This past weekend, I attended and helped host Moosejaw, an old-time music and dance weekend put on by the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers at the Maplelag resort near Detroit Lakes, MN. I knew I would have fun, as I enjoy dancing and music, but didn't really know for sure what I was getting myself into.
The first couple of hours of arrival, I could feel myself shrinking in response to the clear indications that everyone seemed to know each other. I was dissapointed in myself for my reaction, unclear as to whether it was really a desire to be inward, or if it was simply that I was not prepared for a weekend of being around many people all the time for a whole weekend. Despite my initial feelings, these reactions washed away quickly, as the family-style dinner was served and the music and dancing began.
As quickly as I knew someone's name, we were just as quickly sharing in a dance. Square and contra dancing are designed for people who like other people - this is apparent in the hand holding, eye contact, partner switching, and unspoken idea that it should be your pleasure to take part in the dance, regardless of with whom it may be. Additionally, these forms of dance are for people that love music and rhythm; old-time and bluegrass music operate around repetative and catchy rhythms and hooks, and they rely on easy to understand musical structures and patterns, which come out in audible chunks of sound that are easy for dancers to identify and for musicians to structure around the dance on hand.
Creation of community seems to be the number one result of being involved in this kind of music and dance. Though people may get involved for the purpose of serving their own love of these things, they end up on the other side having not only experienced the joy of really listening to music and the synergy of moving their body to it rhythmically, but they have also shared in these joys with others.
After getting involved myself, the openness of this community people is so obvious to me in so many ways, and one of the ways this was embodied this weekend was the willingness to learn new things. Attendees stepped out of their old-time comfort zone to learn and partake in traditional Ukranian social dances, taught by Don LaCourse of Ethnic Dance Theater and danced to the music of the Twin Cities-based Ukrainian Village Band. Though very few of the weekend's attendees had experience with this kind of dance, it did not take them long to pick up on and enjoy it. I truly believe that it came as quickly and enjoyably as it did to everyone there because they foster a general atmosphere of interest, willingess and support, and this showed in everything, from learning a new dance to locating the hot tub!
I could go into unnecessarily minute detail, simply for my own pleasure of recalling the weekend's hijinx, but I will try to stay relatively to the point; the old-time dance and music subculture is alive and well due to a couple of key factors - an extremely welcoming crowd of people, diverse in background and age and experience, and music and dance forms that are simple, communal and rhythmic. I often receive slightly befuddled reactions when I tell people that I go to square dances, or that I have joined an appalachian clogging company, or that I recently spent a whole weekend clogging, listening to jam sessions and contra dancing at a secluded Northern Minnesotan resort. I think it is easy for people to be detered by the title of 'old-time,' which often draws up ideas of outdatedness. In trying to explain, it is often difficult to put into efficient response why it is that I have been so drawn to this community, yet I will try.
I am glad that I have not let the genre title of 'old-time' get in the way of how I see this community and what it can offer me as a dancer and lover of music. Just because a form has a long history does not mean it is outdated; on the contrary, history allows digging into past experience to find ways to engage new people, as well as to keep interested the people who have already been drawn in. In short, I find this subculture's sense of open, unapologetic, community-building, fun-loving simplicity to be among the freshest apporaches I have experienced regarding sharing a love of rhythmic musical patterning and movement.