Opening up the dance

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Cape Friends of Traditional Music and Dance is still a small group, meeting once a month at the Christ Episcopal Church to practice the little-known art of contra dance, basically traditional folk dancing.

It's a small, tight-knit club now, as it has been since its 1983 beginning. But lately members of the Friends have started to emphasize bringing new people into the fold, and they hope Saturday's contra dance/watermelon seed spitting contest might do so. The winner will be selected based on "distance, ac­curacy and artistic form."

"I don't think contra dance has caught on in a real big way here in Cape Gir­ar­deau," said group member John Coffman. Coffman, his wife Kathy and a few others travel frequently to places with larger populations of contra dance enthusiasts like St. Louis and Carbondale, Ill.

Coffman doesn't hold any illusions that the contra dance culture in Cape Girardeau will ever be as big as that of St. Louis, but there is some room left to grow.

"We're hoping to get word out to more people and have more people come and check us out to increase the excitement level and have more people who are really enthusiastic about it," Coffman said.

That's where this weekend's watermelon seed spitting contest comes in, said Coffman. The Friends decided to pair their traditional dance event with a country-summer-culture event like watermelon seed spitting.

Coffman said when he and his wife Kathy started calling the dances several months back, the two sat down and brainstormed ideas to grow the group, which would later be the genesis of events like Saturday's watermelon seed spitting contest.

"We asked ourselves, 'Why do people come to dance?' A good deal of it is just socialization," said Coffman.

On good nights, Coffman said about 30 or 40 people might take part in the dance. On slow nights, only 10 or so show up.

Contra dance (which is similar to square dancing) sounds foreign to many, but the Friends encourage rookies to join them. Newcomers will be guided through the dance moves so no experience is necessary. The only thing visitors need is comfortable clothes, said Coffman, because dancers may work up a sweat.

The humorously named Banjovi, a family group with a rotating lineup, will provide the music for this week's dance.

335-6611, extension 182

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