As part of re-socializing myself after a year-plus of very limited social options, I bit the proverbial bullet. Last Saturday, I went to observe a contra dance group. Hey, there were people there! About a dozen of them, outdoors, socially distanced, masked and with all the pandemic prevention bells and whistles in place. Speaking of bells and whistles, there was live music, too, a flute and two violins.
In short, it was relative heaven.
I thought it looked more like square dancing.
There’s truth in that, Lily. In fact, one of the dances was the Virginia Reel, which I remember from Mrs. Campbell’s fifth grade.
I get to square dance next year? Neat!
You’ll love it, 9. We do a little bit of square dancing in college, too, one festive Saturday night in the Jewett Hall cafeteria. It is totally worth blistered feet the morning after.
I’d only attempted actual contra dancing once before, at Folklife Festival, Seattle Center, 1984. It was a mixed experience. The steps were straightforward but my partner, a complete stranger, was crisply intolerant of error. He soon shamed me into abandoning my efforts.
What a jerk!
You got that right, Lily. I’m delighted to report that the atmosphere is the polar opposite in 2021 Walla Walla, though initially I didn’t expect to dance. I’d been informed in advance that this group had developed a social distancing method for contra dance, and was under the impression that, if I didn’t bring my own, trusted partner (options being Friday and Hoosegow) I wouldn’t be eligible to dance at this time. So I planned to simply observe and enjoy.
As it turns out, one woman needed a partner because her husband couldn’t attend. Everyone was masked, surgical gloves were distributed and six-foot lengths of rope had been prepared in advance. If you didn’t have an “intimate partner”*- -the group leader’s technical-sounding words for what had previously been described to me as “trusted partner”- -when a step like “swing your partner” that required physical contact was called, the “gent” would toss an end of the rope to the “lady” and swing her at a six-foot distance.
With copious encouragement from the group I agreed to relinquish my observer status and dance “gent” to the solo “lady.” After all, it was all new to me and my brain wasn’t loaded with gender-specific details of contra dance protocol. The steps weren’t difficult. With a bit of concentration I remembered the sequences pretty well. As long as I could count to multiples of four and remember to start with my left foot, it went swimmingly.
Music, movement, sunshine, and many new, happy people to spend a couple of hours with on a Saturday afternoon. After a year of social and cultural starvation, it seemed a miracle.
Last weekend’s contra dance adventure was an encouraging peek into a happier future, and the wonderful news keeps rolling! Not only do I plan to join in with the contra dancers the next time they have an event, I receive my second dose of Pfizer tomorrow morning! Under the currently understood science I will be “street legal” by May 8.
Raising my metaphorical glass (as it is only 6:21 AM) to Lily, 9 and all of you. Here’s to new and satisfying adventures for us all in a healthier, saner world.
*I would query the term “intimate partner” on the internet to see if it is official contra dance lingo, but fear the promotional emails that might result from this action.
Subscribe To Susan's Newsletter
Join the official mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from Susan D. Matley. It's free and you can opt out anytime!
Good for you Susan. Hope you have an easy time of the 2nd vaccine. I had not effects at all. Keep Dancing!!
Congratulations on your second dose of vaccine, Eileen! Now there’s something to dance about. . .
Wonderful, Susan. Congratulations on getting social and getting involved as best we can.
By the way, what you call “street legal” I refer to as “fully cooked.” 🙂
I am playing (at some distance) with our local English Country Dance band, which is the slightly older version of Contra Dancing. Think Jane Austen movies. No dancers back yet (although that rope idea is very intriguing!) but the music together is lovely to have again.
Hi David! How wonderful that you’re able to play music again in the English Country Dance band. Do you have any performances/dances scheduled at this point or is it still “wait and see”?
Still wait and see. We’re playing at make-shift venues until Rosewind Common House (our usual dance site) is comfortable allowing outsiders in. No immediate plans to add dancers.
I hear of many vocal choirs that are starting to get together — sometimes to sing well-distanced outdoors — sometimes literally just to meet and look at each other again. We’re getting there!
Yes, baby steps! And, oh, how I appreciate every little piece of community and creativity and the performing arts as they emerge.