5 Steps Into a Maine Contra Dance
I was sitting outside The Stump yesterday evening, absently beating mosquitoes to death with a rock, when Cory Coffin roared up in her baby-blue Bronco. The tires spewed gravel and dirt as she spun to a stop on the road.
She leaned over, rolled down the passenger window, and offered me a cheerful greeting: “Get in.”
I wasn’t properly equipped for a ride with Cory — I didn’t have a helmet, goggles, safety harness, or anti-g-force suit, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t written my blood type down on anything that would survive a fiery collision — but Cory’s voice possesses that elusive Will Not Be Denied quality. So I dragged the mosquito carcasses to one side and approached the Bronco.
To her credit, Cory let me get a firm grip on the outside door handle before she stomped on the accelerator and shot the Bronco down the road like shrapnel from a grenade. I held on tight, took several running steps — each of which covered a good quarter-mile at those speeds — and then I planted my feet on the little step below the door. With pine branches flogging my backside and mosquitoes pelting me like buckshot, I managed to get the door open and strap myself into the passenger seat.
Ordinarily, I’d want to know where I was being taken and whether any ransom was going to be demanded; I’ve always been curious about how much I’d be worth on the open market. But Cory Coffin scares me, so I decided to speak only when spoken to.
The Bronco squealed to a halt in front of The Larboard, Cory’s bed-and-make-your-own-damn-breakfast inn. From inside came strains of fiddle music. There’s a special kind of lonely that comes when you’re outdoors hearing fiddle music coming from inside.
Cory had left the engine running, and I decided to disembark promptly so I wouldn’t have to witness the parking procedure. I had one foot planted on the ground when Cory blew the steel-gray hair from her eyes, jammed the Bronco into third gear, aimed toward a space between two cars that was only a few inches narrower than the Bronco itself, if you didn’t count the side mirrors, and stood on the gas. It took a moment for the spinning in my head and the ringing in my ears to go away, and then I entered The Larboard.
The music was coming from the dining room/bar. The tables had been hauled away, and at one end of the room stood a three-piece band. A man with a short, gray beard played the fiddle, while a woman next to him strummed a guitar and a man on the other side banged on Cory’s old piano.
Small groups of people stood around the walls of the dining room. But down the middle of the room, stretching from the band at one end to the painting of a shipwreck on the wall at the other end, ran two lines of people. One line, with their backs to me, was composed entirely of men. The other line, facing me, was composed entirely of women.
These were strictly townsfolk — no Villagers were present. Eliza, Bo, Summer, and the gang were not there; even if they had been invited and accidentally showed up, they would have slunk off to a more serious party to the South. But Floyd was there, standing in the men’s line. Henry Coffin was next to him, and I could see large numbers of the Coffin and other GSI clans in addition to a goodly percentage of the Unaffiliated Families from town. Meg was in the middle of the women’s line.
The band was playing some Scottishy, New Englandy sort of reel, and everyone in the lines was tapping feet or clapping hands to the beat. The man and woman closest to the band approached each other, held both hands, and skipped sideways down between the lines. When they reached the end, they separated and rejoined their lines, clapping and tapping as the next makeshift couple joined hands and danced down the gantlet.
I turned to the guy standing next to me just inside the doorway. “What the hell is this?” I inquired journalistically.
“Contradance,” he hollered over the music. “Traditional New England dancing.”
I sensed a trap. I had visions of Kate the Great calling Cory — she had arranged my initial pick-up at the docks, after all — and asking her to haul me to GSI cultural events with or without my willing cooperation. All part of the plot to get more coverage of The Town.
As I was contemplating this treachery, the music stopped and everybody clapped. I was then grabbed from behind like a sparrow beneath a diving falcon, and Cory marched me to the dance floor.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — Orson Van Dyke: The contra dance is an ancient form of line dancing that probably originated in the Celtic regions, which explains why the music you heard was “Scottishy.” It has gone through periods of revival over the centuries, with one of the biggest surges of interest coinciding with the research done into old English ballads by Francis Child, a professor at Harvard in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Comment — Amber4295: I don’t like line dancing. It’s too hard to remember the steps.
Comment — Edith5545: I remember doing contra dances when I was stationed in England with the WACs.
Comment — George Reynolds: There’s nothing to it. It’s like parallel square dancing.
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