The Dance of Faith — Part 2

September 11, 2003 — Leave a comment

It’s late (for me, anyway). I’m tired. Girl bedtime wrestling has taken a lot out of me. So I won’t write for long. Since the last post, I’ve sat in the hospital during my wife’s surgery for 24 hours, while she waited for a bed. I have something I wrote during that time that I will post later, if I can get it from the Palm to the desktop. However, Kay’s come home and all went well with the surgery. Now comes the hard part of regulating the meds. Oy!

Thinking about the dance community, I want to paint a picture.

It’s Friday night. A friend has been telling me about a form of dancing called “contra dancing,” trying to get me to come one Friday.

“Do I have to wear a gingham shirt and dance with an old lady in a frilly skirt?” I ask.

“Not hardly,” the friend responds. “Look, it’s kind of a cross between the Virginia Reel that we danced in grade school, and a old fashioned barn dance. Most of the folks there are younger than 40. And there are even some pretty attractive women that you will get to dance with.”

Never one to turn down dancing with attractive women, I go. I arrive at a local elementary school shortly before 7:30, not sure what to expect. When I walk in, I’m taken by the variety of clothing. There is a woman dressed head to toe in tye dye. Another looks fairly preppie in a khaki skirt. There’s a man who could be 70 wearing a white shirt and a bolo tie. And two coeds, dressed in t-shirts and jeans. On the stage, a fiddle and guitar player tune, while the bass player chats with the guy running sound about proper levels. A young woman stands at a microphone, thumbing through a small card file.

My friend comes up and says, “Oh, you made it. Come on out so you can learn some basic moves.” At that moment, the young woman at the mic calls everyone on the floor so that we can walk through the basic steps. I discover a grammar unique to the group. “Hands four from the top,” an experienced dancer calls out. And then the woman and a group of experienced dancers leads us novices through some basic movements: the do-si-do, the balance and swing, the courtesy turn. I find myself holding strangers closely in ways that I would never do in a different arena. We are moving, but in fact I am being pulled around, led through the steps even though I’m not quite sure what I am doing.

Finally, around 8, the large contingent of experienced dancers arrives, pregnant with excitement about what’s to come. The band, I learn, is popular among the experts, and the young woman (who I learn is the “caller”) is well known for her gentle spirit and fun dances.

The woman welcomes everyone, and then invites them to assume the position, lining up in long lines to begin the dance. The band members whisper among themselves, thinking about what piece of music to start with. Once everyone is in position, the caller begins to teach the moves for the dance to be danced. She calmly, but with some humor, verbally leads folks through the dance, until they have moved to dance with new folks and the dance repeats. After making sure that all know more or less what they are doing, she cues the band and they begin to play.

As the music starts, the dancers begin to move, led by the quiet promptings of the caller preparing them for the next move. The first couple of times through are tentative, but as the musicians pick up the beat, the moves become natural and fluid. With time, the caller begins to call less and less, as the dancers naturally respond to the changes in the music.

As a dancer, one soon finds oneself in a place that is beyond one’s self. One moves without having to be told what to do. Movement happens because it’s what feels natural. Even greater, one develops a connection with the other dancers — a connection that comes through close proximity, and eye contact, and sharing a mystical experience.

Suddenly, it’s 11:00 and the dance ends. The band plays a last waltz, and the single men and single women try to find a waltz partner that they might go get a drink with after the dance.

“What did you think,” my friend asks.

“I’ll see you next week,” you reply, covered in sweat and filled with an energy not often known.

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