Didi the cat basks in colorful disco lightDidi the cat basks in disco light to techno contra music. Photo by Susan English.

Finding the Silver Lining

By Susan English

It was late March of 2020. I had the program fine-tuned and was trimming loose threads on my dress for our third annual Jane Austen Ball in Wooster, OH, which is somewhere between Columbus and Cleveland. The decision to cancel the Ball and all our spring dances was easy. What was difficult was imagining how to stay connected with local dancers, musicians, and friends.

Then CDSS tossed me a lifeline, and I grabbed on. They were offering a Web Chat on using Zoom for dance activities. I downloaded the free version of Zoom, took some free online training courses, and announced our first virtual Wooster Contra Dance.

But only a handful of our regular dancers came, and none of our local musicians. I tried again. I updated my blog and posted my weekly dance on the CDSS online events calendar. I downloaded my favorite dance CDs and opened them with Music Speed Changer, as I did for weddings and homeschool balls. The Zoom boxes on my computer screen started to fill.

I learned to use Mailchimp and Google Drive. I attended some sound tech workshops, purchased Loopback software and, for calling and dancing at the same time, a Bluetooth headset mic. I eventually moved my computer to the basement dance floor—roofing liner over carpet, the brainchild of a local green architect and dancer. I heard about a ChoreoChat group and joined the conversation.

Attendees told me they liked the variety. They introduced me to their favorite bands and dances, to Andrew Shaw reconstructions and techno contra. I picked up a $12 disco light at a party store that was going out of business and stopped at the humane society to pick out my first cat. I started doing wild things and having fun again.

Attending other online dances made up for the years I had missed while caretaking my dear husband. I started meeting callers and musicians who previously were only names to me. Calling at other virtual dances, from from Atlanta (GA) to Lake City (WA), introduced me to a wider audience and brought back the joy of working with live musicians.

Where does this leave me, as our world takes tentative steps toward reopening? Instead of an empty feeling inside, I am filled with joy and gratitude. I can honestly say I looked forward to every solitary Saturday night—just me, Didi the cat, and my online dance group. I have met wonderful people and broadened my sense of community. I have dusted off all my favorite dances, learned dozens of new ones, and am now choreographing my own.

Will I ever repeat my dance exchange in China? Hard to say. Will I finally succeed in diversifying our local dances? Worth a try. Will I ever dance bal folk in Toronto or bourrée in France, meet Cecile Laye, or attend another workshop with Richard Powers? Will I ever meet the people I have danced with on Zoom, gaze directly into their eyes and actually embrace them? I certainly hope so.

All this because of the lockdown and the CDSS initiative on Zoom dances. What started as a personal and local dilemma has grown into a collaborative process much bigger and better than I ever imagined.

Singlet: The Bourrée Bump

By Susan English (2021)

A singlet: interact with your partner throughout, whether on the screen or in the same room as you; music can be a 2/4 bourrée or any reel.

A1 Partner orbit and swing, end facing up (16)
A2 Cast down into full figure 8 (around ghost couple below) (16)
B1 Partner chain across (pull-by R, loop L) (8)
Half a hey (pass R, loop L) (8)
B2 Forward and bump (8)
Forward and turn (8)

Calling Notes:

A1: Orbit and swing—Robin turn over own left shoulder (rotate ccw) while Lark orbits cw, arms outstretched (like a circle L) admiring partner; when you can’t stand it any longer, grab partner and swing

B2: Forward and bump: Forward (2, 3), bump R elbows, back (2, 3, 4) (returning to place) Forward and turn: Forward (2, 3), hook R elbows, turn 1⁄2 (cw), fall back (2, 3, 4) (changing positions with partner)

Susan English, of woosterdance.com, has called monthly contra and square dances since 1990. She co-developed the intergenerational program at Terpsichore’s Holiday (early 2000’s) and co-created the Cultural Exchange in China for the Berea Country Dancers (2017). At home in Wooster, Ohio, Susan dreams of calling live dances again and leading performances with the Madrigal Dancers.

Have you been learning something new during the pandemic?

We’d love to hear about it! Wendy Graham is curating a year-long project to feature more of these kinds of stories in the CDSS News. Write to her via news@cdss.org, and we might put you in this spot in our next issue!

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