I accidentally learned how to dance. I was trying really hard for this not to happen.
Here’s what happened.
I had just moved to Richmond, Virginia. I was living in a beautiful old farmhouse in Goochland, past rolling pastures along the James River. I didn’t know many people from the area and I was hoping to meet some fellow musicians with whom I could share some tunes and perhaps a pint or two.
I found Style Weekly magazine in a rack outside of the health food store. Your town probably has a version of this paper. It’s an alternative weekly that lists indy rock bands with names like Salmon Finger that you are too old to ever really understand or like. It features a modicum of liberal journalism and has plenty of ads where you can get your mountain bike serviced. You know the one.
In the back there was a classified section for musicians. Here you could find ads like “Bass player needed. Must be able to play in G and D,” or “Dynamic frontman/singer looking for band to back me up.” I knew from experience that you have to be careful with folks from theses ads. Once I had gotten together with someone advertised as a “talented guitarist.” He showed up with perfectly quaffed and permed blond 80’s metal hair. After he set up his guitar he took out one of those oscillating fans, saying, “Do you have somewhere I can plug this in?” He put the fan on the floor and aimed it at himself at an angle like a floor monitor so it would blow his hair in dramatic wisps while he played. It was one of the longest hours of my life.
So I knew to target my audience carefully. I placed an ad saying that I was a musician, new to town, that was interested in playing Irish traditional music. I gave a few particulars and my phone number and sent it off.
I picked up a copy of the paper the following week to see if my ad was there. It was. There was just a minor hitch. Instead of putting the ad in the music classifieds, they had put it in the personals section.
Let me just stop for a moment to offer a bit of advice. Under no circumstances should you ever, ever, put your phone number in a personals ad.
The little green counter on my answering machine started to increment. I received a number of very forward propositions and offers of service. One woman breathed into the handset, “I adore musicians.” I could hear crying in the background. I’m not sure what that meant. I didn’t return any of these messages.
But there was one message, one short message, from a woman named C. that was different. It said simply, “I’m not sure, but I saw your ad in the paper and I just think that you should probably be a part of our community. Can you come to a contra dance?”
There are moments around which worlds turn. You don’t realize it when it happens because the relativity dictates that you turn at the same rate as the world itself. But looking back it’s dead clear that the universe on that day took a different path.
I had heard of contra dancing but hadn’t tried it. To be honest I didn’t really want to try it, as I couldn’t dance. But I was really interested in the music and was in need of new friends. I called her up and we met for lunch. When she found out that I knew how to operate a sound system she suggested that I help out since their community was in need of some help in that regard.
So I started running sound for the dances. I would set up the soundboard just offstage. That way I was out of sight of the dancers but could easily communicate with the musicians. And, my, what music it was! I was enthralled.
The problem was that, despite my best efforts, women would always find me and drag me out of my hiding place and onto the dance floor. I would explain that no, I was the sound guy, but they were much too persistent to be put off by that, or even the fact that I was utterly confused on the floor. Around and around they pushed me as the weeks and months drew on. And little by little I began to understand, more and more frequently forgetting myself until I was swinging and laughing with wild abandon.
I thought that it ended there. That there was a straight line between not knowing how to dance and being able to dance. I didn’t realize at the time that I was being pulled into a dense, rich community. That my roots were entwining with an extended colony of dancers until we held each other in a solid mass of interdependent lives. Or that we were really all just a part of the same life.
It was a homecoming.
That’s how I came to dance. What’s your story?
photo by Chris Florio at FlorioPics.