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Traditional Dance

Traditional dancing made its first appearance at the 2nd Annual Alaska Folk Festival, in 1976. In the following years, the dances most often were scheduled to follow one or more of the evening concerts. In 1992 Alaska Folk Festival organizers added a separate dance venue during Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights of the festival. Dancing, particularly contra and square dancing, had grown greatly in popularity throughout Alaska and musicians and dancers wanted more opportunities for dance at the festival. The type of dancing at festival venues is limited only by the kind of music played by bands who sign up for dance performance slots. Contra and square dance bands predominate but the festival also typically features Cajun dancing, swing, blues/boogie, and rock & roll. Klezmer bands and dancing to African drum rhythms have also been part of the dance scene.

With the creation of the separate dance venue in 1992, the tradition of having a Guest Caller/dance teacher at the festival was also begun. Warren Argo, a versatile contra and square dance caller who has been instrumental in building the folk music and dance community in the Pacific Northwest, was the first caller chosen. The role of the Guest Callers like that of the festival Guest Artists is to impart some of their special knowledge of country or folk dance traditions, heritage, and culture. They do this through dance performances, workshops, and personal contact with the dancers, callers, and musicians at the festival. At times the festival Guest Artists have doubled as Guest Callers/dance teachers when their music tradition also had a strong dance tradition.

In 2002, the Festival tried a new idea by also inviting a Guest Dance Band, to perform at the dance venue and give workshops. Cambalache, a Salsa band from Seattle was the first such Guest Artist.

Coffee and Jam

Besides the festival sponsored events, another dance event has sprouted during the festival. Friday of festival week, the Juneau Thursday Night Contras dance group sponsors "Coffee and Jam" at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. The event features an open mike for musicians and callers from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and provides an opportunity for out-of-town musicians and dancers to visit, play music, and dance. Free potluck breakfast and lunch are provided by locals to welcome visitors to the festival. With good weather, music jams and dance have been known to spill out onto the street during the day. The 31st anniversary of the Coffee and Jam will take place during the 49th Annual Alaska Folk Festival in April 8-14, 2024.

Guest Callers, Dance Teachers, & Guest Dance Bands participating in the Alaska Folk Festival have been:

1988 - Millie Ortega - Cajun dance teacher

1992 - Warren Argo (caller) - contra and square dance

1993 - Benoit Borque & Trois Quebecois - Quebecois traditional dance

1994 - Kathy Anderson (caller) - southern and western square dance

1995 - Brian DeMarcus (caller) - square dance, contras, and original "challenge dances"

1996 - Michael Alpert & Brave Old World - Klezmer dance

1997 - Dudley & Jacqueline Laufman (callers, teachers, and musicians) - traditional New England contra dancing

1998 - Mike Richardson (caller) - contras, squares, English & French country dances

1999 - Marion Rose (caller) - traditional & modern contras and square dances

2000 - Larry Edelman (caller) - squares, contras, circles and unusual formations

2001 - Woody Lane (caller) - modern contras, fast squares, percussive dancing

2002 - Warren Argo (caller) - zippy, friendly, interesting contras, AND, Cambalache (Guest Dance Band) - Salsa

2003 - Brian DeMarcus (caller) - square dance

2004 - Bill Martin (caller) - square dances, big circle "square" dances Maya Soleil (Guest Dance Band) - Afro-World fusion

2006 - Becky Hill (caller) - Unusual Contra Formations to Contra Dancing for Beginners

2008 - Brian DeMarcus (caller) - square dance

2009 - Gordy Euler (caller) - contras and squares from the Pacific Northwest - unusual and challenging contras

2010 - The Tallboys - old-time square dance band with Charmaine Slaven caller

2011 - Caleb Klauder Country Band

2012 - Tony Mates (caller) - contra and square dance

2013 - The Macrae Sisters - old-time square dance band with Caroline Oakley caller

2014 - Gallus Brothers - 1920s and 30s country blues band

2015 - Ava Honey (caller) - square dance

2016 - Charmaine Slaven (caller) - square dances

2017 - Susie Kendig (caller) Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms dance musicians - contra dances

2018 - Susan Michaels (caller) Sammy Lind and Nadine Landry dance musicians - contra and square dances

In addition, the following festival guest artists also played for dances at AFF:

Tiny Moore Trio (1986)
Savoy-Doucet Band (1988)
Ralph Blizzard and the New Southern Ramblers (1990)
Tracy Schwarz, Mac Traynam, Kay Justice (1995)
Kirk Sutphin, Kinney Rorrer, Doug Rorrer (1997)
Jerry Holland, Mary Jesse Gillis, Kieran O'Hare (1998)
Tom, Brad, and Alice (2001)
Barachois (2003)
Jawbone (2005)
Carolina Chocolate Drops (2007)
Les Amis Creole (2008)
De Temps Antan (2009)
Bonsoir, Catin (2014)
The Carper Family (2016)
The Murphy Beds (2017)
Pharis and Jason Romero (2018)