I went to a contra dance yesterday, and I confirmed who I was before, and who I am now. What I mean is, there are three types of contra dancers: the Dabblers, the Steady Eddies, and the HCDs.
The Dabbler is the easiest to become. Dabblers show up on occasion, when they feel like it, and they cannot be counted on as a Steady Eddie can: the Steady Eddies are the loyal ones of the bunch, the ones who fill the local dances consistently, who aren't scampering off the to the big gigs. They are home to make things happen, to teach the newbies and welcome back the Dabblers. If dancing were dating, then the Steady Eddies are the kind you’d want to marry.
The Hard Core Dancers, or HCDs, are a different bunch. They are a little crazy, a lot enthusiastic, and one hundred percent addicted.
I should know. I was one.
This is what being an HCD means:
—Going to all dances within an 80-mile radius, even if they fall on a weekday evening. Not minding that you won’t get home until after midnight and will have to be up at 6 the next morning. The need to dance is greater than the need to sleep. Always.
—Going to many dance weekends, which are basically dance camps for big kids. And not going to one or two, and not just the local ones (those alone do not make you HC). These weekends must be an hour or two or 6 or 12 away. You don’t have to drive. You can fly. You do what it takes to get there.
—Being willing to camp on dance weekends on very cold nights in your tent, which you purchased solely for this purpose. Being willing to wear a knit cap while sleeping and be comfortable watching your breath billow out in clouds. Tolerating neighbor campers who talk loudly at 2 am, who stay up late strumming the guitar and singing, who snore and who have kids who wake up giggling and screaming before sunrise. And sure, the need to dance is greater than the need to sleep, but the need to sleep is greater than the need to be annoyed. Still, you are HC. You manage.
—Being okay showering with the masses at dance weekends, which means feeling okay naked in front of people. A lot of people. The same people you will see standing in line with you for coffee in the morning. A long line.
—Working your vacation around dance schedules, and making sure your vacation destinations revolve around where to dance.
—Missing some holidays with your family because of dancing. Your family will not like this. But you are HC. You don’t ask their opinion.
As you can see, I was rabid about dancing, but it’s no wonder: I owe my heart to contra. The dance mended me at a time when I felt most broken. I found pure joy in the dance, and felt most whole when spinning on the dance floor. That lasted for weeks, then months, then years.
Then ended. What happened?
Maybe I got tired of all the running around. Maybe I got too hooked on the energy of dance weekends—full of the best music and advanced, no-walk-through dances and the greatest dancers—so much that the local dances lost their fizz. Maybe I became what I used to refer to as a Dance Snob. (I still refer to it that way, but I don’t like to say it out loud.) Or maybe I no longer needed contra dance the way I had before: maybe I was mended.
Now? I’m not even a loyal Steady Eddie: I’ve become the dreaded Dabbler.
I don't miss the fever of juggling my schedule, trying to fit in what I wanted with what others wanted. I don’t miss the lack of sleep. Or the long drives. But I do miss the exuberance of doing something that had no prize, no end goal, that was—when the dance was great—all soul and elation.
I know the truth: Nothing else will ever be quite like a fine swing or a wicked twirl. And nothing will ever be exactly like the force that brought me back to myself through dance, that made me whole instead of splintered, that made me happy again when I was sure that happiness was impossible.
I experienced it again, yesterday, for two hours in Jonesborough, at a dance where the music swelled and the people rocked. It took me back in time. We were doing some difficult dances, and I was dizzying my way through them. At one point, I got to the right spot on time, and I must have had a surprised look on my face (I had bungled it a few times), and the dancer I came to said, “You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be!”
And I thought, This dance. Right here, right now. Exactly.