swing, while others simply swing with a sash.

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