You remember that PBS special, where Givens kept talking about Mormons and dancing? The dancing bits got to my wife and me. We felt we were missing out on some good fun and our heritage.
I’m no dancer. I’ve flunked a dance class, even. Like my wife, though, I have fond memories of social dance at BYU. And since the dancing we did on the handcart trek last summer– the something johnny, it was called, a big ring we formed through which we wove up and down, a real hoot–I’ve been brooding on a way to recreate the experience.
My wife clipped an announcement from the paper about a monthly something called a “contra dance.” She found out that a couple in the next ward over go regular and recommend it. So I did a little research online. Then I bit the bullet and said I’d go. Her eyes sparkled on the drive up–I’d made the right call.
We had a blast. *I* had a blast. They start off here with a ring dance of some kind, like the one we did at the handcart trek. Its usually new to most everyone, so the caller walks us through it. Then, when the dance starts, the caller calls the moves so you can’t forget. Since we’re repeating the same pattern of moves as we advance around the ring, by the last half of the dance we’re all comfortable with what we’re doing and enjoying ourselves.
Then they do several “contra dances,” which as far as I can tell are halfway between English country dancing (think Jane Austen) and square dancing. We line up, men facing the women, and form into little groups of four. The caller then walks us through the four or five moves of the dance a few times, which are designed to move the bottom couple of the four up the line and the top couple down the line into new foursomes. Once we’re done with the walkthroughs, the fiddle strikes up (did I mention the live fiddling?), the caller starts calling out the moves, and off we go. You’ll mess up if you’re me but by the time you get to the fourth or fifth foursome you’ll have the hang of it.
You have all ages present. As you move up and down the line you dance with every woman present so I danced with an eight-year old girl and a pair of grandmothers. Forewarned is forearmed: not only do you and your wife dance with other folks, your first dance or two you are encouraged to partner with more experienced dancers. Contra dance is group dancing, so even an Othello couldn’t get jealous, but if you’re worse than Othello I’ve warned you. The regulars are eager to help, but each dance is new to everyone so the experience gap is less than might be.
They also have a couple of waltzes, about which the less said, maybe, the better.
Anyway, that was January. We went back this Saturday and had just as good a time. Funny thing, last week I was driving with a partner from the firm out to a hearing in Grants, a small town west of here, and I mentioned the contra dancing. He perked up and really started talking. Back in the day when people danced he and his band had been a hot commodity, it seems. And then he started talking about the “Mormon dances” over in Bluewater (Deseret’s tiny eastmost outpost here in New Mexico). He loved them.
On Sunday I brought up the dancing with my Grandma and she perked up too. At first I think the idea of me dancing gave her the giggles. But then she started talking and told me quite a bit of our family’s history I didn’t know about it. Her dad was widowed early on (which I knew) so he went to all the dances religiously (which I didn’t), and took her along even when she was kid. He wasnt’ very religious otherwise so dancing was most of her early contact with the Church. By the time she was a teenager she had a real taste for it, she said. She told some happy memories of long rides in the dark to reach a dance somewhere, or even of overnight trips. Apparently she went to dances at Bluewater too even though its at least 40 miles from the ranchhouse she grew up in. I’ll have to ask the partner for the name of his band. Maybe she’ll remember it.
I proselyted the contra dancing in priesthood yesterday. Several of the brethren came up to get details from me afterwards. If we get enough of us doing it, maybe we can hold our own dance in the chapel, little kids spilling around and saints from 8 to 80 mixing and dancing, just like old times.
They do contra dancing around the country. Why don’t you give it a try? Its the only form of family history that gives you good music and exercise.
Find a contra dance near you at this comprehensive collection of links. The site also includes links for relaxed, dabbler-friendly waltzing and square dances.
I noticed on our ward bulletin board today that BYU offers dance camps at dancecamps.byu.edu,including ballroom dance for adults.