Monday, 24 October 2011

Strictly Dancing

It was quite hilarious and led to broken glass, but yesterday evening some of my friends and I began a Scottish country dance. Although we often meet for a meal after Mass on Sundays, we do not usually break into dancing. I do seem to recall spontaneous waltz some months ago, when someone began to play a waltz medley on the parlour piano, but usually no. This time I found a reel on Youtube, and my husband began to shout instructions, and almost before we knew what going on, all had joined hands and were jumping about in a circle.

Country dancing is great fun, and in its way it is like Gregorian chant: it doesn't need a lot of training and anyone can learn it. And I know anyone can learn it because I can learn it, and I am the biggest dunderhead at choreography ever. I was the bane of my ballet mistresses and their carefully planned year's end performances. Eurgh! My youngest sister is lucky to have been spared ballet; she was sent straight into Highland Dance.

So I must admit up front I have a terrible bias against partner dancing, including the waltz. I realize that in partner dancing the lady (or "follower") is supposed to just do whatever the gentleman (or "lead") wishes, but I resist such notions. Only my husband has the right to give me orders, thank you very much.

And in the case of gentlemen dancers so talented that they make the lucky ladies in their arms feel like they are floating, I am much too wicked for such temptations. My head might float away, and then where would I be, eh? So I leave the waltz, the tango, the salsa, and all other modern dances to the pure. That said, the easiest way to get over a crush on a Celtic, Anglo-Saxon or differently Germanic guy is dance a salsa with him. Total anaphrodesiac.

I hate partner dancing so much I wonder why I have taken so many classes in it. I think, though, that it is usually because of peer pressure. The words "Come on it will be fun" ring a bell, as do the words "I don't want to go by myself." It is the sort of thing my Single friends would do, and then not do again once they were married. The great majority of husbands are allergic to going out in the evening, to say nothing of going out swing- or salsa-dancing.

However, ethnic country dancing of the kind all generations can and often do at ethnic weddings is a different story entirely. For me, that means reels, jigs and dances named after such mysterious individuals as Gay Gordon and the Dashing White Sergeant. The happiest "real" dances I have done have been group affairs with callers and fiddles and occasionally pipes.

What is the difference? Not to sound like a member of the Anti-Sex League, but one big difference is that the emphasis upon Boy-Girl is almost entirely removed. It is never about Him and Me or Her and Him but upon All Of Us. In country dancing, men and women and men and men and women and women hold hands and link arms with zero sexual significance. Partners are switched with dizzying speed; all that is constant is the group.

In a world that acts as though sexual partnership is the be-all and end-all of post-pubescent existence, it is wonderful that there is an ancient social activity for men and women that celebrates them not as couples but as all together, married, single, widowed, clergy, teen.

Update: Okay, I realize that this is a total old lady question, there grinding in all the dance clubs now? I ask because I am plotting to go outdoors really late for an old person to check out a dance club downtown soon, and I have heard weird stories about women in it.


Anna said...

When I was in high school (American here), we would have dances. There were always the couples who paired off immediately and spent the entire evening glued to each other, but my girlfriends and I would circle up and dance like maniacs. Even when I had a boyfriend to dance with, I'd spend the slow dances with him and the fast dances with the girls.

I've taken a few ballroom classes with one of my girlfriends. Nothing sexual about it for us, and we switched leads often.

I quite enjoy swing dancing, because it seems to be less of a lead/follow than ballroom. Plus, it's hard to be sexual with swing, as your hands are the only contact. It is expected that you will switch up constantly, as well.

Jam said...

I must be follow-deficient, because that business about "all you have to do is follow" makes zero sense to me. If I were coordinated enough to do the steps I don't think lead or follow would make much difference.

Little Mary said...

There is a great American version of country dancing called contra that is done throughout the U.S. -- tons of fun! Fast-paced with a lot of twirling, you learn as you go and alot of groups look down on dancing with the same partner all the time, so it's very single-friendly. I think there are even some workshops specifically geared to younger folks. I like English country dancing (think Jane Austen)as well... graceful, and a little flirtatious... eye contact is your main contact with your fellow dancers beyond your hands... and the gents don't need to have tons of lessons before they start to participate, since their is no "lead." If you're interested, check the web, I think most groups have things posted online.

This is a bit random, but I'd love to hear from a gal who can both lead and follow on what she thinks is harder...

Eowyn said...

Lead is harder in any sort of dance because you actually need to know what you're doing, whereas as a follow you are doing just that, following. I have a lot of respect for the gents who have to lead! Also, I find once I've learned follow it is too much for my brain to switch to lead (though I have mananged to do it in Irish ceili/country dancing...less complicated, less spontenaiety than swing, etc.).

Mrs Doyle said...

I love set dancing, it removes any sort of inhibitions that other dancing seems to conjure up, it goes so fast you don't have time to be self-conscious and it's hilarious fun.
It's also the only place where whooping makes sense!

alliecat said...

I'm a little out of practice, but I think I can make a claim to being able to lead and follow. I actually feel that leading is easier in most situations, because there is no guesswork involved. You know what's coming next, because you get to make the decision. However, if you are following a lead who really knows what he's doing, then that is the easiest of all. In that case, you almost don't even have to think about what's happening, because he guides you without you realizing it.

As for the question about grinding, in the US, I've run into very few club-type bars that don't involve grinding. And that's really unfortunate for those of us that don't want to participate, because men have come to think that every girl at those places is inviting them to grope them. I've had men come up behind me in a country bar, even, and grab me, thinking I wanted him to, just because I was on the floor, dancing with my friends. I just turned around and looked at him questioningly, saying, "do I know you?" Boy did that put him in his place!

Alisha said...

Just dropping in to comment on social dance and swing in particular :):
1. Social dancing need not be romantic, sexual or about pairing off. It's only because it is no longer taken for granted that young men and women will learn to dance together (ie. dances that have some form to them as opposed to just bouncing around or grinding) as a social skill that it has this heightened sexual aspect.
2. It's becoming more and more common in the swing world to see the roles of lead and follow be either men or women because to learn both improves your dancing. The top dancers in the scene can usually do both with varying degrees of skill.
3. Following is a skill; you don't "just follow" - it is something that is learned and refined.
4. Swing is definitely for sure a lead & follow dance if taught properly. You can both independently do steps but then it's not really partner dancing, just choreography while you happen to have your hands joined. Besides there are no set patterns which must be repeated in swing its roots are in jazz and therefore improvisation is an integral part of the dance
4. In terms of which is harder, I think that depends on how you are wired and the two require different skill sets. Leading initially has a higher learning curve because you are learning movement as well as moves, trying to guide and protect your follow, be musical, relaxed etc - you have the responsibility of your body and someone else's. Following, however, teaches you an attention and responsiveness and subtlety and adaptability that is different. A good lead will be all those things as well (though often they are not as great at listening because it is not the primary thing they are taught.)
Personally, I prefer following simply because it allows me to use an entirely different part of my brain. I'm used to being in charge of all the decisions in my life and thinking everything through, whereas when I follow, I can just turn that part of my brain off and respond in a more intuitive fashion to what is given to me.

Elspeth said...

I've danced with a few men who made me feel that they were trying to control me, but that kind of behaviour is hardly unique to dance floors.

However your description of partner dancing made me wonder what men's movement might do with the subject:

"She forces the chump she's dancing with to watch the floor while she shows off. He's working overtime, keeping her safe, whirling around in a crowded space, but all she thinks about are those flamboyant twirls so she can look glamorous for the next so-called partner."