There’s nothing that says old and white better than a square dance! Okay, maybe there’s a few other activities, cross country skiing, tennis, golf, baroque music, Alaskan politics, The KKK which are whiter or older but not by much. It still doesn’t stop me from loving a good square dance.
The best square dance I’ve ever been to was on a frigid First Night in Boston, MA where my sister Beth and I, being shut out of some of the smaller art venues ventured out to the Prudential Center where we found somewhere over a thousand other souls, amidst several 10 foot piles of winter coats, sweating in squares and circles. There was a magnificent diversity in terms of ethnicity, age and people needing assistive movement devices. I was screaming with joy and crying with laughter at the inability of my mind and body to process the fairly simple calls. I did not become hooked on square dancing that night but I did begin to appreciate my attraction to being part of a great body of energy, connected in the enjoyment of the attempt to work together despite our differences. This is the kind of energy I would like to carry throughout my life.
I went to a square dance the other night. It was rather modest but there was a sense of the same fumbling willingness to be part of a group activity in which one is sure to fail. Making mistakes is vital to square dancing and most everything else. It’s very visible when you abandon your partner or step out as a man when you’re designated to be a woman (hooray for Chaz.) We were given neckties by the caller in order to help keep us “straight.”
The caller takes a role not unlike a master group facilitator, giving clear directions, modeling, allowing for practice then letting all hell break loose. Without the calling I am lost. I’m not one of those body memory people although I have gotten a bit better at recognizing how to work in my 2 second delay in processing. I dig that everyone not only gets to dance but is needed to make the dance happen and that you can come alone and get paired up with anyone.
I’ve had some dance background in musical theatre but that just brought me up to a low normal in terms of bodily functions. I have been likened to a praying mantis at many points in my life and this is evident in my dancing style, a bit angular with a aura of possible danger. This is apparently okay in square dancing. How refreshing. I remember going to a club here in Anchorage and being challenged to a fight by a tiny inebriated woman who was offended by my aura. I felt rather proud of being challenged because of course as an actor and terminally lonely person that meant at least someone had noticed me.
I will be attending another square dance in a couple of weeks, my attempt to treat depression with physical exercise, proximity to people and focus on anything outside myself. Perhaps that’s why fall in New England was square dance time. The celebration of harvest, the need to work together, the shorter, suicidal days, make for a perfect get together. I remember going to a square dance at college, a fun alternative to the demanding disco moves popular in that era. I couldn’t believe that so many people showed up, (you got in free if you wore overalls). But I know now that no matter how goofy it looks, it’s the square dancing spirit that counts, the trip over a hay bale then the rush back for the right hand star resiliency that makes life more fun.