weekend in the foothills

Last weekend I went to Nevada City for the Foothills Country Dancer’s monthly dance at Oddfellows Hall. The dance has just in the last two months become significantly more popular, and the hall is now full of wonderful dancers, beginners, returnees, experienced people, of all ages. This has always been my favorite dance, but now it is even more fun. Thank you to the organizers, the callers, the band, and my carpool buddy Karen.

Manzanita on Indian Ridge trail

Sunday morning I went hiking and biking, both, in Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley. Though obviously the theme of the park if the mining heyday of this area, there is a lot of healing nature (nature in the process of healing, and healing of people) to be found. I spent a while just sitting on the bridge over Little Wolf Creek. After the first part riding my bike, I locked it up and went hiking on the north side of the park, along Pipeline and Indian Ridge trails.

The Spider and the Fly

In the afternoon I attended the house concert hosted by Joyce and Dan. The music was Sylvia Herold and the Rhythm Bugs. Wonderful music, a combination of swing, jazz, and a more, all done with precise musicianship and wonderful voices. The concert was almost entirely from the group’s newly released album, The Spider and the Fly. It was fun, and left me feeling great. Joyce and Dan have been doing these house concerts for quite a while, but this was the first one I’d made. It won’t be the last. The concert was attending by quite a number of people from the Grass Valley / Nevada City community, some of whom I already knew and many I didn’t.


San Francisco weekend

Another great weekend in California. Sometimes I forget that I live in Nevada, and that I have a job here, but I’m having so much fun on these weekends in California, that I sort of want to forget.

I went to the Friday Night Waltz in Palo Alto for the first time, and quite enjoyed it. It is about 1/3 waltz and the rest a variety of other social dances, a few of which I know how to do or can fake, and several I just watched. The dancers are a group of young high school / college age who know each other, and middle aged dancers, a few of whom are also contra dancers. I wouldn’t go to the bay area for just this dance, but I’d certainly go again if I happened to be in the bay area on a Friday night.

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Nevada City weekend

Hoyt Pool on the South Yuba River
Hoyt Pool on the South Yuba River

February 5th & 6th I had a wonderful weekend in Nevada City and Grass Valley. Friday night I went to Georgia Wright’s dance party in Reno, which was poorly attended but had the benefit that I got a lot of practice with Georgia, who is the instructor with Veto of the ballroom dance class I’m taking in Carson City. Then I headed over to California and slept out in the forest above Nevada City. I had breakfast at the South Pine Cafe in Nevada City, good food and a nice way to start the day. I’d never been there before, since I most often eat breakfast at Lisa and Eric’s.

Saturday I did some shopping (mostly window shopping) and went to Gold Mountain tea shop to get some tea and a tea thermos for Danita. Then I went hiking on the South Yuba River north of town. The day was beautiful, surprisingly warm as I hiked up the south facing slope above the river. I cleaned up after the hike and went to…

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Sacramento Zesty Contras

I attended the Sacramento Country Dance Society Zesty Contra dance on January 29. The band was Bandemonium, which is Eric Anderson and Lee Anne Welch from Seattle, and the caller was Spider Vetter. The dance, held at the usual Sacramento location of Coloma Community Center, which is an old school with a nice dance floor. Some dances were taught, some not, some dances were easy, some challenging, and some just awkward.

I had taken zesty to mean higher level dances, sometimes without walk-throughs, however, Joyce Miller and I had a long conversation about the meaning of zesty last weekend (in Grass Valley), and she informed me that the term actually comes from Larry Jennings who published a book called Zesty Contras in 1983 (NEFFA, out of print). Unfortunately I can’t find a copy or the text online, so I can’t read how Larry defined zesty, but Joyce said that the key point is dances called and danced with enthusiasm.

Contra Carnivale 2011

Contra Carnivale dancers swinging
Contra Carnivale dancers swinging

Contra Carnivale was the weekend of January 14-16 in San Luis Obispo. This was my second time attending, I think, though this and Harvest Moon get mixed in my mind, and it could be three times. Because the dance weekend is on the three-day Martin Luther King weekend, dancing goes through Sunday evening instead of Sunday afternoon as most dance weekends, and that extra dancing makes for a more intense weekend.

The bands were Latter Day Lizards, Wild Asparagus, and Syncopaths. I enjoy listening and dancing to all three bands, but the Lizards manage to drive the dancers to ecstasy. The callers were Lisa Greenleaf, Seth Tepfer, and George Marshall (who also plays with Wild Asparagus). Again, all are great but Lisa blends in so well that she is not noticeable except that every dance goes smoothly, and at the end, I think, “that was a great dance.”

My favorite parts? An hour and a half of waltzing every morning. Hanging out with the Grass Valley / Nevada City folks who I so much enjoy dancing with on their home ground as well. Hanging out and flirting with Pascale. Seeing Ann again after many years. Dinner with Art. The beautiful eyes of women.

Contra Carnivale, Grass Valley friends
Contra Carnivale, Grass Valley friends

Talking with people at dinner, I said that a contra dance weekend contains as much joy as some people experience in their lives, either because the joy is not available to them, or more likely because they turn their back on it. Thinking about it since, it resonates even more strongly. I am blessed to have the time, the money, the health, to do these contra dance weekends a few times a year.

