Months ago on the Forum, I wondered what trance ECD might be like. Looks like at least one group has experimented in that vein...this is from a party in New Jersey early this year with Phase X:
Anyone else danced ECD to alternative music? What did you think of it?
The older I get, the more I’m convinced that adulthood is at least partly about finding your community -- be it the members of your household or your “tribe” that you hang out with. When I left off in Part 1, I’d found mine, and it was awesome.
A couple of years later (circa 2010) my body started to decide that it was no longer willing to be as cooperative as it had been to date. I had a lengthy battle with bronchitis (that wasn’t diagnosed as such until a couple of months in), my other knee decided that it would start filing grievances with my body on a regular basis and as such I needed to wear another knee brace, and then later my lower back did something weird in late 2011/early 2012 that has meant my deep-dipping days are mostly behind me at this point, with rare exceptions (but man, they were fun while they lasted).
A little later on, I was saving up for a trip abroad and was unsteadily employed, so the trips to the diner fell away in the name of saving money. Unfortunately, the ongoing health issues also meant that I couldn’t keep up with the hot-shot line anymore, at least not consistently. I started dancing in the other lines more regularly, and meeting new folks that way (including a few who made surprised comments that I wasn’t dancing over in the far line). A few of the folks I used to dance with in the cool hip dancer line still sought me out, but most of them stayed over in the cool hip dancer line, dancing with each other, and I didn’t get to see them unless there was a gender imbalance, I was sitting out, and they were scraping the sides of the room for partners.
I'll be blunt: at first, this really stung. The folks I had thought were my friends didn’t ask to dance with me anymore, and they no longer even asked if I wanted to go to the diner anymore. I actually considered quitting contra at that point, since a lot of the appeal had been that community and my inclusion in it.
Somewhere around this point I was having a pity party for myself (complete with tiny violin solo) and Steve metaphorically smacked me upside the head: “When was the last time you asked them for a dance?”
Took me a little bit, but as much as I hated to admit it, he was right. In waiting for them to ask me, I’d been taking on a really awful attitude, and that was really not helping anything at all. Who the heck was I to demand that they bridge the gap instead of attempting to do so myself? They certainly didn’t owe me anything and while I certainly hadn’t thought of it that way, I could see where this interpretation of my lament had some legs. After this forehead-smacking “Aha!” moment, I resolved to make more of a point of seeking them out at least some of the time, instead of waiting for them to come to me like they had before.
It’s harder to get dances with a lot of the folks who used to be my regular partners as a lot of them book way ahead these days, and I’m pretty sure I pushed some of them away when I stopped going to the diner/stopped dancing in the far-left line because of the aforementioned bodily rebellion, but the frequency of my being able to dance with those friends went up once I got over myself and went over and asked them, rather than waiting for them to ask me most of the time. (There are some that I finally wrote off asking after being deferred indefinitely several weeks in a row -- I can take a hint, and I didn’t and don’t want to be a pest -- but many I still dance with at least sometimes.)
After six years and counting of dancing, even after the health issues resolved, I have unfortunately never been able to get my 22-year-old body back. Consequently, I now frequently steer folks I used to dance with into other lines where I run into less consistently vigorous/flourishy neighbors, but when I head over to the really vigorous line, I make a point of being able to keep up -- and I try and make a point of asking the folks who usually dance there to partner me as well. I’m accepting this in the interest of being able to dance for many more years (hopefully with at least some flourishes thrown in) and remain active in the contra community.
In the meantime, I’ve expanded my circle of “regular partners” and that’s all been to the better -- just through partnering them, the not-flourishy dancers are teaching me style points among other things, too, which are actually making me a better flourisher when I dance with the flourishy folks. We nurture the connections in different ways, kind of like when you have some friends you go hiking with, and others you go see movies with.
At this point I’ve established myself enough as a dancer who doesn’t have a “usual” line anymore that I’ve stopped getting the “what are you doing over here?” questions. I’ve been able to make more friends who aren’t exclusively in that line and while it’s been ages since I’ve been out to the diner (that whole hour-plus-each-way commute to work I mentioned in another post saps a lot of the energy I regained when I got better, and I’ve come to accept that), I’ve still found other ways to maintain the feeling of fellowship and camaraderie that have made me stay part of this community.
So my story has a happy ending. But it’s also a cautionary tale -- before you complain that “the cool hip dancers” won’t dance with you, ask yourself: when was the last time you went and asked them for a dance?
(And incidentally -- if you see me at an event, please do ask me to dance, whether we’ve met before or not, whichever role you’d rather dance, as I’ll dance either one or dance switch. Chances are good that I’ll say yes to an invitation to dance, whether you’re a Cool Hip Dancer or not -- and I’ll be making a point of asking around, too.)
So, I’ll admit it. My name is Ryan and I used to be a cool hip dancer.
