adapted from an essay prepared for the Smithsonian
Festival of American Folklife, 1999
Growing up, I never felt comfortable dancing. I was one of
those guys who stood on the sidelines in junior high school, waiting for the
slow numbers where I could shuffle my feet awkwardly while clutching a partner.
In college, I danced to rock music in large part because my girlfriend liked to
dance and I wanted to be with her.
Discovering contra dance in the 1970s was a revelation. I
liked folk music already, and this dance music felt familiar, that foot-tapping
sound of the fiddles backed up by solid rhythm. Great music, friendly people,
and a logical flow to the dances all combined to provide a satisfying way of
moving to music.
I was playing in a band at the time, folk music from ballads
to bluegrass. When we played at parties, people asked if we could do music for
dancing. I started copying down the dances that I was doing and that’s how my
calling career got started some thirty-five years ago.
Now I call in many different settings, in barns and in town
halls, from weddings and PTA family dances to evenings of challenging dances
aimed at hard-core dance gypsies to English country dances. At our regular
monthly dance, everyone shares the dance floor, from young children to seniors,
beginners as well as folks with decades of dancing under their feet. We do
contras, both the older New England "chestnuts" as well as newer
creations, and we mix in squares and circle dances and other formations.
I still love to dance and I love to call. People set aside
their political philosophies and check their arguments at the door. We come
together to enjoy each other’s company in the moment, surrounded by glorious
live music, a whole hall working together. It’s a good formula for making one
small part of the world a better place.