I just spent a whole weekend in Oklahoma City at an English country dance weekend. It was fantastic!
My long-time dance friends know that this is a remarkable declaration. I failed to embrace English country dance for more than 20 years, and only in the last five years have I discovered its beauty, nuance, and grace.
Eight New Mexicans attended the event, along with about 75 other dancers from Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Kansas, and other spots. Meg, Kit, Mary, and I flew. Richard Wilson drove 1,000 miles with daughters Karina and Lily and family friend Mia. Karina is in her early 20’s and has become quite an accomplished dance fiddler. We stayed at local homes with wonderful hospitality. Our hostess extraordinaire Cia pampered us with meals and stories, and we were delighted to find tasty and affordable Indian and Vietnamese food around town.
Bare Necessities, THE premier English dance band in the world, flew in from various states for the event. Jacqueline Schwab played piano while calling the dances. Peter Barnes on flute, English horn, and penny whistle, Mary Lea on fiddle, and Earl Gaddis on fiddle rounded out the band. English country dance music is rooted in the 1600 and 1700’s, with some modern compositions thrown in. The music swells, transcends, and heartbreakingly evokes simpler and more peaceful times. The dances, each of which matches a particular tune, were danced in England in castles and villages. The dances immigrated to America along with the dancers. They require grace and precision with “moments” of connection with one’s partner and others. Many of the dances are jubilant, some are elegant, all are fun. Dance moves immortal through time.
It wasn’t until lunch at Lido’s on Saturday that Earl mentioned casually that he had 104 fever. Taking his temperature after his meal revealed that it had dropped to 99-something. During lunch we told him and Jacqueline about Karina, whose radiant fiddling is the hope for the future of English dance in New Mexico.
Most of the dancers who attended the weekend were somewhat or greatly experienced. However, a few new dancers braved the weekend and happily survived. We danced three hours Friday night, had a two and a half hour workshop Saturday morn, 3-hour workshop Saturday afrternoon, and fancy final ball Saturday evening. Surprisingly, I did not take an Advil, get a blister, or suffer any consequences from leaping and twirling and gliding about with vigor and exuberance. I had not planned to wear the “period dress” requested, but not required. However, a few days before we travelled, I found a maroon velvet queen’s costume with regal gold trim for $7 at the thrift store. AND it was machine washable.
Mary, Kit, Merri, Meg (photo by Richard Letts from Austin)
During the Saturday night dance, I heard an especially beautiful waltz flowing from the stage. I looked over and observed that Karina was playing fiddle with Bare Necessities and Earl was nowhere to be seen! Astonished, I sat out one dance to watch her fingers silently pluck the strings, rehearsing the tune while Jacqueline taught the dance. I admired Karina’s serenity and joy playing with these new-to-her musicians. I studied the communication between the musicians, and how each dropped out to showcase the others. Afterwards, Karina was euphoric and thanked us for “talking her up” to the band. “We’re very proud of you,” I replied.
Peter Barnes (in period dress?), Mary Lea, Karina, Jacqueline Schwab
photo by Mary Beath
It turned out that Earl was lying on his stomach behind the stage with 5 acupuncture needles protruding from the base of his skull. His fever had rekindled, and he needed help. Luckily for Earl, one of the dancers present was also a doctor and acupunturist. With needles still visible, he played the last few tunes of the night and proclaimed that he hadn’t felt this fine in several days.
The organizers of this weekend, Carol Barry and Kevin Barrett, created a memorable event from the beautifully decorated hall to the excellent sound to the ambiance of long ago. Even the name tags were brilliantly inventive, laminated paper with a washer, a magnet, and double stick tape.
As they might say in Shakespeare’s day…”Huzzah!!!”
Saturday’s Ball (Richard and Lily Wilson in foreground)
Photo by Mary Beath