Friday night was a busy night. Laura wanted to go to her favorite restaurant, the Lazy Goat, and I wanted to go dancing. We did both.
Many years ago Laura and I were very active with the Harvest Moon Folk Society, which sponsored a contra dance once a month. We started dancing with them when they were just getting started at the Stone Center at McPherson Park, moved with them when they started at Slater Hall, and continued when they finally found their home at the River Falls Lodge up near Jones Gap. For whatever reason, we stopped going to the dances. Perhaps it was because River Falls was a bit further away, or perhaps it was just because we got out of the habit. Regardless, it’s been probably twelve years since we’ve been to a dance.
Which brings us to the present day…
Our neighbor, Kathleen, is now very active with the dancing group, and had invited us to get started with them again. Harvest Moon has started holding a dance locally at Landmark Hall in Taylors. We had finished a nice meal downtown and it was still early, so we decided to head on out.
First, a bit about contra dancing. Every time I’ve told someone about this they mistakenly think I’ve said “country dancing.” Given my well-known distaste for country and western music, they act a bit surprised. Contra dancing is something completely different. Some also confuse it with square dancing, and while it shares some common elements and moves, contra dancers get by with much better music and we don’t have to wear those silly matching outfits.
“Contra” meant “against”, and originally men would form one line and women another “against” each other, and perform the dance steps. The most common form now is called an “improper” formation, where the lines are mixed. There are sets of four – two couples, one facing up the line and one facing down. The dance steps progress in such a way that you and your partner move down the line and encounter a new couple with each set. When you get to the end of the line, you cross over and head back. Mixed in with this are the steps – swinging your partner or your neighbor, do-see-do, chains, stars, promenades, etc, etc. – a combination of which completes the set.
Landmark Hall turned out to be an excellent venue for a contra dance. It’s in a warehouse located just over the railroad tracks off of Wade Hampton Boulevard. It looks like the hall is often used as a square dance venue, as photos from various competitions and literature about square dancing are all over the place. Still, it has plenty of space for several long lines, and the floor is perfect for dancing.
Hank Morris was the caller, and did a fantastic job. I remember him from our previous dance days. A duo called Flying the Tune, consisting of Lew Gelfond on fiddle and June Avincula on keyboard, provided the music for the dance.
The dance steps slowly but surely came back to us, and we remembered the little flourishes that distinguish an experienced dancer from a beginner. Even so, we made enough missteps that it was obvious we were out of practice. Not only out of practice, but terribly out of shape, too. We were working up a sweat, and with both of us suffering from bad knees we decided to do every other dance (which allowed me to take some photos in between dances.)
There was a good mix of people there. Most seemed to be about our age, but there was also a large contingent of younger folks – late teens and twenties. It was good to see them taking an interest.
With every dance we’ve been to, certain dancers have played certain roles. The actors may change, but the roles are always there. At any given dance you can find the following:
- Experienced dancers – movements are smooth, fluid, and they know where they are going. Usually they are very gracious and helpful to those that miss a step or two (like us.)
- Show-offs – Usually male, although I’ve seen a few female show-offs, too, and often with at least some experience dancing. These guys tend to spin their partners needlessly, or put in extra twirls, etc.
- Bouncies – Usually female, and usually less experienced dancers. These dancers tend to have bouncing steps with a skipping motion that lurches from one move to the other, rather the smooth glide of the more experienced dancer. They look like they are having loads of fun, and can be fun to watch, but difficult to dance with.
- Beginners – Right now I’d put us back in this category – getting the hang of it, but still making a couple of missteps along the way.
- Serious Dudes – both male and female, always experienced, and often somewhat put off by the likes of beginners and bouncies, sometimes forgetting that they themselves were once beginners.
As you move up and down the lines you will encounter all of these and various shades in between, so just be ready to go with the flow and dance as best you can with those you encounter. It will be fun.
We didn’t stay for the entire dance, but the couple of hours that we were there were a blast. We will probably try to catch another dance here. They are held each month and the dances are listed on the Harvest Moon website.
The still images above give only a taste of what a dance is like. Here’s a short video clip to give even more of the flavor.