The DownEast Country Dance Festival will celebrate its 25th season of traditional music and dance Friday and Saturday at Mt. Ararat Middle School and the adjacent Orion Performing Arts Center in Topsham.

The biggest draw is Saturday — “folk smorgasbord” day — for which the school’s cafeteria, gymnasium and multiple classrooms will be transformed into dance halls, workshop areas, and spaces for concerts and jam sessions.

The festivities kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 27, with an evening of traditional New England country dancing in the gymnasium to music provided by the Maine-based trio Riptide and, from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, The Stringrays. Typically called “contra” dancing, this style of dance has its roots in the English country dances enjoyed by American colonists over 200 years ago. While similar to square dancing, contras are danced in a double-line formation of as many as 20 couples, allowing for intermingling and socializing. The Friday evening dance will end at midnight with a last waltz.

The action resumes at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 28, with more contra dancing as well as opportunities to learn everything from waltz, swing, tango and Bollywood dancing to folk dances from Israel, France, Scandinavia, Quebec, Scotland, Ireland and beyond in workshops which will take place simultaneously in multiple different venues throughout the day. In the auditorium, a Young Fiddlers Extravaganza from 2 to 4 p.m. will showcase the talents of string players from kindergarten through high-school age, including special guests The Strawberry Hill Fiddlers from New York.

Activities are also planned for those who want to enhance their own musicianship, including instrumental workshops in fiddle, guitar, banjo and bodhran. Singers can choose from sessions in Shape Note and round singing as well as vocal improvisation.

A number of mini-concerts are on deck in the Bistro, while the Rainbow Room will feature a selection of activities for children and families, including an origami workshop and instruction in how to build and play a membran-o-phone. Children 10 and younger will be admitted free with youth age 11-21 given a substantial price break.

The Saturday night schedule, more geared to adults, features contra dancing from 7 p.m. to midnight in addition to an international folk dance party and an Argentine tango dance party, both of which run 7-9 p.m.

Live music will feature appearances by more than two dozen musical groups from Maine and elsewhere, including the contra dance bands Velocipede, Twisted Strings, Rock the Boat, T-Acadie, Frigate, The Sea Slugs, Racket Factory, Cardinal Direction, Scrod Pudding, The Don Roy Band, Northstar Sisters, Gypsy Minor and The Henry Road Band. In addition, Jimmyjo & the Jumbol’ayuhs will provide the tunes for a Cajun dance party, the Balkan Bagpipes duo will present a program of music from Bulgaria and Greece, and there will be mini-concerts featuring the Maine Squeeze accordion ensemble, the Maine Highland Fiddlers, and many others.

Tickets are available for either the complete two-day event or portions thereof, with admission prices ranging from $12 for the Friday night dance ($8 for age 11-21) to $35/$25 for the entire festival. Children 10 and youger are free at all times if accompanied by an adult.

The Orion Arts Center/Mt. Ararat Middle School are located on Main Street in Topsham.

For more information, visit www.deffa.org or call Lynn Plumb at 207-563-8953.


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