The Working Waterfront

Dancing away the early spring cold

Contradance was the right remedy for crawling out of winter

Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2018-05-22
Last Modified 2018-05-22

Sometimes, all it takes to warm back up is a little do-si-do.

After a long, snowed-in winter and a chilly, damp spring, with the nearest restaurant opening still weeks away, North Haven kids and grownups were trudging along. Sunny days were few and far between, and it seemed that even raking out flower beds was a risky proposition.

Into the gloom swept Chrissy Fowler, known to Midcoast residents as the founder and contradance caller for Belfast Flying Shoes. It was her second visit to the island this school year, sponsored by the enrichment funding Waterman’s Community Center provides. There were workshops and a community dance in December as well, but (per my previous column) I was too sick to attend.

This time around, I attended both her workshop with high school students, and the community dance that evening. On the walk to the gym, too-cool teenagers grumbled and muttered about the inventive ways they planned to get out of this mandatory social dancing. They all made it in the door, however, and Chrissy swept them up immediately, and masterfully, into the swing of things, if you’ll excuse my pun.

Soon the whole group was smiling, sometimes out of fun and sometimes with mild embarrassment, as staff and students allemande-d, circled, do-si-do-ed, and swung our partners, neighbors, and corners. Chrissy’s calling style is maximally inclusive, and rather than ladies or gentlemen, we were referred to as “suns and moons,” determined only by which side of a pair we happened to be standing on. Boys danced with boys, girls with girls, or in mixed gender pairs, and staff danced with students or each other.

An important, and surprisingly radical-feeling part of her workshop required participants to ask each other to dance. She offered a script for the askers and the ask-ees, with a “Would you like to dance?” followed up by a “Yes, thank you for asking!” Be kind, she urged. And we were.

That evening, students got to show off what they’d learned, or teach it to their parents, at a community dance in Calderwood Hall. My daughter Penrose got to work with Chrissy during the school day too, and was bouncing with excitement as we entered the hall, despite having been at play rehearsal for the prior hour. A three-piece band, Dance Panther, tuned in the corner. Chrissy got the early birds started with “Jump in the Valley,” which she had taught the youngest students during the day. Pen remembered every step of it, and even agreed to switch partners for every other repetition.

When the band was ready, Chrissy started running the crowd through their paces. There were about 30 of us, with 15 or 20 dancing at any given time. Pen and I got out there for every other song, just about, and she scavenged dinner from the snack spread in between dances.

The youngest dancers, Pen and a classmate, were mostly able to follow Chrissy’s clear calling, and the teens and preteens in the group did a great job modeling and shepherding the littlest ones along. Younger elementary students brought kangaroo-like energy to their dancing. An even younger toddler giggled as she bounced in her aunt’s arms.

The thrill of dancing with my daughter, and dancing with my friends and students, was right in line with the longer days and the hint of warmth in the brief moments of sun. Thanks to Chrissy Fowler, and the kindness she brought with her through contradance, spring felt like it finally arrived.

Courtney Naliboff lives, teaches, and writes on North Haven.