Contra dancing – a swirl of awesomeness

We have been enjoying good crowds at our regular contra dances lately, with quite a few newcomers, including some younger people, which is always nice. I’m not sure how people hear about the dances, although word of mouth is the most likely way. Some say that friends tried for years to convince them to come to a contra dance, but they were always too busy. Then one day they heard an announcement on the radio or read an article in the paper on a night they didn’t have anything else planned, so they finally decided to give it a try. One of our regular dancers has lately been bringing friends from her church. Occasionally, we get college students who grew up in other places where they had contra dancing. Sometimes we get parents in town visiting their college-age students. Sometimes people find us on the Web and stop to dance with us on their way somewhere else.

The dance enthusiasts among us have a hard time understanding how anyone could not enjoy dancing, but the general public is wary at best. They don’t know much, if anything, about contra dancing, although they probably know something about square dancing, and they may express some interest in traditional dancing, even if they don’t think it is for them. Many people seem nervous about dancing in general; they will claim to have “two left feet” or say they “don’t know how to dance” or make some comment that suggests that they believe we will expect them to come in matching Western-style square-dance outfits. Some may have seen clogging exhibitions at heritage festivals and worry that they will have to know some sort of fancy dance steps. Or they may say they can’t come because they don’t have a partner or claim that they personally are interested but their spouse is not. Some will comment that they “used to enjoy square dancing” back in seventh-grade gym class but haven’t tried it since. Or they might ask if contra dancing, which is done in lines, is anything like country line dancing.

If they can be talked into coming at all, they may find that the dancing is more vigorous than they expected or that they get dizzy or that they are uncomfortable being in such close contact with strangers who tend to look them straight in the eye while swinging. I am sure the young people who happen to come to our dances all have the same reaction I had when I took square-dance lessons in high school: What is it with all these old people? Of course, when we’re dancing, we don’t feel old at all; we feel like we did in our twenties when we went to our first contra dance way back during the “folk revival,” when the halls were filled with young people like ourselves, caught up in a swirl of awesomeness as the tune and the dance and the community of dancers all came together perfectly, with a balance and swing.


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