Shall we dance?
Southern Living, Dec 1997 by Duncan, Susan L

The music-fiddles, piano, banjo, string bass-swirls from the stage and almost lifts me off my feet.

"Take hands four," says the dance caller, and my partner and I clasp hands, smile, and look into each other's eyes. We're ready to begin the first contra of the evening.

It's the second time I've attended a workshop at the John C. Campbell Folk School, nestled in a valley in western North Carolina. I spent that first weekend, about two years ago, learning how to weave baskets. It was then, at the school's regular Saturday night dance, that I also first heard the term "contra dance."

Contra dancing has nothing to do with country line dancing or the Sandinistas, and everything to do with terrific music (usually live), a relaxed atmosphere, and good exercise. You don't have to know how, and you don't need a partner everyone dances with everyone else, and those who have been participating for years are generally happy to help beginners along.

The caller walks us through each pattern before the music starts: "Gypsy with your partner, and then melt into a swing" (translation: lock eyes with your partner, and then move into one another's arms in a traditional ballroom stance); "right hand star" (clasp right hands with the people in your set and move clockwise); "dosi-do your partner" (if you've ever had gradeschool phys ed, you know this one circle your partner back to back).

As I walk in and out of the set, changing partners and twirling in time to the fiddle's lyrical tune, I feel like Eliza Doolittle-I could happily dance all night.

This weekend workshop began Friday with supper, an icebreaker, and then a dance. I'm staying upstairs in Keith House. Rooms are summer-camp spartan-no telephone or TV-but more than adequate, and they're convenient to the dining room, crafts shop, and dance floor. Accommodations on campus range from campsites, to the dormitory-style rooms of Keith House, to comfortable cottages with front porch rockers and private baths.

Saturday brims with music: Morningsong with the early birds at 7:45 a.m., breakfast, and then dancing from 9 a.m. to almost midnight, with lots of breaks for snacks, laughter, and relaxation.

We learn new dance patterns and rejoice in the familiar ones. The dances include traditional squares, waltzes, and circles. On our breaks we nap or stroll the wooded 372-acre campus. We explore the European-style buildings where folks are also learning about blacksmithing, chairmaking, enameling, kaleidoscope making, beekeeping, spinning, weaving, and woodcarving.

More than 60% of the attendees have been here before, many more than once. For some, this annual dance weekend has become a reunion. Old friends who see each other only here reminisce; newcomers are welcomed, and like any family reunion, plied with food and songs.

By Sunday afternoon my feet are sore. I have indeed danced all night, and I can't wait for the next workshop at the John C. Campbell Folk School.


John C. Campbell Folk School: 1 Folk School Road, Brasstown, NC 28902-9603; 1-800-365-5724 or http://www. Cost: Tuition for weeklong classes ranges $244-$258 and weekend classes range $79-$140. Lodging begins at $72 per weekend and includes all meals. Winter dance week: December 26-January 1. Spring dance weekend: May 1-3. Biweekly dances: Dances with live music are held twice monthly; admission $4 adults, $2 ages 12-18, $1 ages under 12. Other workshops: Hundreds are held every year, from basketweaving, pottery, and drawing, to tracing family genealogies and quilting.

Copyright Southern Progress Corporation Dec 1997
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

Bibliography for "Shall we dance?"
Duncan, Susan L "Shall we dance?". Southern Living. Dec 1997. 18 Oct. 2006.

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