Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Entranced with Contra Dance

“I’ve never seen so many happy, smiling faces,” I commented to my young friend, Kyrie, as we sat watching the dancers whirl about the room.

“They’re not smiling, Miss Wendy; it’s the G-force,!” Kyrie contradicted.

She had a point. We had both been whirled and twirled through our first experience at a Contra Dance--a group folk dance in two lines that shares some steps with square dancing--until we were quite dizzy. To make matters worse, I could not stop laughing through the entire first dance. Luckily my experienced dance partner was patient and kind.

The dance was one of the regularly scheduled ones sponsored by the Houston Area Traditional Dance Society, an organization that promotes contra dancing and other traditional American folk dances. HATDS sponsors a contra dance most 2nd and 4th Saturdays, always with a live band. The music is mostly Celtic jigs and reels. The beauty of contra is that each dance is taught and called, so you can have a fabulous time even as a beginner. Best of all, it is courtship friendly, giving my teenagers a way to gain experience interacting with members of the opposite sex without one-on-one dating.

It was truly an enchanted evening, complete with a great band called Evil Genius and a short and wide little dancing man who could have been a character from a fairy tale. Herb and I had brought Nathaniel and Emma and Emma's weekend company, Kyrie and Mary Catherine. Kyrie and Nathaniel had been reluctant to come but were quickly won over once they started dancing. Nathaniel had to literally be dragged to the floor by one of the ladies but his joyful countenance during the dance betrayed his true feelings.

We found out about contra dancing from Debbie Hesche, wife of Brice Hesche, the square dance caller at May Community Center where Nathaniel and Emma are taking lessons. I told Debbie that Emma and I wanted to learn how to do the kind of dancing that you see in a Jane Austen movie like Pride and Prejudice. She told me about the Houston Area Traditional Dance Society, and I looked them up on the internet. From their site I also learned about English Country Dancing, the direct ancestor of contra, which is actually the kind of dancing that Jane Austen characters enjoyed. We look forward to learning more about it.

In the meantime, though, we are eager to attend more contra dances and be whirled into joyful abandon, forgetting the world outside of two rhythmic, moving lines of smiling faces.

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