Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In the Coos: Part 2

Now for part 2 of my Oregon-y weekend! Just one Oregon-esque experience would not constitute a weekend of Oregon-ness, my friends; nay, two are required! And ah, what different experiences they were.

Saturday evening, I sped home from the lab, changed my clothes, and headed out to the Seven Devils Brewery, just a few blocks from my house. Seven Devils is owned by an OIMB alumna, and it's become the officially unofficial hang-out for Coos Bay's young, educated faction. I got dinner with two friends, one of whom I hadn't seen in a shamefully long time, and then walked with them to the evening's main event.

What is this main event, you ask? For what purpose had I broken speed limits, broken bread, and donned an extra-special outfit? Ah, dear friends, it was none other than a community contra dance!

(What the heck is a contra dance?)
Swing your neighbor! Photo by Laurel Hiebert.

Well, I'm glad you asked! Contra dancing is the grandfather of square dancing, and it's performed in two long lines. Male-female partnerships are the core unit of the dance, but the members of each pair are constantly changing. In fact, in a contra dance, you dance with a new person every three seconds on average. There's a caller, who is responsible for leading the dance by giving oral cues. He or she stands at the front of the room and calls out "Swing your neighbor" or "Do-si-do" or "Gents, left-hand turn." Each contra dance progresses in regular patterns, but even with the regularity and the caller telling you what to do, it can still get pretty chaotic. Ok, more than a little chaotic. It's all-out bedlam.

And I love it.

A smattering of contra outfits. Yes, I really left the house
like that. Photo by Laurel Hiebert.
There's a very specific culture that surrounds contra dancing, at least in Oregon. Anybody can ask anybody to dance. If there's an unbalanced gender ratio on a particular night, the better dancers will switch sides and do the opposite gender's part. All ages are welcome, and we get everyone from spry retirees to their 8-year-old grandkids showing up. Absolutely every outfit goes. People show up in jeans and tank tops, flowing hand-made skirts, button-down shirts, or dresses. I for one have made it my personal mission to wear a different ridiculous outfit to each contra dance, and this goal has lead to me to some very interesting thrift store buys. My dress on Saturday night was obnoxiously retro - it looked like something out of Megan Draper's closet - paired with orange suede fringe boots. Other dancers were in 19th century gowns or the clothes they wore to work.

As amazing as all of this must sound, it's still not the best part. Contra dancing is incredibly fast-paced; in fact, it's relentless. The endorphin highs are the bomb. You are bound to sweat, and you are bound to lose your place. Thankfully, there enough people around doing the exact same steps that if you forget your spot or lag behind, someone will pull you along. A contra dance is not a competition; it's not a place to show off. It's a community effort, and we either all succeed at it, or we all fail. Trust me, I've been in more than one train wreck, but every time, we somehow find the beat again. Contra dances are folksy and community-based and eclectic, and so undeniably quintessentially Oregon.
The band for the night, called Treehouse. Yes, that is a
climbing wall behind them; we were in the high school gym.

No comments:

Post a Comment