Monday, March 30, 2009

Contra Dancing

Contra dancing is what brought Nancy and I together. We first crossed paths at Falcon Ridge and then met again at a chance encounter at a coffee shop a hundred miles and a day away.

I got the contra dancing bug about 11 years ago. I was living in western Massachusetts and was somewhat reluctantly dragged to a contra dance. To my surprise that evening was something like falling in love for me. I felt a powerful draw and knew I had to keep doing this. The music, the community, the sense of history, the simple steps, the general sense of shared enjoyment, and the fact that this was people making their own entertainment in a porous arrangement of musicians and dancers.

I became a full-on dedicated dancer for many years; driving to festivals and weekend events, not to mention getting to local dances on a steady basis. In the meantime, I became friends with many 0ther dancers, steadily became better at dancing, and came appreciate the music more and more. I wouldn't say that dancing became the center of my life, rather that it filled out and enhanced my life. It offered a missing part that I'd never quite know wanted to be filled.

Soon after Nancy and I got together, we moved up to Vermont and soon became involved in the dance scene up here and in short order had assumed shared responsibility for organizing the Burlington Queen City Contras dance with a number of other folks. I've now been the booker for that dance for about six years and Nancy is the president of our little organization. Its been a tremendously rewarding experience to nurture what was a fairly weak dance into an event that has vibrancy and an invested community of regular dancers. Helping put on the dance has deepened my relationship with contra community; I'm in touch with musicians, think a lot about how to improve the dance, and put a lot of volunteer effort into making it all happen. We don't travel so much anymore to get to far away dances, but we're out at Montpelier and Burlington all the time.

In the last couple of years, Nancy has been learning to call for dances (all contra dances are "called" by a person who teaches the dance and prompts the moves once the dance starts). She's gotten really good at it and is increasingly more comfortable on stage. Its been a joy to watch and it sort of amazes me to see her up there doing her thing.

My sense is that people perceive contra dancing as a relic of the past, which it certainly can be, but for me it is a thriving and evolving creative form of expression. Contra dancing has tremendous power to bring people together in a unique environment that fosters a special brand of fun and creativity.

The video clip is from a dance at Montpelier. Will Mentor is calling and Beeswax Sheepskin are playing. The band playing played at our wedding dance--it rocked!

No comments: