Outside, the summer rain falls, cool, clean, and sweet. Inside, the air is warm and sweaty, filled with Scottish reel music. I am at a large contra dance, dancing with a stranger. He is tall and his hands are steady as he spins me. Even though my hands are tiny in his large palms, we keep a tension between us that is balanced and supple as we bounce through the Highland Schottische. The dance is spirited with lots of spins and Celtic kicks, but it still retains its Bohemian roots in its stylized patty-cake section. I’m enjoying my time with my partner. It is rare that I find someone who matches my steps and anticipates my body movements so well. But, we link arms and spin each other one last time. We exchange smiles, happy that the afternoon has only started. We shall be seeking each other out for another set. Then I look forward, reaching out both of my arms, palms out, to my next partner. The band is only finishing the first cycle of the tune, I will dance with at least ten more people before the song is over.
I love a good contra dance. It combines a few of my favorite things: traditional United Kingdom music, exercise, spinning, and geometry. I especially love the Highland Schottishe, a dance I was first introduced to at middle school church camp. It is a dance full of marvelous contradictions: it is restrained yet spirited, connected yet independent, proper yet provocative. Perhaps I like it so much because its spirit epitomizes the ways I find myself daily moving through the world. If my personality could be a traditional folk dance, I know it would be the Highland Scottische.
But most importantly, it is a dance of many meetings and partings. You kick and clap and spin your way around the dance floor for as long as the band pleases. Never with the same partner. Not a bad thing when you have a less than ideal partner, but very hard when you meet someone with whom you delight in dancing. But as with life, there can be later meetings and other sets.
Perhaps it is odd that I think of a summer contra dance on Christmas Eve Day. I guess all the rain we’ve had in New Haven prompted my memory. But I also think that writing Christmas cards to friends and family the world over (while planning New Year’s visits in two different states) makes my heart feel like it is at an astral contra dance with those who are willing to connect their lives with mine. I’m glad that my heart is moving in this way. Like a good contra dance, friends, family, boyfriends, crushes, and lovers move in and out of my life. Some I will never see again, but others will return to me in surprising ways. And some, I will return to again and again, hoping that they will dance just one more set with me. And if they say yes, they are the ones that become my life-long partners, willing to move with me through it all.
But, the band stills plays and I still must say goodbye, looking ahead to my next partner, to my next life stage, steadied by the conviction of my two hands reaching out, opening my palms to the promise of new connections, hoping and trusting that whomever lets me rest my hands upon their palms, is worth the dance. And, that they will want to dance with me again.