Sunday, February 24, 2008

Springtime comin' (placeholder edition)

Coming to the end of another VMC weekend, this time a guest visit by English Country Dance master teacher. Kids did great, during two long 2-hour intensive workshops, and went from "nothin' to somethin'" in the dance style in the course of 1 day. Dance teacher--who confessed to an early skepticism about whether they could do it--was very impressed.

One of the great things about the Texas kids is how remarkably un-self-conscious they are, at least as far as dance goes. Coming from my own cultural background (uptight middle-class suburban New Englander), having taught in the either uptight-or-entitled-or-both Mid-West, it's remarkably refreshing to be here, to stick sixteen kids in a room with a dance teacher, and to see the abandon with which they throw themselves into it. Their engagement is enhanced by the degree of prep and general esprit de corps we have created--the general attitude within the ensemble that we're not afraid to try new things, and that in fact new things can provide positive new experiences--but it's also the plus side to the general un-self-consciousness that West Texans feel about almost anything.

I still remember the time that Dharmonia and I were stuck overnight in the Dallas airport, and the exchange, next morning, while waiting to board the first shuttle out, with a young mother and sleepy kid, who had obviously been stuck as well:

Young Mother: Boy, I shure hope we kin git on this here airplane. I'm tahred.
Dharmonia: Yes, it sure was a long night, wasn't it?
YM: Yeah, it shure was. An' my incision's started leakin'.
Coyotebanjo: Oh?...Uh, well, ours are just fine, thanks.
Nonplussed doesn't begin to describe it ("Y'all have any kids"? "Uh, no." "Wha not?!?"). Mostly, West Texans aren't self-conscious about anything: not about conspicuous consumption, or Big Ol' Hair, or the McMansions they live in, or the amount of their salaries, or the specific and excruciating details of their surgeries or sermons. If they're racists, they're unselfconscious about it. If they're materialist, they'll let the world know it. If they're curious about who the hell you are and why you "haven't yit foun' a church home?", they'll just tell you.

But the plus side is that the kids are nearly-equally unselfconscious about trying new things--f'rinstance including dancing. It helps that most of the Celtic Ensemble kids, including the instrumentalists, recognize that if they want to play a dance music properly, they have to learn to dance it properly. Whether it be blues, or Irish set-dance, or salsa, or samba, or English Country Dance, or hip-hop, you can't play it if you can't dance it. And my guys can. And they have the remarkable and wonderful ability to get outside themselves, to not worry about "how they look" or "whether they look goofy", and throw themselves into it.

And the result is something truly wonderful to see. It's like the night we took our first crop of W Texas kids into the set-dances on the top floor of the Old Ground Hotel in Clare during the Ennis fleadh nua. The Tulla Ceili Band was raising the roof with the jigs & reels, and the 50-year-veteran set-dancers were already out on the floor, and our kids were variously delayed in finding their way there.

So the Tulla Band is blasting away, and the whole floor is swaying up and down under the coordinated feet of maybe four hundred dancers, and here come Becky and Esther, two of our step-dancing girls, sprinting across the lobby, ripping off their jackets and hurling them into a corner, and dashing out onto the dance floor.

They danced all night, every figure of every set, learning the Kerry and Clare sets right on the fly, spinning across the dance floor that was lifting right up under their feet. They were fearless. And fearlessness--or, at least, the refusal to let fear rule--is what makes freedom possible.

This is why we do what we do:

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