Sunday, November 6, 2011

bare necessities

bare necessities --
dancers weaving in and out 
through the weaving tunes

Another Bare Necessities weekend -- feet sore, heart soaring. On the first weekend in November every year for the past 18 years, Fairfield Folk Arts and Dance Cooperative has been hosting an English country dance featuring Bare Necessities. The Boston-based quartet, composed of Jacquelin Schwab on piano, Peter Barnes on flute, whistles and guitar, and Earl Gaddis and Mary Lea on violin and viola, is known nationwide for their improvisational performance of 17th and 18th century dance music. They are extremely inventive and playful in the way they spontaneously interweave through the tunes, trading off solos and then flowing back together again. This year, unfortunately, Mary Lea could not play due to a shoulder injury. However, the remaining trio filled the ballroom of Morningstar Studio with beautiful melodies and counter-melodies.
          Our dance instructor and caller this year is Joanna Reiner, who hails from near Philadelphia. She keeps us on our toes, physically and mentally, as she walks us through each dance. Joanna, an accomplished dancer herself, frequently descends from the mike to join a set on the floor in order to demonstrate a tricky set of moves. She begins each new dance by telling us the name of the dance and having the musicians play the first part of the tune. "This is in waltz time," she'll say, or, "For this one, you have to be able to count to nine." Sometimes she has each set of dancers review the instructions together, to exercise our memory. After a walk-through, she gives us tips to be aware of as we move through the often complicated step: "As soon as the top couple gets to the bottom of the set, the twos need to get ready to bulge out for the mirror hay," or, "Remember that in a triple minor, the role of the twos and threes changes with each turn of the dance," or, "In the grand chain the women move clockwise." As Joanna calls the dance, she watches our progress, and when it looks like we've got it, she calls less and then finally stops. Afterwards, she asks, "What did you notice?" This gives us the opportunity to reflect on our experience and share it with the other dancers. After a particularly complicated dance, one dancer says, "I learned that you have to trust that the other dancers will be in the right place at the right time." On the last morning, Joanna announces that there will be no walk-through, only a talk-through for each dance. This is a new level of challenge for many people who like to get the dance "in the body." We laugh as we flounder a bit, but we all help each other, and at the end, when we've made it through, there are lots of happy hugs.

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