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Our contradance community and what it feels like being in it

We have gender free contra dances about twice a month in JP (Boston), weekend dance camp in the berkshires twice a year, and english country dances twice a month in JP. This is our seventh year, pinkfish has been doing it for longer.

There are lots of regulars; we hardly ever miss a dance. It is mostly gay and lesbians, but we are very welcoming to everyone and there are quite a few straight people who like us and our dancing (men dancing with men, women with women, and mixed with the women taking the lead or not. We have a good mix of people from experienced dancers to absolute beginners. Contradancing is sometimes characterized as aerobic flirting. In contradancing you have a partner and interact directly with next pair for a bunch of moves and then progress up/down the line to the next pair, etc. You choose a different partner for each dance so in the course of a night you get to interact with everyone. This is one of the few places where lots of gays and lesbians and some straight people all recreate and socialize together.

pinkfish, I, and two others have established the Lavender Legacy project to help make sure this community can thrive and grow. Our goal is to collect and eventually disseminate ideas, knowhow, and money to help us thrive. We had our first community meeting yesterday with some of the other JP dancers to collect ideas and tell people what we are thinking of. It was quite fruitful and among other things people really reflected on how coming to these dances is like coming home to family.

There was a dance last night, but Robert and I had tickets to hear Ben Hepner, a usually operatic tenor, who was singing Schumann, duParc, and Tosti. We had spotted our car at the church in JP and took the bus after the concert (it was excellent) to go to the last couple of dances. So we walked up to the church, was greeted and hugged by a couple of people leaving, entered the church, quickly changed our shoes, took off our dress shirts but didn't waste time changing to skirts since Rick Mohr, the caller for the night, was teaching the next dance. We walked in the hall and joined the end of the line. Rick warned us newcomers that this was a hard dance so perhaps we should watch; several people said - they'll be fine and the dance started. It was an interesting dance (a premiere created by Rick). So we worked our way up the line chatting the typical 5 second conversations with friends and a couple of new people as we encountered them during swings and waves. Several people asked how was the concert because presumably other people had told them where we were.

It was just like coming home to our family.

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I always enjoyed the dances. Too bad they take place so late at night :)

The reason Rick was so careful about making sure you knew what you were doing, is that for most of the evening, newcomers and beginning dancers nearly outnumbered advanced dancers. Many of us spent our whole evening dancing with people we had never met. While this is fun and exhiliarating, it is also exhausting. I barely made it through the second half of the dance (and that only because I selfishly stole one dance with D, so I didn't have to work so hard). Many advanced dancers gave up early. Rick did a good job of keeping the dancing level easy but interesting, and we did a good job (if I say so myself) of helping out the newcomers (Rick was impressed).

By the time you arrived, many newcomers had departed. Another interesting thing had happened; many dancers who consider themselves as "intermediate" found themselves suddenly in a position of leadership. And where they would normally simply defer to one of us ancient dancers, we were, to the last dancer, busy helping others [0]. This forced some "intermediate" dancers to start thinking of themselves as "advanced". So the whole evening had been a sort of missionary-and-cannibals game [1], of making sure there were enough advanced dancers at any point to make it work. Rick didn't recognize you, so, according to the convention that had been set up that night, just assumed you were beginners.

[0] At one point in an otherwise simple dance, D found himself directing not only his partner, but also his neighbor, and his neighbor's partner. D is a very strong dancer (rapper will do that do you), but thinking for four, in a brand new dance, was beyond his capabilities; he was overwhelmed for a while. We did our best to help, but we had our own partners to look out for . . .

[1] Rick boldly called a square at one point in the evening. My square was evenly balanced, 4 advanced (or neo-advanced) and 4 beginners. We had our share of problems, and we didn't always end up with the correct progressed partner, but we made it through. D's square had a better ratio, and actually completed the dance. The third square, which contained so few familiar faces that I can't actually remember even one at this point, had a breakdown of morale, and decided to just watch.

[2] Rick used the word, "gent's" (or maybe, "man's") once, and we forgave him. When he used the word, "ladies" later on, we told him he could not be forgiven, and had to be spanked. Well, that's what I told him, anyway. He dances a mean waltz, by the way, leading or following.

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