Tompkins County Country Dances 25th Anniversary

25 Years of Swirling Fun


Contras, Waltzes, Square dances, hambos and schottishes, English Country dance, and old-time barn dances. For twenty five years, Tompkins County Country Dances has been a place where Central New Yorkers can dance, gain confidence playing tunes, and learn to lead others in the dance.

More than 1200 dance events have been held over the past 25 years, and that's not even counting the Monday night dances on the Ithaca Commons during the summer months and special events such as the annual dances at the Ithaca Festival.

Just as Bound for Glory is America's longest running live folk music broadcast, Tompkins County Country Dances is one of the longest running and most stable contra dance series in the country. During past 20 years the dance has been held in just two locations, rarely missing a Friday night. TCCD has provided a setting where musicians, callers, and dancers alike are supported, develop their skills, and build community. Various other dance organizations have been able to grow in the Ithaca area, due in large part to the ground work laid by TCCD.

Modern contra dances became popular in Ithaca during the folk revival of the 1970s. Occasional dances, featuring mostly square sets and recorded music, were hosted year-round by Cornell organizations including the Outing Club. During the summer months, volunteers performed at Monday night dances on the Cornell campus. Other dance events surfaced randomly in the region, with dancers travelling to surrounding towns including Newfield, Dryden, and Flemingville. Flemingville?

In early 1983, Claudio Buchwald and Ted Crane began sharing the picturesque hall at St. John's Episcopal Church for weekly dances. Buchwald and the Razorlikkers (Annie Campbell, Bo Lipari, Jurg Butler, Harley Campbell, and guests) hosted the dance on 1st and 3rd Fridays. On 2nd and 4th Fridays, Crane called with various musicians including sub-groups of what is now known as "Your Friends and Neighbors."

In the mid-1980s, after the events "shook the foundations" of the Episcopal Church, Friday night dances floated through other locations: Center Ithaca, the City Health Club, the Bethel Grove Community Center, and the Newfield Grange, and settled temporarily in the Henry St. John building. HSJ offered a regular time slot but the dances didn't flourish there, partly because of the 10pm ending time required to protect other residential tenants.

In 1987, while seeking a more compatible, long-term home for the events, Crane heard about a new Montessori School under construction on East King Road. Following the legendary "Great Floor Investement," the dance settled in at the Montessori School in February, 1988 and remained for 13 years.

In 2001, the school expanded and renters were encouraged to find new homes. The first "Millennial" New Year's Eve dance was held at the Montessori School in 1999/2000, but by the time of the true Millennium and the second "Millennial" dance in 2000/2001, the series had moved to its current home at the Bethel Grove Community Center.

TCCD's 25-year success is grounded in the idea of "home-grown" fun. The dances have relied on local bands and musicians who play because of the pleasure they get from playing for their friends. Supporting local bands has gone a long way to keeping the dance alive and inexpensive. Some of the bands who promenaded dancers through the halls include the Roundtop Stompers, the Crumtown Ramblers, Fool's Gold, Last Call, the Accidentals, GlenRose, the Thrill Dogs, Blue Hounds, City Fiddle, Homage Quebecois, and Kitchen Chair.

English Country dancing arrived in Ithaca with Pamela Goddard. They featured a variety of bands from Ithaca and Binghamton including the Tomahtoes, Millefolius, the Fine Companions, and Mangrove Green. These little dances helped to spark a revival in this dance style in neighboring Binghamton and Syracuse, drawing in more dancers, musicians, and callers.

Along with the local performers, nationally known musicians from the US and Canada have been a large part of the TCCD history. "Pretty much all of the big name bands have played for us at one time or another," Crane says. Wild Asparagus, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, both Rodney and Randy Miller, Bruce Molsky, George Wilson, Enterloupe, and others have made music for the TCCD dancers. Callers Tony Parkes, Tony Saletan, Kathy Anderson, Fred Parks, Beth Molaro, George Marshall, and many other top name callers have visited, along with dozens of travelling callers from around the US. Local performers who have acquired a national reputation, such as the Groovemongers and the Great Bear trio were regular performers at TCCD in their early years. The Tompkins County Horseflies were one of the first bands to play for TCCD dances, and Old Time musicians including John Hoffman and Mac Benford continue to play for the dances.

New traditions and new bands keep coming. A monthly "waltz jam" facilitated by Mike Ludgate since early 2007, has become a beloved part of the series. The first Friday of each month, musicians of all abilities play waltzes for open dancing, one hour before the contra dancing begins at 8pm.

Nationally-known musicians are invited to present workshops when they visit Ithaca. In recent years, local musicians have had the opportunity to "take" from fiddlers, guitarists, and piano players including David Kaynor, Randy Miller, Tom Hodgson, Elvie Miller, Owen Morrison, Eric Anderson, and others.

Periodic pre-dance pot-luck suppers build community and celebrate events.

Look for a 25th anniversary pot-luck on March 14, followed by a great dance with Rosie's Ready-mix. (Pamela Goddard)

For information about TCCD, contact

  • Ted Crane at 607.273.8678
  • or check the web site.

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Author:Ted Crane
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