I started out innocently enough. I had reached a point in my life in my early twenties where I needed to get out of the house and Google told me that there was a local weekly contra dance about 20 minutes from my apartment on Friday nights. I had decided that since I didn’t know anybody there, if I made a complete jerk of myself I’d just have a self-effacing story to tell and I wouldn’t go back. Worst case scenario: no harm, no foul, new story to tell.
So I went. And people actually wanted to dance with me (to my pleasant surprise). Probably made a jerk out of myself a few (dozen) times in that first evening of contra, but the endorphin rush was enough to overpower the sense of having muscles that hurt that I didn’t know I had and, armed with ibuprofen and a bandanna to keep the sweat out of my eyes, I headed back the following week.
And the week after that….
And the week after that….
After a couple of months of regular attendance, I started getting invited out to the diner after the dance. And I went, regularly, for a couple of years. And there were like 20 of us who went out regularly, ages 16 to 60+ but mostly in the 20s-and-30s range. And as time went on, I found myself dancing with my friends, and more and more often that landed me in the far-left line in the hall...the one that had the most vigorous dancing, the one that skewed the youngest demographically, the one that contained several of the folks that I had been going out to the diner with for the past several months. It wasn’t that I was intentionally seeking it out, more that that’s where I ended up, more often than not.
And since I was over there, it became a self-perpetuating cycle: I went into the far-left line, I danced, I got asked to dance by one of my neighbors, we stayed in that line for the next dance, I got asked to dance by one of my neighbors, we stayed in that line…until the entire night had passed that way.
That was how I spent several months, and I had no particular issue with it. I danced with newbies if they ventured over, but by and large I was dancing with experienced dancers and got pretty good at following their leads (and learning to back-lead some of my own). I nourished the connections with my partners (and some of my neighbors) through flourishes, and life was hunky dory as far as I was concerned. I had friends who were in my general age cohort (and a few who weren’t) who seemed to like me and seek me out, I had a community, and I had dance partners for any dance I opted . I felt like I’d come home, and it was really fun feeling like one of the “cool” kids for the first time in my life.
Temperatures have climbed and the lack of climate control at some venues has become apparent. It occurred to me the other night as I was dancing in the crowd at Glen Echo that in some ways, a crowded contra event can strangely resemble a mosh pit. To wit:
Can you think of any ways that I might have missed? Let me know!
ContraForce (Andrae Raffield, Jimi Peirano, & Joey Dorwart) is one of the newer fusion bands on the scene; originally from South Carolina, they've been touring up and down the East Coast and making a splash wherever they go. They released their album, Rise of the Folk Organism, earlier this summer.
"Werrwoulph" opens the album with an eerie feel and some very high-pitched fiddle and some rather stark instrumentation with the howl of the electric guitar featured rather prominently with what sounds an awful lot like a distortion pedal. By the time this track hits its stride, it seems to bleed into noise-band territory (which might just be the mixing), but regardless is a surprising opening to a contra dance band's album and sets us up for what will undoubtedly be an unusual ride.
"Roof'n'all-EazySleazy" takes off like a shot and has the feel of an old Western mixed with a wah-wah pedal, which becomes more prominent as the track goes on but then fades back into the fiddle-heavy hornpipe with the funky drumbeat behind it.
In contrast, "No Need" slows way down and is soft and subtle like improvised jazz, or blues. Something in the background sounds like dripping water on this track, and this helps to lend it the feel of a mood piece more than anything else. All that said, this track grew on me to become one of my favorites on the album.
"Dr. Know" opens feeling like a salsa piece, in contrast to the slower pace of the previous track and felt a bit like a celebratory, coiled spring that released its energy in a really fabulous way. Also notable is that this track did not noticeably use the distortion pedal as much as the other tracks on the album thus far.
The tracks are interesting, but for a CD I personally think they feel a little long. However, this probably was meant to mimic the experience of dancing/hearing them live, so I don't necessarily think this is a drawback per se.
Overall, I felt like the album as an album had an issue with pacing, and seemed as though it couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be. Individual tracks, on the other hand, were really interesting and taken together showed the breadth and variety of which ContraForce is capable, which is really neat to see. I'm looking forward to seeing what else comes from them in the future.
This project has concluded as of mid-2013 (with an epilogue posted mid-2016) but we hope to see you soon on a contra dance floor! Meanwhile, head over to our Facebook page for upcoming techno contra events and other items of interest.
The 100+ Friday Flourish videos can still be found on YouTube.
I dance with abandon. I play with glowsticks. I look for music that is conducive to one or both. I play behind cameras. I write about all of the above. I'm based in Glen Echo's contra dance community outside of Washington, D.C., but I'm happy to go dance afield when I can. Lather, rinse, repeat. Always repeat.
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