One time my friends Shannon and Vishal and I went contra-dancing with about 200 50-somethings in the west village. I'm not sure how to continue. I suppose explaining contra-dancing would be the next logical step...but...it's hard to describe something that you yourself are uncertain of. Did it happen? Was everyone we encountered and touched in holy palmers' kiss, real? I know the post dancing trip to Chipotle was real, that much is true because Shannon taught me that one can get half chicken and half veggies in your burrito bowl if one asks politely. So, I know it happened. Yes?
In 2014 I am trying to hold myself more accountable. That's a fancy way of saying "be on time." It's very difficult for me to arrive places in a timely fashion, or, sometimes show up at all. Not because I don't care or lack respect for you: it's a deeply ingrained belief that I can do all the things at once and it only takes five minutes to get anywhere from my apartment. This belief is rooted in my penchant for bullshit. I am all kinds of aware it needs to change and so, when Shannon texted me and asked if I would like to go Contra-dancing with him and Vishal I said, "yes, and what time?"
It's important to start by saying I was still late to meet them. No matter that the dance had started, Stephanie told me as she greeted me at the front desk with her patchwork skirt and silver plaited hair. "Find someone wearing a button and ask them to dance! They'll catch you up! Oh, and tell them I sent you," she finishes with a wink and a warm smile. THANK YOU STEPHANIE! What a doll of Christ you are! I proceed down the stairs of the church basement to what, I assume will be a couple dozen people dancing and perhaps a celebratory sheet cake. THAT WAS VERY WRONG. I walk into the most luxury of indoor basketball courts filled with hundreds of people who find deodorant optional and not an air conditioning system to be found! BUT THE SPIRIT! In the far opposite corner I spot a five-piece band playing the most jovial of folk music. Next to them is a man with a feather in his cap (real life) speaking into a microphone and shouting out phrases that mean nothing to me. He is what we call in the contra-dance world, the Caller. I know this now sounds like a character from The Giver, but this shit is real. Amidst the chaos of eight lines of 40-odd people facing their partners, I finally spot my friends. Vishal! Shannon! WHY ARE YA'LL SO SWEATY?! I mean, I'm only about 20 minutes late and, to me, that's fairly on time. How did they get so worked up in such a short amount of time??
ME: You guys are sweaty. SHANNON: THIS IS SO FUN! VISHAL: Bligh, get ready for the next dance, this is Sam, she's awesome, she'll be the boy don't worry.
...it's at this moment I look up (quite literally) to meet the gaze of a six-feet tall gazelle/Amazon/Xena Warrior Princess redhead. Her wavy tresses cascade down her back in a wild mess of curls. I immediately want to straighten them for her. She's wearing what appears to be a bolt of lace held together by ribbons left over from the last Maypole Dance. She is also sporting a gigantic pin that reads, "I SWING BOTH WAYS." ....I couldn't make this up if I tried. "Hi I'm Sam, I'll be the boy." OK girllll, you be the boy. I'm just gonna follow YOU. Her hands are sweaty. She's just told me she's a boy. I decide to breathe and trust.
"Bow to your partner and handy-hand to the left!" the Caller announces...The fuck is the Handy-Hand? The next move is called "Box the Gnat." I am trying to listen to the Caller and execute these moves I have never head of before but I can't! It's too much! I'm getting so sweaty so fast! Sam must have noticed my mounting fear. "Listen, I got you," she says, "The next step is just a fancy name for a do-si-do so just relax and have fun!" OKAY Sam. You're right. I will! To my surprise, the minute I stopped trying to perfect the dances, I got them. And, I'm not one for bragging...but...I got kinda good. Real fast. The next partnered dance had an "advanced" move called the "Courtesy Turn" which was EXPERTLY executed by Vish, Shannon, and myself to such an extent that seasoned veterans took notice. And complimented us. In our third set, a Caller chose me to dance with him. I think his name was Jim and he was about sixty and he twirled me around a lot more than was necessary. He told me I must be a professional. He also sai---you know, actually I'd prefer to keep this bit to myself as to preserve it's sanctity.
About an hour in, Anne (the head of this whole delicious Contra dance night) got on the microphone."OK guys heyyyyyy! What an awesome event, huh? It makes my heart swell to see all these new faces. Brought together by the love of dance! Thank you all for coming, this is a very old established community and it's just all about meeting people and making new friends, huh yeah? But, set to music. Lovely. Beautiful night. Now ok so Jerry and I talked and we thought, you know, let's just order some pizzas, yeah? So ok, raise your hand if you want pizza. We're just getting cheese. Just cheese. So raise your hand. Okay....I think like, I have about, it looks like around 100 of you want pizza. So I'll go order those pizza pies, ok guys? Awesome wonderful. And listen, just pay me a few dollars when you can, ok? Thanks guys, ok dance! Pizza later, dance now!"
SHANNON: That's not the most organized way to have done that. ME: Agreed. VISHAL: We are sweaty.
And we were. We were sweaty and happy. It's impossible to not giggle your way through a beautiful, sweaty night, perfecting the art of the Contra dance amongst friends. I love New York for moments like this, where something totally random and a bit odd happens that you couldn't do anywhere else. Like the time I made a frittata out of an ostrich egg, or that time I took a yoga class next to Uma Thurman and cried. THINGS LIKE THAT. As Vishal and Shannon and I enjoyed our burrito bowls after a strong, long night of dancing I was reminded how much I love them! And how, it's okay to be a tad late to everything, people will still love you back. And sometimes, they'll love you so much that they buy you pizza. But just cheese pizza. Love ain't that fancy.