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Why I Love Contras

I think I know why many of you out there listening to me dislike dancing.  In my case, a part of the reason I used to dislike dancing  -- and still dislike certain forms of dancing -- is that you must dance with one partner -- and either succeed or fail with that one partner.

In swing dancing, in tango, in fox trot -- in all those kind of couples dances -- you are dancing up close and personal with one person -- and in some dances it can be sexy, and scary, and if it is not between husband and wife, it can be doubly scary.

And that is why I love that form of dance many of you have heard me babble on about constantly: Contra Dancing.  I go to contra dances all by myself.  I don't have a significant other.  In Contra dancing you change partners often.  In fact, at the end of every dance, the unspoken, sometimes spoken by the caller rule is: Please thank this partner and find another.  In Contra dancing, during a dance, you almost always interact with, dance with, women who are not your partner.

I have begun to explain part of the reason I am absolutely nuts about the form of dancing called Contra dancing.  Let me transmit to you a terrific four person, four-part, conversation that wittily sums up some of what I am trying to say.

A friend of mine, Norm Stewart, was having a wonderful time dancing and he turned a fellow dancer and said: "Dancing is the best kind of exercise."  The fellow dancer did not fully agree: "Oh I don't know. I like the horizontal kind of exercise better."  Two days later Norm was relating this conversation to a group of friends at a contra dance when one of the listeners said: "But you can't do the horizontal kind for four hours straight."   Everyone laughed and then someone said, "And in the horizontal kind you don't get to change partners every fifteen minutes."

I once taught a class in Contra dancing and I wanted to call the class "Temporary Marriages."  They changed what I thought was a highly descriptive title.  In contra dances, you are temporarily married to this partner -- for this dance and no more -- and then the caller says: "Please thank this partner and find another."  Serial monogamy.  Be faithful, attentive, loving. Make close eye contact.  But this is not forever.

Contra dancing is the most wonderful form of exercise I know of -- and I can do this exercise for four hours straight -- and during those four hours I will come in very close contact with twenty to fifty different women.  Now that's my kind of dancing -- perhaps the quintessential form of modern dancing -- up close and personal, but very, very, temporary.

Copyright 2001   Henry Morgenstein

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