Wednesday night, our church held a contra dance. Do you know what that is? If you do, you’re way ahead of where I was when I accepted the invitation. Contra dancing is somewhere between square dancing and the patterned dances that you see in Jane Austen movies. Well, let’s say more on the square-dancing side, since they are fast enough to have you gasping and sweating about halfway through the first dance.
We showed up early, at 7:00, so that we could get in on the lessons. A diminutive woman told us the names of the moves and had us demonstrate, which apparently did not go smoothly, since she eventually asked, “Who here has never been to a contra dance before?” About half the room raised their hands, so you knew it wouldn’t be long before sheer bedlam took over. Even more confusing, everything is about boy / girl couples, but there were couples with two girls, one of whom was standing in for a gentleman, since, as Elizabeth Bennet would say, “More than one lady was in want of a partner.” So it was hard to know if you were in the right place.
However, after about half an hour, the musicians started, and off we went. The dances were arranged so that the first one was the easiest, and they grew in complexity as the night went on. I had already danced out of my shoes and was dancing barefoot, which I regretted later in the night when my toes were trod on, but the cold tile floor felt great at the time! We had a small circle of four people, with those small circles repeated all around the room in a huge circle. There were about 70-80 people dancing at any one time, and another 30 or so watching. We twirled, changed direction, made a star pattern by grasping wrists, do-si-doed, and clapped. Each couple moved on to the next place and found new partners, working all the way around the room by the end of the dance. Important piece of information: The dances last about 15 or 20 minutes each, and you’re moving fast the whole time! Needless to say, by the time you’re halfway around the room, those wrists you’re grabbing are pretty slick, and the circles are not holding together very tightly. Furthermore, at one point my partner (see how I didn’t embarrass my husband there?) do-si-doed without looking and slammed right into my back, knocking the wind out of me. Naturally, I was very gracious about this and did not mention it more than five times after the dance.
At the end of the first dance, we were gasping for air, and one of the young women said, “It’s a great cardio workout, isn’t it?” It is, indeed. We made straight for the ice water, and watched through the second dance. That’s when I took these pictures. (Oh, did you think there would be pictures of me? How could I take pictures of myself dancing?) It is really fun to watch, but by the end of the second song, we were ready to try again. When the music ended, it was as if there had been an emergency evacuation! Everyone hit the church foyer for drinks and cookies, but drifted back in a few minutes later. We stood up in line and listened to instructions, and I knew we were in trouble when I kept landing in the wrong place every time we practiced a move. Our neighbor said, “Oh, you’ll get it once we start.” We didn’t. We were dancing with a girl / girl couple, so I never knew if I was opposite a gentleman, as I was supposed to be, or a lady, which means that I was wrong. By the time we sorted that out, it was time to move on to the next move, and eventually we turned around to join the next couple, and they weren’t there. We were not alone in our confusion, since there was a lot of good-natured shouting going on, but I think most people were not quite as lost as I was. We gave up, laughing.
My conclusion? It was a blast. It was so fun to have a room full of people twirling, shrieking, and laughing, and everyone was really forgiving of those who were struggling and counting off steps. We had a great time, and if I could practice more, I would love to do this more often. I’m not sure that other people would like for me to dance more often, but maybe I’d improve. If I could choose one regular workout, this would be it. “Regular” being the operative word here, since the next scheduled dance at our church is in January.
This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 9-27-12.