Last Saturday a group of nine Beloit College students went to the University of Chicago’s 7th Annual Contra Dance Weekend. We attended the second night of dancing for the festival which featured live music from the groups Nor’easter and Money Creek Boys with calling by Will Mentor and Roger Diggle.
After zipping down to Chicago in one of Beloit’s white mega-vans, we had a little bit of time to check out our surroundings before the dancing started. Believe it or not, Beloiters arrived somewhere early! The day was cloudy and, by default, windy as we explored the gothic-style architecture of the campus. Ida Noyes Hall, where the dance was to take place, felt like a warm colonial dance hall complete with chandeliers and huge arching windows.
The afternoon session included some more complicated contra figures, but we took it slow and soon got into the rhythm of the dance after a week of classes. During these slower and more instructive hours leading up to the night dance, we learned the proper arm arrangement when swinging, discovered the allure of being a contra gypsie, and how to shamelessly ask someone to dance. The two hours of dancing went by in a flash and we dispersed into Hyde Park to scrounge up sustinance for the night ahead.
At 7pm it was time for the real whirl of fun to begin. You could feel the energy building as more people crowded into the small–by then glowing–hall and the moon rose. The first of many sets (at least four or five) began with a fast tempo and twirling skirts. There was even one dance that felt like the robot with eight people moving in a rotating square pattern. One dancer on the sideline described contra to us as “controlled chaos.” So accurate. It was only after the final waltz when we sat down in the chairs at the sides that we realized how much our feet hurt. Peanut butter and jelly in the van on the way back at one in the morning never tasted so good.
The festival definitely gave our group good practice for our dance next weekend here at Beloit.