Many Hands

text and photos by Glen Loper

Its the first Friday of the month in Belfast, ME. While local galleries are warmly welcoming people with food and drink on the artwalk, a small crew gathers at the American Legion Hall to clear the dance floor for the family contradance put on by The Belfast Flying Shoes dance series.  By 6:30 p.m. people arrive carrying cases of all sizes holding a menagerie of instruments: fiddles, guitars, banjos, mandolins abound. A piano player sets up a keyboard and amp, while another musician with a cherry red accordion sits in a steel chair and unsnaps the two leather straps that hold the bellows in place.  Off to the side, a woman leans over a bassoon and warms up.

All musicians  are welcome to join the  band.   The group has list of tunes that people can find on their website and learn. Many of them know them already, but quite a few have books of music open on music stands.  Tunes with names like “Angeline the Baker”, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and perhaps the oddest named “Nail That Catfish to the Tree”.

Parents and their children stand holding hands in the middle of floor, waiting for the caller to raise her microphone and start the dance. “Welcome to the Belfast Flying Shoes Family Dance! Grab a partner and lets get into a big circle in the middle of the floor.”

Children and parents take hands and form a ring and listen as Chrissy guides them through the dance. Once everyone has learned the dance, she signals to the band that she’s ready, and the bright sound of fiddle music  rises up to mix with her instructions. Circle to the left! Circle to the right! Go into the middle with a great big yell!  Children tug at their parents arms, urging them faster.  For the next hour people continue to trickle in and join the group as they form rings and lines, learn new dances,  circle around each other with do-si-do’s and partner swings, and, in general, smile an awful lot.

For more information about the family dance, playing in the band, and the regular contradance, visit