Dancing in the Streets
Callin' out around the world
by Patti Smith
From the August, 2014 issue
I had to learn to waltz for a musical when I was in high school. My partner had a habit of going one-three-two while I was going two-three-one, and the results were like Arthur Murray gone horribly, horribly wrong.
I kind of swore off dancing after that. Nevertheless, the urge to put on my dancing shoes never quite left me, and I remained on the lookout for different types of dance--specifically, the kind that anyone can learn and that includes step-by-step instructions by a caller. I was delighted to discover the Ann Arbor Community of Traditional Music and Dance (AACTMAD).
The group sponsors many caller-led dances throughout the year, as well as the annual Dancing in the Streets festival. It is a relaxed event that offers the chance to watch or participate in a variety of dances, from Anglo-American dancing to swing dancing to international folk dancing. There is also a concert stage for those who would like to take a break and listen to some good music.
You know those group dances that they do in A Christmas Carol or in Jane Austen movies? You can learn those English country dances from an experienced caller while you dance to live music. Or you can try your hand--er, feet--at a contra dance, which involves lines of dancers facing each other while the caller calls out the steps. As the caller said, "If you can walk, you can contra dance," and I found this to be true when I tried it. I did have a little trouble with the do-si-do (I kept wanting to turn around too much), but overall it was easy and a lot of fun.
Experienced swing dancers led off the set by shaking their tail feathers for the rest of us. The next sets were taught so that everyone--even a complete novice like me--could learn how to do some basic steps.
The international folk dancing included what historians believe is the oldest known dance in Europe, the hora,
a dance done in a circle using basic steps. After watching the excellent teacher/caller, I was able to dance right along with dozens of folks (and the nice lady next to me didn't seem to mind when I accidentally stepped on her foot once or twice). There was also a belly dancing demonstration and Polynesian (hula) dancers.
You can even get instructions in waltzing, although my high school memories made me chicken out on taking those. Maybe I'll try it at this year's festival, which takes place on August 31.
[Originally published in August, 2014.]
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