It was the end of the solstice service and the elderly woman who had spoken throughout the evening about the dark night at the end of winter, the annual death, the stillness of the sun and the coming of the light announced to us that we were all going to do an ancient sacred dance.
I cringed inwardly. The music, the readings, the whole experience had felt awkward at best, like a grammar school recital, except the students were over 50. The officiant alone had poise and comfort with the microphone; she had obviously led quite a few ceremonies like this. A few of the singers were actually quite skilled, but after the first five minutes of out of tune music, I began to see the evening as a sort of open-mic comedy bomb. Instead of needing it to be perfect and smooth and a wonderful experience, I delighted in the awkwardness, the moment where the candle-lighter couldn’t get the candles lit, the stilted reading of the elderly gentleman who wanted us to repeat after him, the lady in the fur coat who came in late with her dog all dressed in tiny jingle bells, the tinkling distracting from the off-key singing. It was so small town. So awkward. I just enjoyed it.
But dancing? I didn’t want to dance. I didn’t mind the idea of standing around afterwards, chatting with the senior crowd and munching on cookies, but I didn’t feel like dancing.
Nevertheless, we all cleared our chairs and the officiant told us to take our partner and form two circles. We were all confused. Some of us stood next to each other, some of us faced our partner. The circle was bunched up in places. One woman didn’t want to dance, she wanted to sit in a chair in the circle. They told her she couldn’t do that but she could ‘hold the center.’ I laughed. I stood across the circle from my dad and winked at him. I felt silly.
Now we were told that the dance was about looking into the eyes of another, about gazing deep into their soul and seeing the essence of the great… the great whatever. Oh god, I thought. This much eye contact with strangers seemed daunting.
The officiant and her assistants showed us the steps. One step forward, bounce your knees twice softly, one step back, bounce bounce, one step to the side, one step forward. It meant you only had to look at the person across from you for four bounces. Now link arms and do it. We all tried it a few times and saw how it worked, like a machine. They started the music and it seemed to have no rhythm. I laughed again. Everyone around me looked awkward and nervous.
Then they began to call out the steps and the music finally had a beat. Forward, look in the eyes, smile, bounce, bounce, backward, bounce bounce… my dad shifted off to the left and here was a new lady. We did this all the way around the circle. Only two people giggled awkwardly. Some people glanced to the side. The younger people had a harder time maintaining eye contact. The oldsters seemed mostly okay with it, but the men were a bit more shy. When we got back to our original partner, everyone started to giggle a little bit. We passed our partners again and they finally turned off the music and everyone laughed and clapped.
The lady next to me exclaimed how fun it was. Another told her friend how I had helped her keep the beat. People started unwrapping cookies. I exhaled in relief. It wasn’t that bad and even as a capital D dancer, I had felt as nervous everyone else. It was refreshing and instructive, how my new students must feel, how terrifying it is to walk up to one person and ask them to dance, to make eye contact or not to… to try to lead someone, to remember the steps.
I think it might be nice to have a little folk dance at a dance party to kick the night off. Maybe I will invent one.