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Introduction to Essays on Dance

Most of the essays in this book are aimed at died-in-the-wool Contra Dancers who believe almost any other form of dancing is not worth delving into, is nowhere near as exhilarating (and easy) as Contra dancing.

In part, I agree.  Contra dancing is the very best form of dancing.  It is easy; it only requires that you be able to walk to the beat of the music: there are no complicated steps, no “gargling with your feet” as one dancer said upon encountering Balkan Folk Dances.  The moves are limited in number; the dance is repeated & repeated, and there is a caller to prompt you when the dance begins.

It also involves dancing with a member of the opposite sex & yet there is no “pressure” on the man: in the case of 90% of the moves, it is a dance of equal responsibility for the man and the woman.  It also allows you to improvise, so long as you are there, ready for the next move.

There is no other form of dance I love as much as I love Contras.  I will explain what is wonderful about Irish set dancing & Ceilidh dancing (as done in Britain), and various other forms of dance, but I do so, fully realizing that many of you (and I) will never love any other form of dance as much as we love Contras.

But doing only Contras for a whole lifetime can become boring -- no matter how wonderful the Contras, no matter how wonderful the partners in a Contra.  I am reminded of the visiting British professor who asked an American graduate student what his specialty was.  His answer, “American Literature,” elicited the response, “Is that all?”  American Literature is vast, wonderful, but in the eyes of some, limiting.

I have danced in England and America and I was struck by how much quicker Brits are at picking up the various moves in a dance.  Their Contras often contain square dance moves (flutterwheel, star through ); they’ve danced English Country dances, Kentucky running sets, squares.  They have a vast repertoire of moves so that a new move, or a new combination of moves, is not daunting.

They do not dance with the vigor (or eye contact or twirls) of American Contra dancers, but they are easier, as a group, to teach, they are more pliable, more accepting -- and for some reason, they also seem to be more “on the beat” -- which may be, in part, because they dance to so many different kinds of music.

In any case, you need to know I love Contras, and I understand if you try these other forms and come running back (screaming back) to Contras.  Contras are lovely, engaging, invigorating, but it is only by contrast that ye shall know them, and there is a graceful beauty in ECD that no Contra can match.  Variety is the spice of life, and various forms of dance spice up life.

Read, enjoy and Dance "Dance 'til the stars come down with the rafters. Dance, dance, dance 'til you drop."  W.H.Auden & A. MacNeice.

Copyright 2001   Henry Morgenstein

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