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Dance Across the USA

Most of you know that I am more than a little bit crazy about dancing, specifically, the form of dancing called Contra Dancing.  I am here to tell you how easy it is to dance your way across the U.S.A.

I am on my way to my son Ben in Knoxville, Tennessee, but I am taking, to put it mildly, a circuitous route.  I am traveling to Ann Arbor Michigan on Tuesday in order to drop off a partially finished manuscript of a book I am working on, and I will dance, Tuesday night, in Ann Arbor.

Wednesday night I am dancing in Bloomington, Indiana.  I went to graduate school in Bloomington and this will be my first time back since 1965 - that's thirty years I suddenly realized.

It is pure chance that Ann Arbor happens to have a dance on Tuesday night, Bloomington Indiana happens to have a dance on Wednesday night.  But there is a book, put out by the Country Dance & Song Society, that lists all contradance groups in the U.S.A.  So you can plan ahead -- as I obviously did.

After Bloomington I am spending a whole weekend in Cincinnati dancing.  It is called the Pig-town fling, happens once a year.  Then my son and I are spending four days in Charleston, South Carolina where I dance on Thursday night, and then the following weekend there is a dance weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Am I crazy? Crazy with joy.  I am able to take this extended trip down south because I am on Sabbatical -- and before you jump all over me, remember, I just dropped off weeks and weeks of work -- at a publisher in Ann Arbor.

I am on vacation, my spring break -- and what am I doing on my spring break? Dancing my way across the U.S.A.  I tell all of you this because the form of dancing I do, contra dancing, is somewhat unusual in that the same dances are called everywhere in the U.S.A.

There are two interesting parts to the previous sentence --  these dances are called -- and the same dances are called. The fact that they are called means that you, the dancer, don't have to think: the caller will tell you - right hands around, two hands around.  You do not need to know the dance.  You will be told the moves of the dance.  And two, many of the same dances are danced everywhere -- so you become familiar with the dances, feel at ease dancing, though you are dancing with total strangers.

And that's the best part of all of this: I will make instant friends with people in Ann Arbor, Bloomington, Indiana, Cincinnati, Ohio, Charlottesville, South Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina.   Even if we do not become instant friends -- we do become instant dance partners -- and that is a wonderful way to first get acquainted with people.


Ours is a huge nation -- 250 million people spread out over a huge area -- 3,000 miles coast to coast -- several thousand miles north to south.  Ours is a huge country.  Within this huge amorphous structure I've managed to find a community of friends -- a community that exists all over this country.  It is a bizarre community -- it is a wonderful and wonderfully friendly community.  I love being a part of this nationwide community.

I am talking of the community of dancers called Contra dancers.  I have often gone to a week long dance camp, a dance camp attended by people from all over the U.S.A.  Recently when I decided to travel to see my son in Knoxville, Tennessee, I stopped in town after town after town -- and always ran into someone I knew.  In this big amorphous country, in this huge country, that is bizarre, and enormously pleasing.

I went to Bloomington, Indiana, and when I went Contra dancing on Wednesday night I met three people I had danced with before: we were dance-campers, together for a week, in Brasstown, North Carolina.  After Bloomington I went to Cincinnati Ohio for a weekend's worth of dancing.  Half the people I had danced with only two nights ago in Bloomington, Indiana, were in Cincinnati dancing with me once again.  And suddenly I saw ten more people I had danced with before, had not seen in years and years -- but they knew me, I knew them -- we had spent a joyous week keeping each other company, dancing cheek to cheek.

I will not repeat the preceding for town after town after town -- but it occurred when I went to Charleston, South Carolina, and it occurred when I went Charlotte, North Carolina.  The dance in Charlotte was another weekend dance with almost 300 attendees.  I knew perhaps thirty, but of the people I had never seen before, one hundred looked at me, I looked at them -- long, lovingly, intensely -- they will not forget me, I will not forget them.  We will all meet again eventually -- probably a year from now.

All of you listening to me should try and find such a community -- and many of you already have -- the community of Rotarians, of U of M graduates, of stamp collectors.

There are many such communities of common interests that link a small group all over the U.S.A.  I find my community to be so wonderful, that words fail me.  You get to dance for hours and hours with total strangers, who never again will be total strangers.  You encounter smiling faces, faces that are only inches away from your face.  Such faces, faces you've encountered up close and personal, such faces are imprinted forever, and imprinted in a lovely way: "I've danced with you."

And finally -- about fifty of the people I danced with in Charlotte, North Carolina are coming in a week to dance in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  A strange, intertwined, whirling dervish community.  So long...

Copyright 2001   Henry Morgenstein

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