Sunday, April 21, 2013

Contradance: A First Impression

Having just returned from my very first contra, I feel like getting my impressions of it down before sleep distorts my memories.

For those of you who don't know, all one of you (yes I did see I have gained one follower, and for what it's worth thanks Ariadne), Contradance is a national organization that hosts dance events consisting mostly of called line dances in nearly every city or closely grouped collection of cities in the country. Think square dancing, but with English/Irish country music instead of American country music, also better dances.

Previously my experience of the Portland dance scene had been disappointing. The tango scene only wanted people with several years of experience dancing tango behind them, and was less than kind to newcomers stepping in to the actual dance events. So as someone who had only been dancing tango six months I wasn't exactly welcome. On the other hand the swing scene loved any and all blood no matter how new, but kept odd hours in sketchy locales, which seemed dangerous for a college student with no car and barely enough money to pay bus fare depending on the month. And finally the waltz scene, where I hoped I would find some dedicated folks supporting my absolute favorite dance, was dominated by the elderly. Don't get me wrong, some of the best leads and follows I've ever seen are in that community, but as the only young person there I felt as if every person I danced with was trying to absorb my youth through osmosis. It was disconcerting to say the least. Contra blew all the expectations I had gained through my experience in those communities out of the water.

The veterans could care less that it was my first time doing any of the line dances. In fact, many of them offered to help me through my first few dances and to teach me the basic moves of most contras in between songs; the location was a quaint little community center just outside Portland proper where what we considered the dance floor was a basketball court most of the week; and the group was larger than any I'd ever seen in the Portland dance scene, with people running the age gambit from early seventies to only a few years older than myself (20 years of age for frame of reference). Even better, the young and the old meshed seamlessly together, as each contra dance required one to change partners every minute or so. They had a live band too, three people on a banjo, accordion, and violin respectively that shouldn't have meshed together to create such lively, harmonious music but did.

As the night wore on I felt like I had gone back in time to a country dance in Ireland. Old widows and young maidens, apprentices and master craftsman, all gathered together on the village green to dance the day away until they collapsed in contentment as the endorphins became unable to sustain them any further. In short, it was a good evening.

I'm sure not every contra is like what I just described, but knowing that they do exist pretty much everywhere in the US does make me happy. It's a comforting thought to know that no matter where I go in life I'll still be able to go out one lazy Saturday evening and dance until my legs give out. It's good cardio, and a very good feeling.

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