FolkFire Articles

September/October 1997

  • A New Spin on International Couple Dancing
  • With Thanks To The Band
  • FolkFire in Transition
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  • A New Spin on International Couple Dancing

    by Rex Couture
    Rex Couture has agreed to interview himself in order to stay within the budget ($0).
    What do you find most interesting about international couple dancing?
    The world has an incredible wealth of folk dances that have been done for countless generations in much the same way that they are being done today. Somebody must have found them interesting for all this time. In addition, many couple dances have a special feel that is unlike any other type of dance. There is a special way that you can distribute your weight and swing your partner. And not just in the American sense of "swing your partner". There is a special feel of cooperative tension between partners that is very satisfying. It's very difficult to describe the feeling, but those who have experienced it know that it feels great!
    What kind of international couple dances are done in St. Louis?
    All kinds. We've done Scandinavian dances, Tango, Hungarian, French, Moravian, Transylvanian turning dances, Csángo goat dances -- things like that. And these may be the most popular: Waltz, Polka, Sex-Change Schottische (from Sweden, of course), and Hambo!
    This is pretty difficult stuff, isn't it?
    Some dances are, some aren't. The point is that once people get hooked, they can't stop themselves.
    It sounds like there are a lot of dances. Too many to learn?
    Well, yes and no. Half a dozen or so steps will enable you to do most of the couple dances from European tradition. Add a couple of other skills, learn to be a little flexible and adaptable, and you have the basis for learning practically anything.
    Isn't couple dancing mainly for courtship?
    Well, dancing is obviously great for courtship. Still, in most cultures, both young and old dance. Nancy and I are, by most accounts, well beyond the usual age of courtship, yet we still really enjoy dancing. Some friends of mine have an amazing videotape of some old geezers dancing in Transylvania. They obviously have a very special enjoyment of the dancing, and absolutely electrify the audience watching them. Now, these folks are not trained performers. In fact, they're kind of old and doddering. They just get together occasionally to dance with their friends. I think that's what it's about.
    Where can someone go to learn?
    I'm glad you finally asked. Nancy and I are teaching a class with John Uhlemann in the fall. (See listings). John is teaching line dances, and for our part, Nancy and I are teaching waltz and schottische in four weekly sessions. If you can do those dances easily and well, you've got the key. And of course, we will continue with more classes. Right now we do some teaching at IFDA, and at the International Couple Dance and Scandinavian Dance groups.
    Are there impediments to learning to dance?
    Indeed, and without good teaching, most people don't discover them. There's too much else to do. But there are really only a couple of tricks to these turning dances, that unlock everything. Tricks like each partner doing his/her share of the turn. Usually, both partners will make a good effort, but there are a couple of subtle ways in which they can work against themselves, and make it hard for themselves and their partner. There's a reason for correct foot placement, correct weight placement, and correct position. Once they figure that out, the light turns on, a little bell goes off, and suddenly, they know how to dance.
    Don't you get dizzy?
    Some people do at first. The important thing to remember is that the turns can be slowed down or stopped if they become difficult or uncomfortable. Anyone can learn this. We have some tricks that we teach.
    Tell us about some of the dance music traditions.
    In the really old days, people tended to live in isolated communities. Even towns were isolated. In some ways, those were the glory days for rich social and artistic traditions. That's where the world's languages came from. More important from my fortunately warped point of view, that's where our diverse heritage of folk music and dance evolved. Today you can see these guys in the very modern but mountainous nation of Norway making these absolutely cool, individualistic dance moves. Even today, Norwegians intentionally maintain a certain isolation in music and dance for this reason. There's no way to characterize folk music as a whole. The variety is infinite. Some of it is quiet and lovely. Some is ancient; some is electrified. Some of it sells a lot of CDs. And most of it has a matching dance tradition.
    With Thanks To The Band
    by Judith Papian
    The barn loft was almost dark. The musicians were jamming up there before their gig on the dance floor, filling every available nook with sound. They played all night, all morning, all afternoon. They played fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, concertina, flute, triangle, drums. They played for their own reasons, and we listened while we were napping in the cool loft, or downstairs chopping ingredients for Carl's midnight turkey molé, or (best of all) sitting cross-legged on the ground in the middle of the musicians. The fiddle tunes were hypnotic; repetition, variation, repetition, variation, repetition.
    She slipped into the dark barn loft. She changed her shoes, into the gold ones she could really dance in, without taps. The air was filled with sound; fiddlers Geoff and Bob were flying through 'One Eyed Cat', anchored by Jim's strong guitar. The light filtering up from the breezeway backlit her hair and made her flowing skirt translucent. She started to clog - the same way they played - for herself only. She turned inward, letting the music follow her. Her feet seemed aware of the melody and rhythm, drumming against that perfect, ancient, springy wooden floor.
    It was one of her most private experiences. Uninhibited. Introverted. Synthesizing the kinds of movement she learned in little girl dance classes, college modern dance classes, folk dance Saturday nights, and contra and swing-dance evenings. The perfectly articulated 'Lone Rangers' and 'Indians' of Annie's team rehearsals slid into improvisation, and she was really dancing. She syncopated, playing with the rhythms, and the space, and the sensations. Not worried, in the dark, whether anyone was watching.
    They were watching, of course: Bob and Geoff and Jim. Years later Bob asked her at a little festival in the city whether she was going to clog; he looked eager and she wondered about it. Bob was a real old-time fiddler from southern Missouri, down towards the Ozarks somewhere. He said he'd seen jig dancers and clog dancers and the like, but never anything quite like her, that night in the old barn at Kimmswick.
    Embarrassed, she said, "Oh no, I can't just do that at will. There was magic in the barn, it was easier in the dark, the music was so hot..." Later she thought: "Why didn't I just say thank you." The truth be told, she didn't know how to will her feet to dance that way. It did seem like magic. A magical ability tucked away safely in the back of her mind behind sleep deprivation and the trance created by three days and nights of relentless music and dance.
    It is a few years later; the farm is now a subdivision. Geoff bought the old barn, dismantled it and brought it home to keep forever. She thought about that magical evening for a season or two, then looked inward and let it happen again. She, too, took something home to keep forever. I can see that from her dancing.
    FolkFire in Transition
    by Dan Klarmann
    Unless you are one of our many new or current (paper) subscribers, you may have noticed that you didn't get this issue in the mail. This is our new delivery policy. The usual thousands of copies of FolkFire are still available, for free, at dance and music venues, at our advertisers, and at many other points about town. We appreciate those of you who have paid the $6.00 annual subscription (or more, thanks!), and enthusiastically encourage others to join.
    Also, this is my last issue as the Editor. Since announcing my retirement, several people have applied to do large parts of my old job. A new editor in chief has not been selected as of this deadline, but it looks like FolkFire will continue regardless. If you can help with managing this newsletter, editing, ad sales, marketing, calling groups, writing or reviewing, please contact us. There cannot be too many volunteers to produce this journal. Those who put in the most time will even be compensated a little, a policy related to our recent savings in mailing costs. FolkFire is a great newsletter, and I've enjoyed reading and hearing people's appreciative comments. We plan to continue producing as high a quality newsletter as we can manage. Thanks for your support.