Dancing is such a strange concept. It means different things to different cultures. And today, I experienced, for the first time in my life, English country dancing. And it was incredible! never done it? Its something to do at least once in life!
I’ve just moved in to Exeter, in the United Kingdom for a degree at the university. Its been a little hard to make friends, as it always happens. I decided that as long as I am outside my comfort zone, I might as well do it thoroughly. I decided to go country dancing.
Luckily, a couple of my housemates were going there as well and so for the first dance, we awkwardly stood up with each other as partners. The band struck up and I saw that there were nearly 100 people in the Great Hall, which didn’t make me feel any less awkward. We were in a big circle and I was gripping my housemate’s hand, while she was bouncing eagerly. No, it’s not weird that I was with a girl. No one knew a lot of people so we were all just standing around. Most people were just partners with the person standing next to them. But after the first dance, of twirling, bouncing, spinning, changing directions, spinning again and jigging, I was hooked! We were laughing constantly and the barriers between people broke down completely.
Over the next few dances, we were in sets of 4 or 8, so I met lots of people, all of us laughing as we danced different country dances and chatted reminiscently of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, where we’d seen such dances (I love the book! It made my day just knowing that I was dancing the same dance as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy! I felt like Elizabeth myself, if Elizabeth wore jeans and danced with other girls!). We kept changing partners and the band kept striking up new songs!
It wasn’t until the last few dances, that I got a male partner. I’d never danced before, let alone dance with a partner, in my life. We don’t do dances and proms back home. So for the first time in my life, I danced with a guy! Sure, I’ve danced in a group with guys. But this was different. This was the real deal. A Chinese guy was nice enough to partner me after watching me awkwardly scan the room for anyone else who was alone. We had to keep switching partner couples, so that meant I was lucylooing (I think that what its called…) with complete strangers. Then we danced the next in a group of 8, as 4 couples, and the guy partnering me was nice and we chatted as we jigged.
I think its the final dance I will never forget. I was chatting to a differently abled guy who’d been in the same group as me in the last dance. We ended up as partners and as we held hands and danced with everyone in the room, I was laughing, carefree, all awkwardness gone. He was French and I admired him for being so brave, for not letting anything get in his way. He’d danced every dance, and kept up with the rest of us all the time! He’d ditched his wheelchair for the evening and he had more enthusiasm and stamina than any of us. When the band played their final song, most of the people started to leave, as the dancing was over. But he smiled at me and held out his hand. And we were twirling around together and smiling at each other. After we finished, he chivalrously offered me his arm and we went to the door together, chatting. I’ve always wanted to know how it would have felt like, to be in the eighteenth century or something. Now I know.
Country dancing is incredible fun and it makes sense why back in the day, they always had assembly dances. Today, I didn’t see any grace or poise or elegance. We were all laughing madly, swinging and knocking into each other and it was the BEST NIGHT EVER!!!