On a rainy spring day in Toronto a few weeks ago, I was dancing up a storm.
It was the last day of an all-weekend contra dance festival. I arrived late to the church hall and was just joining the fun, looking forward to a few more hours. As a live band — clarinet, fiddle, and guitar — played jazz and roots music, my partner of the moment and I twirled amid the larger group. Two long lines of couples faced each other, each foursome dancing together, breaking into twos, trading partners, coming back together, then moving into a new group of four. The couples, the foursomes, and the long lines all worked together as aspects of the larger whole, making the dance both intimate and communitarian.
A caller stood by the band, directing us in a set sequence that would change from dance to dance. Like the group, the sequence was made up of smaller pieces, figures that stayed the same even as their order changed. The challenge was to find the flow of each sequence, and to embellish it with twirls and flair without disrupting the whole.
We were smokin’ that day, the wooden dance floor full of experienced dancers feeding off the energy of the band and each other. My long skirt swirled as I found myself part of the community of dancers, eyes meeting in pure joy, utterly caught up in the moment.
Then the fire bell rang.
We swarmed, disheartened, out of the church hall and waited in the playground for the firefighters to investigate. Time dragged on. I felt my last few hours of potential dancing slipping away, and cursed the errand that had caused me to arrive late.
Then the band started to play again, now standing outside under the cloudy sky. Without a microphone for the caller, we couldn’t continue with the contra dance. But we could waltz and Charleston and polka, and those we did with enthusiasm, up and down the sidewalk and around the playground, drawing curious passersby. I’m not the best waltzer, but that afternoon I found myself waltzing smoothly around other couples, caught up in the music, having a grand old time after all. I just had to make a point of finding it.
In case you’re curious, the church was fine. I’ve written more about contra dance over at Turtleduck Press. Wikipedia also has a good article with lots of links, including YouTube videos and ways to find contra dances in your area.
Have you ever experienced what I’m describing — whether it’s the dancing, the sense of community, or the unexpected fun after an initial disappointment?