Our taxi driver carefully guided us through the maze of cars that lined the dark, narrow street. He seemed a little confused dropping off a group of college students in front of a church located on the corner of a quiet road. Leaves rustled and a brisk wind blew across our faces, reminders of the imminent arrival of fall, as we made our way up the stone steps and through the big, wooden church doors. The quiet, solitary ambiance was deceiving because as soon as we stepped into the church, we were greeted with the sounds of thundering bluegrass music and boisterous laughter. The doors had led us into another era. Washington DC had turned into the olden days of square dancing.
The light touch of the mandolin mixed with the rise and fall of the fiddle and plucking of the banjo provided the perfect backdrop for the almost mesmerizing swirls and twirls that covered the dance floor. All the pews had been cleared, leaving a large dance floor big enough to fit the more than 200 dancers that filled the room with laughter, dancing, clapping and stomping. Over the melodic tunes of the bluegrass, a caller yelled out, “go back home and swing your own.” As if under a spell, everyone gravitated back to their partner and swung them round and round, trying not to get dizzy.
My friends and I discovered this hidden gem last year in the fall, and it has turned into a monthly event. It’s not simply the appeal of getting off campus that draws us to this church in Columbia Heights once a month on a Saturday night, but it’s the idea of being transported to another place, far away from Georgetown that keeps us coming back. Square dancing is a place to let all your insecurities and reservations go away. When someone asks you to dance, whether it be a stranger or a friend, you politely say yes and soon find yourself with a group of 7 other dancers ready for the next call. The caller first goes through the moves, but when the music starts, it’s up to your group to figure it out. Before you know it, you are circling left, then right, spinning round and round, forming bridges and baskets, moves I had never associated with dancing. Square dancing is truly a group effort. Everyone has to encourage each other and work together to follow the next move.
As we quickly discovered, square dancing is more than just moving feet and body to the sounds of a caller, it is a way to form new relationships. The partners change every time, and you might find yourself with a stranger. Interaction is unavoidable, a concept that is not always easy for us in our age of distracting technology. Being up close with someone as you swing around can be uncomfortable at first because you are forced to make eye contact for longer than a second. But once the initial fear is gone, the constant human interaction becomes a part of the charm of square dancing. It’s just you, the music, and a partner.
After just one dance, my friends and I caught the square dance buzz. By the end of the night we were sweaty and tired after 2 hours of dancing. But we exited the church feeling happy and refreshed, revitalized after a night of laughter, clapping, and dancing, already looking forward to next month’s dance and getting entranced by the sweet sound of bluegrass and twirls and swirls of the dance floor.
Photo: Dierdre/Wikimedia Commons