Columns / Discourse / February 12, 2014

The Art of Insight: Embracing barn dance

Last Saturday night, I joined several dozen other Knox and Galesburg community members and spent three hours together during one of the best nights that I’ve spent at Knox so far. We contra-danced, square-danced and waltzed in the Oak Room to the playing of the Knox All-Star String Band and the instructions of the two “callers” whose job it was to give the directions for each dance so that everyone could keep up. I’d like to give a heartfelt thanks to the Anthropology and Sociology Club for hosting the event.

If you haven’t ever been to a barn dance or gone contra dancing before, here are a few reasons why you should consider coming next year.

First: barn dancing is an amazing way to come out of your shell and enjoy yourself with other people. In square dancing, the same moves are repeated every few moments. But the dance still lasts for a good ten minutes. Each time, you become more confident of the movements you make, you become more in tune with the people around you and you learn to experiment and have fun beyond the basics. It’s both a partner activity and a group activity and the sense of trust that you get from dancing… This is amazing to experience.

Second: mistakes are okay. I’ve been in several square dances where the whole thing was a confused mishmash from beginning to end. But it wasn’t a problem: we all laughed our way to the end, getting better at it as the dance went on. Group dancing is one of the rare instances in life when making mistakes is just part of the game, even as you’re all working on getting it right.

Third: you get to know individual people better. There are different ways of knowing people. You can know people from your class, you can know people from having met them and you can also know people from having danced with them. In each case, you learn different things about people. In class, you learn about how people think and study. In social life, you learn about how people present themselves to the world. In dancing, you learn what it’s like to swing with them by the elbow and hold their hands. Getting to know people physically – note the absence of innuendo – is an important way of socializing that isn’t always acknowledged in our society. But we all have bodies, and using them to get to know each other is a rewarding part of life. In dancing, perhaps because it’s such a physically integrated experience, you meet people at their best. There are few atmospheres more supportive than that of group dancing, if you can manage to overcome any fears you may have about dancing or other people.

And, finally: barn dancing is a North American tradition of which we can all feel proud. It’s based on coming together to celebrate each other, build community and have a wonderful time.

Perhaps the only pity about Saturday’s dancing was knowing that it won’t happen again until next year. It would be completely appropriate for it to happen every term, or even just twice a year. In the midst of the sometimes overwhelming stress of studying, teaching and getting by in today’s world I can’t think of many opportunities that are of a greater benefit to our community here at Knox.

Leland Wright

Tags:  anso club anthropology Anthropology and Sociology club barn dance contra dance Galesburg group dance Knox All-Star String Band Knox College sociology

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