Field Tripping By Kate Drabinski

Field Tripping: Square Dancing

The great thing about square dancing is that unlike other kinds of dancing, somebody's giving you directions.

I love to dance. I have always loved dancing, never understood that thing where people have to be drunk to dance. I mean, I get it—we're taught pretty much from the get go to be embarrassed by our bodies and think everyone's looking and judging them all the time. We learn how to do it by watching TV and reading magazines and suffering through being judged ourselves. And then there's puberty, where we viciously do it to each other and ourselves. Grown ups do it too. I remember my terrible junior high years at a visceral level, filled with shame at that whole body-being thing. I suddenly grew these giant tits, but I managed to remain in grudging denial about the whole thing. Until my eighth grade gym teacher actually called my mother and told her she had to get my twin sister and I bras so we would stop bouncing around during class. I don't remember my body being a problem for me, but the part where it was a problem for everyone else was a lesson it has been hard to forget.

But back to dancing—somehow the general shame I share with most of us about the very fact of being a body never got into my dancing self. Maybe that's because my dad danced with me from the time I was a tiny baby, rocking me across the room, singing in his pretty terrible voice. When I was older I would stand on his feet as he danced around the kitchen. When my baby sister was born I would dance with her as he had danced with me, cuddling her in and hopping around to Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. And then I was grown, and some of my fondest memories are of dancing with him—outside, to mountain music at a festival in the tiny Idaho town where he lived, both of us just a little bit high, grateful for sun and mountains, biggest smiles on our faces, like we were getting away with something. God, I love dancing, and I loved dancing with him.

The first real dancing I did after my dad died in December was a square dance held at Peabody Heights Brewery in Abell or Charles Village or Waverly or Harwood, depending on who you ask. It was also my first social activity since his death, and I was really nervous about holding it together in public. The ladyfriend took me, assured me I could do it but could leave if I couldn't, and we met a couple of her co-workers to give it a try. And I could totally do it. The great thing about square dancing is that unlike other kinds of dancing, somebody's giving you directions. For the uncomfortable or nervous dancer, this is awesome. Whether you're good at dancing or not, chances are you don't follow directions all that well, and you'll fuck up. A lot. Nobody cares, though, because everybody's fucking up, and it's funny and fun, and when you do manage to get it right, you feel strangely accomplished. For a barely-hanging-on-through-the-grief dancer, it's kind of perfect.

Fast forward to this past weekend, two months out from dad's death, and things are more even. Don't get me wrong—I'm still sad, still going through the motions, still in disbelief—but the rollercoaster's already not quite so loop-de-loop, that well of grief less scary, more known. I am ready to dance again. I was absolutely positive I would be able to have a good time at this week's square dance, held down in Pigtown at Mobtown Ballroom.

The ladyfriend and I met our friends for dinner and then walked over to the old church-turned-social club. We got there just a few minutes after starting time, and the place was already packed. There's no being fashionably late to a dance where you have to learn how to do it first. We muscled into the circle, but it was already too large to accommodate the four of us. The caller split the circle in two to make more room, and dancing commenced. We learned how to swing our partners, do-si-do, chase right, dive through, and promenade. We danced in big circles and smaller squares, switched partners, got scolded by the rare square dancer with an investment in doing it "right," and took breaks to watch, not to judge but to enjoy, because it's fun to watch other people have fun.

This is my favorite part of social dance, that it really does feel like a community, rather than a collection of solo bodies trying to both be seen and not be seen, depending on who's watching. The ladyfriend and I took dance lessons out in Columbia at an Arthur Murray studio last year. The first lesson was free, and then we were forking over the big bucks for more lessons. It was fun, and we got our steps down enough that Ashley, our barely legal instructor, suggested that with enough (paid) lessons we could be competitive on the local amateur circuit. Not gonna lie, I was flattered. I had images of the ladyfriend and I, her in a tux with tails, me in some body-skimming sparkle dress, turning heads with our queer ways as we floated across the ballroom floor at some suburban hotel, trading time with the wedding parties that make up the rest of Arthur Murray's business.

The last thing I need to do is infuse my dancing with purpose. One of my favorite parts of the square dance is that there's no reason whatsoever to do it. I mean sure, some folks get as into it as Ashley is into the waltz, but for most of us it's a night out to learn dances we won't remember for next time in community with people we may or may not see again, few of us able to keep up with the caller's calls at all. This was hardly a crowd set for competition. My friend complimented the caller on being so patient with all of us. "Why wouldn't I be?" she responded. Why wouldn't we be indeed.

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