Last night I went to an amazingly abundant contra dance. Lately at the dances in Norwich there is a fairly constant amount of regulars and also always a handful of newcomers. Last night was a different story. There is a dance organizers conference going on in the Upper Valley this weekend, which brought over 80 dancers who dance often to the dance. Some would call them "experienced" dancers, but that term also has a lot of negative connotations, so we'll just say they were a large group of people who are quite familiar with contra dancing. There were also almost 50 high schoolers from the Mountain School who came to the dance. They have come to the Norwich dance before, and it is tons of fun to have so many people with such high energy. Most of these people would fall into the "beginners" category. Then there was also a larger-than-normal Dartmouth contingent, many of whom were at their first-ever contra dance.
Trying to call a dance for such a varied group is really an amazing feat. You need to choose dances that are easy enough for the first-timers to not get totally frustrated, but also interesting enough to keep the regulars from getting bored. Needless to say, the caller did a fantastic job. Fantastic to the point where it was announced that we were doing the last dance of the evening, and I couldn't believe that three hours had passed in what seemed like one. Last night was an incredibly fun dance, and I particularly enjoyed seeing so many people from the dances I travel to, all at my hometown dance.
However, all of that is not what I intended to focus this post on. Often callers will give "style tips" when they walk through a dance. For example, a common one is "look at the person you are balancing" because a balance is kind of like a greeting, so it is just nice to make eye contact with the person you are greeting and dancing with. There are plenty of other style tips that have been pointed out to me (and hopefully others) at the various dances I've gone to, which I find really helpful in enriching my dance experience by making me feel more connected to the other dancers. To me, a good style tip is just like a little nugget that isn't totally necessary, but if the tip is acted upon, makes the dance exponentially better.
One style tip that I have yet to hear vocalized is regarding eye contact during a do-si-do. I was lucky enough to somehow notice that sometimes during a women's do-si-do, the other woman was sometimes making these intentional moments of eye contact. So we would step into the do-si-do, twirl, make eye contact, step, twirl, make eye contact, and if there was enough time even a third time. Once I figured that little tip out, my do-si-do experience was revolutionized. Typing it doesn't make it sound like a huge deal, but it was. Just trust me. If I encounter a woman who will do this, our dance experience is totally different than when I encounter one who doesn't. The woman and I who make eye contact are dancing with each other. We are "socializing" maybe? The point of social dance is to connect with others, right? Whereas the woman who does not know this style tip is just off twirling as many times as she can, often while admiring her twirling skirt.
Sidenote: Last night after the dance I was so exhausted, and upon trying to comment on how I really liked the twirliness of my skirt which I hadn't worn before stated, "I really liked that squirrel."
So the thing that really surprised me at the dance last night was just how many women are unaware of this do-si-do style tip. The majority of women there, including those from the conference, never danced a do-si-do with me, but rather just danced around me twirling their twirly skirts. Booooorrriiing.
Don't get me wrong. I do love to twirl a twirly skirt, but I prefer to focus my social dance experience on the social aspect. It does make me wonder what other style tips I have not yet picked up on, and that no one is really vocalizing..