by Linda Leslie
It is a testament to the joy of contra dancing, that some folks will go to great lengths to make sure that they have opportunities to dance. Take Brooks Hart as a prime example. I had the good fortune to meet Brooks when he was involved with Village Contra in New York City. He volunteered many hours for that dance, and even did some calling. Since those days, Brooks has moved to Mérida, on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. He is very happy there, but he missed contra dancing. He realized that the only way to do some dancing close to home was to start a dance. So he did just that! For the last year, he has offered a dance series in Mérida, and some occasional dances in Oaxaca. Despite the challenges of finding good dance space, and the ups and downs of attendance, he has remained true to his vision of having contra dancing in his new home town.
Along the way, we started a very enjoyable email conversation, which included sharing dances, thoughts on music, suggestions for programming, as well as teaching, and lots of encouragement. As luck would have it, Brooks shared a dream he had of offering a dance weekend to which folks in the U.S. might be tempted to participate. His thought was that the influx of experienced dancers would be great for all his new folks, and the dance series might grow as a consequence. In addition, visitors would have a great colonial era city to visit and enjoy. This idea seemed wonderful to me, and I encouraged him to move forward with it…..and volunteered to help out by being his caller. Thus the Mérida Dance Week was born!
After considering various options, Brooks decided that, rather than a weekend, the dance sessions would be spread out over a week, allowing visitors to have their contra dancing, but also more options for exploring the cultural and historic offerings of Mérida and the Yucatan. And what a week he chose! The dates coincide with a three-week long Arts and Culture Festival, which celebrates the founding of Mérida in 1542. Here is an outline of what the city has to offer, during the Festival:
- Dance: contemporary dance, as well as traditional dances and events.
- Theatre: presentations, workshops and visits to various communities.
- Conferences: talks, lectures and conferences with leading characters.
- Literature: lectures, seminars, and presentations of books and magazines.
- Visual Arts: movies, documentaries, exhibition of paintings, photographs and handicrafts.
- Music: concerts, serenades, trips, dances, and traditional events.
- Children: events directed especially for the whole family*
Brook’s plan is to have 2 or 3 contra dances, a waltz workshop, and a musician’s workshop during the week of January 16-23, 2016. To sweeten things even more: Amy Larkin (fiddle), and Linda Henry (piano), will also make the trip, so that we can enjoy fabulous live music!
We are really looking forward to this trip! Since I speak Spanish, it will be fun to teach the dances in both Spanish and English. Brooks has been actually calling the dance moves in English. This seems to be the decision made by a number of folks who have begun contra/square dancing groups in locations outside the U.S. For example, in Denmark. The idea is that dancers can then dance in many more places, if they know the calls in English. As a result, a number of Danes have attended Pinewoods Camp, and had a great time!
Brooks attended the New England Folk Festival (NEFFA) in 2015, and brought a friend from Oaxaca (who fell in love with all things Balkan!), one of the contra dancers from Mérida, and her good friend from Louisiana. They all had a great time! We hope to tempt an even larger group from Mérida to join us at NEFFA 2016. I have offered hospitality to any who might be tempted, so we hope that dancers come and enjoy our Festival.
We hope that as many dancers as possible join us in Mexico for this adventure. You can be kept updated, and discuss travel, lodging and excursion options, by asking to join the FB group, which is called: Mérida Contra Dance-January 2016 or you may also email me directly: email@example.com.
Saludos! Linda Leslie