Swing Your Partner at Rhythm Foundation's Contradance Thursdays

It’s perhaps the most exotic dance music to hit Miami in recent memory: contradance. It’s Americana, the real thing, a far more sophisticated version of the square-dancing you may remember from gym dances in elementary school. A sweet band called Cornbread is in the house each Thursday night in July as the Rhythm Foundation’s Dance Thursday series continues at the North Beach Bandshell.

If ever there was music that invited community, this is it. With all of that “do-si-do” and “swing your partner,” couples constantly re-form. As the evening moves on, everybody ends up dancing with everybody else, even if it's just for a few moments.

But no worries if all this feels, well, foreign. Cornbread's Anita Mason (she's the gal who shouts out those “do-si-dos”) goes out of her way to make it uncomplicated and fun. It wasn’t so long ago that she and her husband Pat, another of Cornbread’s musicians, were just learning about all of this themselves. It was during a Florida folk festival, and the two newbies were surprised by the warmth of the welcome they received.

Now, she says, “We want to carry the good vibes forward.”

So they rolled on a Thursday at the Bandshell while young and old and folks from all over creation came together. “All this was especially moving after the events of the past weeks,” Anita says of the public outcry after police-involved shootings.

If would-be dancers would like a lesson, that is in the cards as well. Simply arrive an hour early, at 7 p.m. Both Anita and Pat are professional dance instructors.

On July 21, Cornbread’s evening at the Bandshell will have an Irish flavor, with jigs and reels from the Emerald Isle. The following week, July 28, Cornbread will end its summertime series with a compilation of reels that were the audience’s favorites (and the musicians' too) throughout July.

Still, though these distinctions in style are real, they are subtle. All contradance shares the same roots in the community dancing of Ireland and Scotland and Northern France. Those rhythms took root in the American South via the Scotch-Irish and evolved into the genre known as bluegrass.

It first occurred to the Rhythm Foundation’s Laura Quinlan to initiate this contradance program while vacationing in North Carolina. “Country dance is a huge scene there,” she says. “Everybody gets out on the floor — college kids, families, elderly gents with cowboy boots, ladies with big hair.

“So many Miamians vacation in the Carolinas, and these dances are often becoming a highlight of their time away. People here began asking the Rhythm Foundation if we could bring some of the dances home.”

So the Rhythm Foundation, which has brought an extraordinary number of musical genres to its Thursday-night dance concert series — salsa, tango, swing, zydeco, compas, souka, etc. — adds still another.

The Bandshell will reinstate its regular second-Thursday dance events September 8 with a blast of Cuban tunes, old and new, from composer and bandleader Ivan “Melon” Lewis and his Cuban Swing Express. And for those who want to keep on contradancing, Cornbread can be seen Sunday afternoons throughout the fall and winter at the Barnacle State Park in Coconut Grove.

— Elizabeth Hanly,

Thursdays from 8 to 10 p.m. , with dance class at 7 p.m.. at the North Beach Bandshell. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is suggested.
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