I went down and back on Amtrak, and mostly walked to and from the dance sessions. On the trip down I ran into and talked with a contra dancer Donna, proving the small world effect. I stayed the weekend at Hostel Obispo, which is fun in an of itself, and also an affordable way to the dance weekend.

Photos on PicasaWeb. Again, I’m using my iPhone without a flash, so the dance photos are blurry and the others less crisp than they could be, but I’m more likely to grab photos with my iPhone than to remember to bring and use a camera with flash.

Contra calling

On Saturday night I called the Sierra Contra Dance Society contra dance in Reno. This was my first full dance outside of Carson City, and I was pretty nervous about it. But is went well!

I’ve shared a number of dances with Darla and George in Carson City, but this was the first for which I programmed the entire evening. I called Baby Rose, Lucky 7, Reel Easy, Salmon Chanted Evening, Box the Gnat, Flirtation Reel, Dip and Dive, and Chama River Reel. I tried to call Riding the Waves, but didn’t do well at the walk through and abandoned it before we danced, probably not quite quickly enough. I need to practice this one more before trying it again.

I had noticed all fall that during the waltzes, which at the last dance before break and the end of the evening, very few people were dancing and most people were sitting out. A lot of people think that they can’t waltz, or that waltz is hard, but I think that almost anyone can learn to waltz and at least do an acceptable level. So I offered a brief waltz workshop, including some etiquette, the 6-count step, the frame with partner, traveling, turning, and cuddle. And then we waltzed! All but two people waltzed, and all did well. It was such a job to me to see a room full of waltzers with smiles on their faces. People were very pleased with what they could do. I received many thanks, and some requests for more workshop. For those of you who have heard me talk about waltz, I have almost a missionary zeal about it, enjoying it more than any other dance. Though I can’t explain it, yet, I sense that there is some physical, emotional and spiritual magic about waltz, the music (3/4 time) and the movement.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with calling. I’m not scheduled anywhere. As I’ve watched friends become regionally and nationally known callers, I’ve seen the level of commitment it takes, and I’m not sure about my level of commitment, nor for that matter, my level of skill. I’m amazed when I watch others call, both the individual dances and the programming of the evening or weekend. Could I do that? Not sure. But in any case, I’m pleased with the outcome of this particular evening.

You can see more info about the Sierra Contra Dance Society which dances on the second Saturday of the month in Reno. To find out if there is a dance in your town, just enter “contra dance” and the name of your town into a search and see what shows up. If you are wondering how hard it is, it is the dance about which is is said, “If you can walk, you can dance.” Each dance is taught by the caller, and then called during the dance for as long as it takes for all the dancers to learn it well enough that they don’t need the calling anymore.

New Years Dancing

Joyce Miller & The Syncopaths
Joyce Miller & The Syncopaths

I attended the New Years Eve Gala contra dance in Santa Rosa at Monroe Hall. Joyce Miller called, and the Syncopaths played. The dancing was a lot of fun, the food at break was great, and I got to see a lot of people I don’t see very often. I especially enjoyed dancing with Sandee and Karen. There were about 100 people, a perfect crowd for Monroe Hall. I try to get to Santa Rosa at least twice a year for a dance as I quite enjoy the hall and the dance community there.

After the dance I stayed with Craig and Elaine, and had breakfast with the Syncopaths (Jeff, Ryan, Christa, and Ashley), which was quite fun.

I caught a ride to Grass Valley with Eric and Lisa, and attended the Nevada City regular contra dance on New Years Day. The dance was smaller than usual, probably due to the uncertain weather, but it was nevertheless a lot of fun, and again, I got to see and dance with a lot of friends. I stayed over with Eric and Lisa, and enjoyed Eric’s world famous waffles and good company the next morning, with Bridget, Mary, Karel, Jonathan, and Christie joining in. Art picked me up on the way back and got me to Reno.

Another weekend of great contra dancing and good friends and good food and good conversation! I’m blessed to be able to do this traveling and enjoy these experiences.

Photos on PicasaWeb Santa Rosa and Nevada City. These are taken with my iPhone, which does not have a flash, so the graininess is an artifact of low light conditions.

Danceable Feast contra dance weekend

Wild Asparagus, in concert

I just had a wonderful time at the Danceable Feast contra dance weekend near Eugene, Oregon, November 13 to 15, 2009. This was the tenth year of the weekend, though the first year I’ve been, and I think the first year I was even aware of it. It is sponsored by the Eugene dance community.

Wild Asparagus was the band, with their driving dance music that is impossible to stand still to. Wild Asparagus was the band at Dance Awakening in 1997, the first contra dance band that absolutely gripped me. Listening to David Cantieni’s bombard this weekend, I came up with the thought that bombards can resurrect dead people, get them up and dancing, and maybe there was a bombard player at Jesus’s grave. George Marshall was the caller, and he is also part of the band. I bought their brand new “Live at the Guiding Star Grange” double CD (not yet available except in person), and listened to it on the southbound train last night. Back in the feeling so easily!

the blur is due to lack of flash on my iPhone, but it does capture the feeling

The other part of the dance weekend was The S Curves and swing dancing. The food, prepared by Annie and her crew was great. I chuckle when seeing vegan – vegetarian – gluten free – dairy – no dairy permutations of the dishes, when in Nevada I still usually get “vegetarian? what’s that?”

Most of the attendees were northwest people, but there was a strong California contingent as well. No other Nevadans, though. I especially enjoyed dancing with Jacque and Denise, but all the dancers were competent to spectacular.