Oberlin College has had a significant dance scene for some time. In addition to a regular dance series on campus, the Oberlin Contra Dance Club, sponsors an annual dance weekend. The 12th Annual Dandelion Romp is coming up in April. From conversations with alums, I gather there’s significant participation from both the students and the local community on the dance floor. The dance has also been an encouraging place for student callers and musicians, something that can be a key ingredient to having lots of student dancers.
Oberlin hosts student blogs and two authors have given fun posts about the contra dance. (They also both include some wonderful pictures.)
“Contra Dancing: What, Where and Why You Should Do It” from Aries Indenbaum ’09 focuses on an evening of dancing, in the process providing an approachable description of contra dancing. She also describes how the dance offers a social experience that can be unusual for college students. “I’ve gotten to meet some amazing people: not only other Obies, but folks from around Ohio. As I’ve been doing it since I was a wee first-year, I’ve gotten to see people change. One girl who started going when she was 12 has now hit puberty and talks to me about middle school — another partner has just fathered a child. It’s a different slice of life.” As enjoyable as the student life is, it can be isolating. Encountering the community outside the campus gates can be refreshingly grounding. As Aries notes, “As much as I love college students, it’s nice to be able to connect with someone who’s in their 50’s.”
In “How I learned to stop worrying and love Contra Dance.”, Harris Lapiroff ’10 writes about how contra dancing can be a transformative experience in relating to one’s own physicality. “Before I came to college, I was convinced that I was incapable of displaying any rhythm or smoothness of motion. The extent of my social dancing experience was a few graceless school dances,” he says, adding, “People who know me now might find this hard to believe.” Harris goes on to describe his “feeling of wonderment” as he began being in tune with his movements.
Overcoming the “body-mind disconnect” through dancing is, I’ve observed, a powerful but common experience. There’s a strong I-can’t-dance mentality many of us develop and it’s quite empowering to transcend it (and so easily) at a caller-led social dance. It’s something that happens with many skeptical newcomers, but you can really see it in action at the next wedding dance you go to. It can be like watching a room of people discover they can fly.
Beyond breaking down body-mind barriers, Harris, like Aries, picks up on how the dance becomes a place to break down social barriers as well, noting how “[a]t Oberlin the dancers are largely students, but there are more than a few regulars from town as well as the occasional faculty/staff.” Experience tells me these kinds of barriers can be empowering to overcome as well.