Like every other elementary school student who grew up in the 1960s I first learned of square dancing in Phys Ed. I rather liked dancing with some of the boys but I understand if their memories of dancing with me are not so fond. It’s the cootie thing; it takes a few years for boys and girls to outgrow the fear of the opposite. I really liked dancing.
When I was a single woman in my twenties in the Washington, DC area I discovered Irish dancing as I walked by an evening dance class in progress in a school. Hooked by the music, I joined the class (of step dancing) and later switched to a class of social dancing for the fleet of foot and strong of heart. An Irish social dance is called a ceili (KAY-lee) and the dance figures are the same I call in New England today, with the addition of constant footwork. There are two basic steps, a 7-step sideways move that, with a one-beat rest to change direction fills a 4-beat phrase, and a 3-step move for going forward, back, or pausing in place. Sevens and threes. They build terrific ankles and give the heart a workout. Irish dancing demands that excellent upright posture we all know so well from Riverdance.
In the autumn of 1987 I came to Vermont to visit my old friend, Robbo, and he took me to my first contra dance in Greenfield MA. I loved it! In contrast to the ceilis I knew, this only offered one kind of dance so I learned very quickly about lining up with ladies facing gents, dancing in groups of four, how to progress to the next couple, and the change from inactive couple to active during the wait-out on the end of the line. (That’s back before dances with inactive couples became old-style.) As soon as I got home I looked up contra dances in the metro area and went to my first, at Glen Echo Spanish Ballroom. I started dancing contras.
So, when Robbo and I married we attended every dance we could for the first two years and on the 11th day after the birth of my firstborn (that was a little too ambitious.) After that, we rarely went out until the older ones were teens. Then we danced at Nelson several times, when Bob McQuillen was on the keyboard and Don Primrose and Lisa Sieverts called.
Elsewhere I tell the story of how I first jumped into calling at a wedding and how we hosted the annual SnowBall at Holleran Hall every winter until Covid. We resumed at Christmas 2021 and since then I’ve been calling monthly at two halls. During this time I realized that I prefer this kind of social dancing, in contrast to modern contras where a high degree of skill (and energy!) is expected. I like watching reluctant men with no positive dance background whatsoever catch the bug and come back each month for more. I like the variety of dances I can call–circles, longways sets, scatters, squares (coming soon!), and contras. I like being able to match dances to whatever dancers I find at my event so that everyone feels included.
After all we’ve experienced in the past three years, we sure need to reconnect to our community and see in our neighbors what we share in common. Dancing is a step in the right direction.