I’m standing there in my sweaty Toms like an awkward scarecrow wondering what to do with his arms. My stomach is flip-flopping like I’m about to give a speech on the Constitution in front of the entire college. My left, cold, clammy hand is cradled in the right, warm, un-clammy hand of a guy that I have just met seconds before. He’s still holding my hand and gracefully lifts it into a pleased-to-meet-you grasp as he leans over to casually strike up a conversation. It’s the usual: Where are from? Where did you go to school? Where do you work? I’m trying to pay attention to words coming from his ridiculously smiling face, but thoughts are ricocheting around my head.
“They said this would be fun!”
“Is this fun???”
“I’m terrified right now…”
“I’m going to look like the biggest doofus here.”
“Why is my heart beating so fast???”
“Where is that air conditioning???”
“Why are we still holding hands???”
I knew from the moment that the instructor told us to “form a big circle” that I was going to have to get real comfortable real fast. You see, Abi was on my left and she moved over to her dad’s part of the circle and Aidan was on my right and he moved over next to another girl which left me fair game to whomever stepped in to fill the gaps around me. And then, gentle reader, came that fateful question…
“Hi! I’m Nick. Would you like to be my dance partner?”
It looks like tonight I am jumping headfirst into the world of Contra Dancing.
Dun. Dun. DUN!!!!
You see, I am not a naturally outgoing person. It’s not easy for me to MEET new people much less DANCE with them. For some reason it seems simple and safe to talk to that random person buying Pringles at Walmart, but when it comes to talking to people that I might actually see again OR see on a regular basis I’m like… That means they might actually try to get to know me. And that sounds scary. Can you see now why I haven’t dated much over the last 3.5 years? I know… I know…
Thankfully, the setting was uplifting in and of itself. That particular meeting of the contra club was held in the performance hall of a local university. The hall is ornate and boasts two levels with balcony seating and all. The stage was to be our dance floor. A row of chairs at the stage’s edge not only allowed dancers to catch their breath but also prevented any of us from being twirled right off the stage. (Whew!)
The evening started out pretty benign. The caller for the night graciously decided to give us beginners a run through of the contra basics. I have never danced in my entire life (unless, of course, jumping around at weddings counts as dancing? I thought not…) so I was trying to absorb as much information as was possible in that 30 minute timeframe. Well, you see, part of contra (part of all dancing) is connection with your partner. There is a leader and there is a follower. And there is eye contact between the leader and the follower. Go back and read that line again… I said EYE CONTACT. Dead, straight on eye contact. Little side note, but when I was dating some certain person (I know you’re reading this) 3.5 years ago he was adamant about eye contact…gazing into each others eyes… That comes naturally for me with some people, but not with him and not with random people on the dance floor.
So there I was, right hand in Nick’s left hand, my left hand on his shoulder and we were “spinning” each other as instructed by the caller. I did it wrong and mostly just bounced around for those 10 seconds, but Nick’s exuberance was encouraging. His energy was so positive it would have made Tigger jealous. We laughed and spun and balanced and courtesy turned and tried new things and got tangled up and forgot which was our right and our left BUT it was a blast. But contra – unlike a waltz or salsa – is a line dance so you dance with ALL the men (or women depending on whether you are leading or following) in your line in turn and each time you complete a move you then return back to your partner and then back to your neighbor and so on. Contra is about community and synergy. Once you dance with one partner it is time to invite another to join you in a dance.
I never would have guessed it… but despite my anxiety… contra is exhilarating. That night I had half a dozen different partners – all wonderful in their own ways – and I danced with dozens more “neighbors”. The dance was a workout and I got all sweaty and confused in certain parts, but my-oh-my I was high on happiness. There were many occasions when I made it difficult for my partner to “collect” me because I found myself in the wrong place or when my partner would try to spin me and I totally missed my cue and sometimes there were times when I just plum got lost and helpless and had to rely on my partners’ good graces to guide me back in. But it didn’t matter. I was having a blast.
Close to the end of the night I partnered with an older gentleman in his late 40’s or so. I could tell by the way he danced with other partners that he actually knew what he was doing – not only in contra but also in other styles of dance. He had that…move…to his feet. I loved the way he led. Even with my (very) limited understanding of rhythm and dance I was able to pick up on his cues and he kept me on track. He was a twirler, too. He spun me around and around and around. Yes, I got dizzy, but who cares! He even taught me the proper “lead ins” for spins and twirls so as to protect my shoulders. There was one particular dance move where our partners were to lead us into a twirl and then release us to our neighbor. Well, many of the “leaders” were doing nothing more than getting their partners to correct spot and then dropping hands which left the “follower” to decide whether a clockwise or counter clockwise twirl was appropriate. MY partner, however, stepped me through the twirl perfectly. He was like, “I have your left hand. I’ll count for you. As I step across your path, I’ll guide your left hand to the right. That is the direction I need you to go. Then I’ll come back and get you. Got it?” Got it! #winning
About halfway through the dance that same partner leaned over and said, “I can tell you’re really enjoying yourself” and then he laughed. He was right. I was high on happiness and I just couldn’t contain it. And even though I’m sure I looked like a total loon out there on that stage; I needed that dopy rush of silliness. I could not stop laughing and smiling. It reminded me of who I really am underneath all that other stuff that gets piled on top. The anxiety. The fear. The self-consciousness. The pathetic perfectionistic tendencies.
And that night, for good or for bad, that girl came out.
I was so wound up that night that I could barely sleep. Then I got up the next morning at 6:30 for a 5mile hike with some friends. And then I got called into work that afternoon for 6 hours of manual labor in the sun. I ended that day with 25,000+ steps. Forget it, Redbull, you can never compare!
So, the lesson of the night?
Do something (contra)ry to your usual actions. (Contra)ct some new muscles. Put yourself out there. Try something new. And with new people. Have new experiences. Dust off some old pathways that got covered in debris.
You might be surprised by how awesome you’ll feel afterwards. You got this!
P.S. The next day I could NOT figure out why my left leg was so ridiculously sore and tight. Newsflash! That’s my twirling leg. HA!