Dance Fever

Last Saturday night, a friend invited us to join him at the monthly meeting of the Redwood Empire Swing Dance Club. The people who are members of the club go to the meeting to dance, but he assured us that we could attend as spectators. And that’s a good thing because up to now, our only experience with any kind of ballroom dancing has been sitting on the couch watching “Dancing with the Stars.” Going for the purpose of watching was definitely a plus; we could get a taste of what the dancing was all about and not have to leave the security of our chairs.

Our friend has been encouraging us to give West Coast Swing dancing a spin because he says it’s a great way to reduce stress and leave the problems of work behind for an hour or two. But we had resisted going even just to watch ““ we were either too tired, too busy, or pleaded that the two of us are too left-footed ““ but when we found out the dance was being held in town, we had no more excuses not to peel our noses from the grindstone and go.

I guess my last experience with a “social dance” was at sorority events in college. My recollection of what went on at those is a little hazy due to the combination of beer, smoke, and dimmed lights. So that was my expectation when we walked into the Veterans Memorial Building. But the atmosphere at the Swing Dance Club was just the opposite. The room was well lit (in the electrical sense”¦no alcohol is allowed) and there was a feeling of wholesomeness and energy.

The first thing I noticed was that unlike other dances I have ever been to, all the couples on the dance floor were actually dancing. No one was shuffling around draped on their partner or doing moves from a Pussy Cat Dolls video. The men and women were obviously working on the steps that make up the West Coast Swing which involves a lot of footwork and smooth turns; it was fun to watch the couples that were really in synch with one another. And while most everybody had on jeans, some of the women accentuated their moves by wearing blouses that billowed and flowed as they were spun by their partner.

As I started to actually focus in on who was dancing, I was surprised to see such a range of ages. There were teenagers to seniors out on the dance floor. It was really great to see that just being young doesn’t necessarily make you a better dancer; that’s something that certainly can’t be said about many styles of dance ““ think about hip-hop for a minute. But here, it was encouraging to see middle-age types like ourselves look every bit as smooth on the dance floor as many of the youngsters.

As we watched, our friend explained to us that it is expected that you would dance with many different partners during the night, even if you came with someone. That explained the tin of Altoids on every table. Dancing with different people is part of the social graciousness of it; if you’re asked to dance you always say yes. He also told us that some of the more experienced dancers actually take it upon themselves to be ambassadors with the beginner dancers. When a woman is asked to dance, the man takes her hand and leads her to the dance floor. This kind of chivalry almost sounds anachronistic”¦but really nice.

We felt like we had been introduced to a whole new culture and community that we never knew existed. Just because we’re sitting at home on a Saturday night doesn’t mean that everyone else is too.

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