History of the UCD

The Urbana Country Dancers (UCD) is a non-profit, educational and recreational organization dedicated to the enjoyment, study, teaching, preservation and evolution of American traditional dance, music and song. To that end, we strive to imbue UCD functions with an atmosphere of community, sharing and acceptance, and to keep UCD functions free of competitive situations or of any other interpersonal conflict that hinders our primary objective: fun for every participant, whether seasoned dancer or curious first-timer. The Urbana Country Dancers was founded by George Lowery, a square dance caller and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. George began teaching contra and square dancing at the University's YMCA in the fall of 1980. By the following spring, the dances became a monthly event on campus. George served as caller, and his band, Peppermill, provided live string band music. As attendance increased, the schedule was expanded to every other Friday, and by 1991, it became a weekly event.

In 1982, George negotiated an agreement with the Urbana Park District and they became a sponsor of the group's dances. In 1984, the group acquired the name Urbana Country Dancers and became affiliated with the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS). George continued as organizer until his death in 1987. Others had become involved with the organization and began using additional bands from Illinois and surrounding states. In 1991, the first UCD board of directors was elected, bylaws were adopted, and the group became incorporated.

The dances are arranged so that the caller teaches each dance before it is danced. This is to allow inexperienced dancers the opportunity to learn and more fully enjoy the dances. The evening consists of a variety of dance types including contras, squares, circles and waltzes. Currently, the average attendance is about 30 people per dance. The UCD organizes two special dances per year - Jan Jam All-Nighter in January and the Illinois All-Nighter in McLean in October. These dances attract hundreds of dancers from the Midwest.

Our goals for the future include: providing educational dance programs to local schools; outreach to the community through demonstrations at local parks and arts events; and outreach to other communities, such as Decatur. This would allow us to educate and attract more people to this form of dance and music.

The music and tradition of contra dance are valued by the dance community and the members of the UCD board. Bands from the local area and all over the Midwest are learning and sharing the music of our past with us, and many of the tunes played today are rooted in Illinois history. The dancing tradition, as well, is passed on from adults to children as our community encompasses all age ranges (8-82). Some of the dances taught in the earliest inception of contra dancing are being called at UCD. We embrace all people and encourage dance activities such as bring-a-friend nights, where dance instruction is emphasized. Our callers take pride in presenting the best of contra dancing, so that, under their tutelage, participants enjoy a positive dance experience. Input is encouraged from all participants to improve our program of dances.

The UCD is sharing our country's past - a piece of living history - that takes place in our community every week, where men, women and children come together in one place to hear the fiddles and the voice of a caller, to hold hands and together celebrate that which is contra dancing.