These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Contra Dance in Jerusalem

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Tadea Klein

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The first time that I heard about contra dance, I was a sophomore in college and just taking the first baby steps towards having a social life with people my own age. It was described to me as a “really fun and really easy social dance, everyone should go.” I subsequently managed to find an excuse to not go every time someone asked, primarily because I didn’t like that group of people enough to drive an hour both ways on a school night.

The next year, at a different school and more inclined to talk to people instead of reading in every spare moment, I heard that there was a contra dance on campus. Since the idea had never been unappealing and I didn’t have to drive anywhere, I walked over to our community hall to try it out.

My first impression of contra dance was: fiddle music. This was appealing, fiddle being one of my favorite instruments. My first thought was: what the Hell am I supposed to be doing, followed fairly rapidly by: oh, so this is what having fun feels like.

I exaggerate, of course. I knew what fun was. Fun was reading a very good fantasy novel, or watching Deep Space Nine re-runs, or drawing pretty pictures instead of doing homework. What fun was not was: spending time with large groups of people, physical activity that wasn’t martial arts, or doing anything remotely resembling performance. That last was not withstanding my stumbling attempts at some kind of dance, which all were failing, hampered by my conviction that they required perfection and that I didn’t measure up.

But contra had something else, something that all other kinds of dancing didn’t. Contra doesn’t require perfection, just an eagerness to please—to participate. The caller told me what to do and when to do it and, surrounded by people who were doing those same movements at the same time, left me to add my own style as I chose. It was tolerant of someone who felt clumsy and had only the vaguest conception of what “left” and “right” were. No one was requiring me to talk to strangers, or call attention to myself—only to dance, and to keep up with the music. Everyone was so enthusiastic, so happily bent on what they were doing, that they simply swept me along with them, without a care for the fact that I was supposed to be falling all over myself. And doing that dance, going back to that dance, I found out that I wasn’t quite so awkward and hopeless as I’d believed, and that I could even do other dances, ones less sweetly forgiving in terms of requirements.

I invite everyone to stop by sometime and check the dancing out. I’m not claiming it will be life changing, or even that it will teach you what it taught me. But I do guarantee that you will enjoy yourself.

Jerusalem Contra Dance meets once a month at the Beit Moses on 52 Derekh Beit Lechem, accompanied by the Hazel Hill String Band. The dance itself starts at 8:15PM, with a beginner’s lesson at 8PM. Entrance is 30NIS for Pardes students. The next dance is on January 17.