Most contradances consist of a sequence of about six to twelve individual figures. These figures are recited by a caller in time to the music as the figures are danced. Contradances often are arranged in long lines of facing or opposing partners; hence the contra of contradance. Three major arrangements or formations are proper, improper, and Beckett.
F1 F2 F1 F2 F1 F2 F1 F2... M1 M2 M1 M2 M1 M2 M1 M2...
M1 F2 M1 F2 M1 F2 M1 F2... F1 M2 F1 M2 F1 M2 F1 M2...
F1 M1 F1 M1 F1 M1 F1 M1... M2 F2 M2 F2 M2 F2 M2 F2...
(key: band is to the left, F=female, M=Male, 1=1st couple, 2=2nd couple)
A figure is a short dance "step" or "move", sort of a choreographic building block. Most figures take eight counts of music, although figures with four or sixteen counts are also common.
As a dance progresses, so do the dancers: the arrangement of the figures causes each couple to move together toward or away from the band. When a couple reaches the end of the line, they simply turn around and join back in, going in the other direction.
Contradances are held all across the United States. See affiliated groups at [Country Dance and Song Society (http://www.cdss.org)] and [Contra Links (http://www.tiac.net/users/cseelig/contra/contralinks.shtml)].