I've never quite understood why Valentine's Day, being in February, is such a big thing. May, June — now those would be prime months for the coy deliverance of cards, chocolates, flowers, and protestations of undying love. But February? In old England February 14 was the day birds supposedly started to mate; but here and now, I guess the idea is to warm the hearts and loins of a winter-weary populace during the grayest, grimmest, and — mercifully — shortest month of the year. So it was that I and an unsuspecting accomplice made our way to the Pittsfield Grange one dark and slushy February evening last year to attend the Valentine's Ragtime Trot, hosted by Grand Traditions Vintage Dance Academy.
The Grange Hall was transformed, lit only by yards and yards of Christmas lights wrapped in white tulle. We stowed our coats and entered a sweet and bygone world of swirling dresses, flapping coattails, shiny shoes, and elegant bearings. On the small stage at the far end of the room, the Huron Valley Serenaders played Scott Joplin rags and other Titanic-era popular music. I was sidelined with a bum hip, but my compatriot was immediately whisked away by some dapper lad and never seen again.
The dances were fascinating to behold: waltzes, circle dances with grand-right-and-lefts resulting in new partners, and schottisches with steps and skips. At one point the room was cleared for a presentation by the Pleasant Moments Vintage Dancers. It was indeed surreal to discover that my income tax preparer was a member of this group. Clad in white tie and tails, stepping lightly on his toes with stiff knees and a saucy demeanor, he propelled his smiling partner about the room.
Midway through the evening we retired to the Grange Hall basement, similarly transformed with candlelight and white tablecloths, for savory canapes, homemade chocolates, nuts, marzipan, and easy conversation with these glittering, feathered, and turbaned dance fanatics. We met an EMU professor, a pharmacist, a biochemist, a steamfitter, and an air traffic controller (who confided that while dancing he "never bumps into anyone").
More dancing, a dramatic presentation, and a performance of Scott Joplin's long-lost "Silver Swan Rag" followed, as well as a thrilling competition performance of animal dances — a dance craze that swept the country (much in the manner of the macarena) early in the last century. It features couples dancing as bears, foxes, snakes, and other fauna. As the evening wound to a close, faces were flushed and eyes merry, perhaps a manifestation of what one participant termed "a period rush." My tax guy's wife glided past me dancing to some blues, getting very sultry and dramatic with a partner who was not my tax guy. And another couple tangoed seductively past me and into the darkened cloakroom, where the door closed quietly behind them.
The Valentine's Ragtime Trot returns to the Pittsfield Grange on Saturday, February 9.