About the Folk Alliance

The roots of the Door County Folk Alliance go back to 1995, when a group of folk musicians and dance enthusiasts, led by Cy Rosenthal of Sturgeon Bay, came together to play music and hold barn dances. Cy, who sang and played the tin whistle, saw contra dancing as a way of bringing together different generations of people in a healthy do-it-yourself activity. He also saw local folk bands as a way for musicians to play together, support each other, and improve their skills. The new organization was first named The Sugar on the Floor Barn Dance Society. In 2007 the group reorganized as a not-for-profit organization: the Door County Folk Alliance. Cy died unexpectedly in 2010, but the organization he founded maintains his goal of building community through music and dance. And it still holds to Cy's motto: "You can't beat fun for a good time."

MARCH, 2014


The Door County Folk Alliance Ltd. is incorporated in Wisconsin as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. It is managed by a board of directors, whose task is to promote barn dancing and home-grown music-making in Door County. Beyond the board of directors, the Alliance has no formal membership. People associate with the Alliance by getting involved in Alliance activities - coming to the dances or playing music. The closest thing to a membership roster is the mailing list used to send out information about Alliance activities.

The central activity of the Alliance is a series of monthly barn dances. Most are held in or near Sturgeon Bay, with the remainder scattered throughout Door County. All dances have live music, normally provided by the Alliance band, "Sugar on the Floor." The Alliance has its own sound equipment, makes arrangements for use of dance halls, and has established connections with number of professional dance callers. The Alliance also can provide its services to individuals or organizations that would like to put on their own barn dance. A second Alliance activity is to provide local folk musicians with opportunities to get together and play music. The Sugar on the Floor band plays at the barn dances, of course, but also gives occasional concerts for individuals or organizations. And, as its least formal activity, the Alliance coordinates regular music "sessions," currently held twice a month. These informal gatherings emphasize Irish music, but other tunes show up from time to time.

The Door County Folk Alliance is primarily financed through voluntary contributions. Most of its work is done by volunteers. The board members serve without compensation, and the dance band is not paid. There are expenses, however. Dance halls generally charge rent; the professional callers are paid; the sound equipment requires maintenance; there are expenses for publicity, the website, insurance, and "miscellaneous." We do not charge admission at the barn dances, but encourage voluntary donations ($5). The Alliance occasional applies for grant money, and of course accepts individual gifts. All gifts are tax deductible, and can be given to the general operating fund or to an endowment fund that has been set up to provide long-term stability and capital growth.  A secondary source of income is by providing music to private functions; see below.


Our "barn dances" (the terminology is loose) are descendants of traditional dances originating in the British Isles and brought to North America by early settlers. In colonial times itinerant "dance masters" taught dances from village to village, and the community folk gathered regularly to enjoy the music and dancing. In the 1960's the popularity of contra dances, as they are called in New England, boomed along with the "folk revival" and spread throughout the country. Contra dances or barn dances can now be found from Portsmouth, NH, to Portland, OR. Dance "callers" still travel from community to community teaching, calling, sharing and preserving this tradition.

Several types of dances are generally offered over the course of the evening, including circle dances, line dances (these are the real "contras"), square dances, and waltzes. Barn dances are danced in a group, not by separate couples. While dancers usually start a dance with a partner, they often change partners several times as the dance progresses. "Mixer" dances in particular feature rapid changes of partners, sometimes leading to enjoyable confusion. The caller generally begins the evening with simple dances to teach the basic steps - do-si-do, promenade, swing your partner - then moves into more complicated figures. The steps are not hard to learn, and most are executed with a relaxed walking step - though things can become quite energetic as the evening progresses.

Barn dancing is a shared activity which encourages cooperation, acceptance, and inclusion. Dancers young and old, beginning and advanced, all dance together. Folk Alliance barn dances are community-oriented, family-friendly, and alcohol-free. You can come with or without a partner; singles are welcome. The dances are taught by a caller, so no experience is necessary. Barn dances revive the idea of entertainment as active participation, not passive reception. Barn dances are FUN.


The Barn Dance Society's main band was Sugar on the Floor, which provided the music at the dances. In the organization's early years the musicians also put together other bands: Bubble and Squeak (Celtic music); Hobson's Choice (singing - bluegrass, gospel); Global Achord (international dance tunes). All these bands drew from the same group of players, who now mostly play as Sugar on the Floor. While the band has a name, it does not have a fixed membership. A core of people play regularly, others join from time to time. None are full time musicians, but some are professional musicians. The instruments played are typical of contra dance bands - violin, flute, penny whistle, piccolo, accordion, concertina, banjo, piano, guitar, string bass, and drums.

The music played for contra dances is based on tunes originating in the British Isles and their descendants composed in Canada and the United States. Reels and jigs are the most common tunes. Polkas are sometimes substituted for reels or jigs. For a slower pace there are waltzes, traditionally played as the last dance of the evening. Since dances generally last much longer than a single dance tune, the band usually plays a set of two or three tunes for each dance, with each tune repeated several times. While the Folk Alliance focuses on contra dances, it has on occasion featured other dance types. In particular, we regularly hold one Irish ceile dance a year (in March, wouldn't you know).

At the informal music jam sessions, the focus is on tunes of Irish origin. Many of the sessions tunes are drawn from the regular Sugar repertory, but players often bring in new tunes for the group to try. The goal of the sessions is not to put on a polished performance, but to play together for the fun of it. And they aim less at strict Irish Traditional Music than at the spirit of an informal gathering at a local pub. Surely a worthy goal.


The  Sugar on the Floor band is available for providing music for your private events, too.  These have typically been family reunions, school dances, and weddings, but let your imagination go wild.  If you would like live, local talent performing at your event, contact us!  Rates are generally less than  $1000, which makes us a competitive option to consider.

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Sketch of dancers


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