I had never thought so, being of the opinion that all such exciting things happened only in books, but in recent years I've had a series of rather novel experiences. (Pun intended.) Here's a truthful account of my most recent experience while contra-dancing. It happened two days ago, and I rather hope you'll enjoy it. :)
By Rachel Heffington
The evening had begun with instruction, and although Rachel had never tried contra-dancing in her life, the music dictated to her feet and taught her how to move. She had seldom felt such a sense of giddy freedom as this dancing gave her. She took hand across with her neighbor and smiled as he swung her in a swift, mad whirl. The small band on the platform up the hall played louder and faster, the fiddle, mandolin, and keyboard heightening the sensation with their wild cavorting. On the dancers swirled, weaving in and out, allemande, swing, gypsy-turns, on and on and on till with a last burst of melody, the band stopped playing and the dance was over. Rachel’s partner released her and she smiled.
“Thank you for the dance,” she said.
He smiled and made an awkward bow. “Thank you. It was fun.”
Rachel made her way across the bright wooden floor, through the knots of hot, flushed dancers. Water. That’s what she needed. She tried to brush away the weariness that crept through her senses, deafening her ears to the laughter and chatter of the crowd and dulling her eyes against the brilliancy of the overhead lights.
Rachel reached behind the great heavy drapes and felt the cool of the window-panes against her sweaty arm. If only the rest of the room felt this amazing. Her hand met with the metal of her water-bottle and she quickly unscrewed the lid, pouring some of the water into her parched mouth. She sighed and wandered to a chair, then sat down. Contra was fun, indeed, but rather exhausting to a girl who had set her alarm for 5:30 that morning, traveled two hours to a friend’s house, then nearly two more hours to the dance, and never ate lunch or dinner.
The caller at the microphone announced the next dance. “Gentlemen, time to get your-selves new partners!”
Rachel gathered herself and stood, determined not to lose a moment of this supreme happiness if she had an ounce of strength left. A man approached her, and she smiled as he looked at her.
“Would you like to dance?” he asked with a faint German accent, extending his hand.
Rachel put her hand in his and smiled. “I would, thank you.”
The man escorted her to the line of dancers and the music began. The complicated steps began, but Rachel soon grew accustomed to them. She gypsy-turned, laughing at the expression on the face of her neighbor. He smiled, Rachel returned to her partner, and on they danced. To your neighbor, to your partner, hands-across, gypsy-turn. The caller’s voice melted into the music, and the room whirled.
Weariness had now grown to exhaustion and rose, with each measure they tread, into a monster that threatened to steal her consciousness. Alarmed, Rachel bit her lip, trying to focus and recall the steps she had learned but a moment before. It was no use. She frantically looked up and down the line, trying to keep time with the other dancers. Her partner passed his arm around her waist and propelled her through a swing.
To the middle and back across—no, wait. Gypsy-turn—no, swing. There it was again! Rachel was relieved to feel a support across her back again, and she tried to smile and act natural. She felt herself slipping into a sleep-like state.
This was such fun! She could spin all night, if only she didn’t have to remember any of the steps. The room grew larger and smaller all at once, and she no longer felt her feet moving. Those dancers were not real—she was dreaming, or else watching them on a t.v. screen—she couldn’t decide. But her partner’s arms steadily pushing her here and there told her the astonishing truth. She was dancing, and something was rather wrong. Was this how it felt to faint? She felt strangely disconnected from the whole ordeal as if she floated above it and observed herself dancing below.
“Oh Lord, don’t let me faint!” Rachel prayed through clenched teeth. She clung to her partner, unspeakably grateful that his arm was there to support her, but again he pushed her out into the crowd and she tried to grasp the steps of the dance and fend for herself against the frightening, muddled tide.
Into the middle, back, swing your partner! His arm was there again, and Rachel summoned all her mind, soul, and body to concentrate and try to understand the dance. Just finish. Finish the dance—that was all she asked. She knit her brows and focused on her partner, trying to comprehend what he was saying, begging for a few words of instruction to help her through. All she heard a few muttered curses as she made a blunder and they crashed into another couple.
“I’m sorry!” she said feebly, too exhausted to care.
When was the music stopping? This dance had gone on far too long. The room was a whirl and she wondered if she would last until it ended. Her nerves buzzed, but the music continued. She had to finish, or they’d flaw the entire line of dancers. She tightened her grip on her partner’s shoulder. It was damp and hot under her arms. She searched his face for his eyes, for something to connect her to reality, but he was looking away, jaw tight and concentrated.
At last, when she thought she could not last another step, the music ended. She curtsied, clapped, said something to her partner, and floated to the tables and chairs, having no idea what she had just said. She hoped it was the proper thing. Rachel sank into a chair, thanking the Lord that she had made it in safety. She closed her eyes and tried to summon her wits.
For the next dance she sat in a daze on the side-line, sipping water and trying to call herself back to the present world, the present moment. Slowly, so painstakingly slowly, life began to return. She smiled at the dancers and made stupid replies to the questions of an elderly matron sitting nearby. She clapped at the next dance finished, sufficiently revived to wish he had the strength to continue—it was such fun.
Her eyes flickered to the sidelines but her color rose as a short, muscular, wiry man swaggered towards her, eyes intent. She had been hoping all the night through that he would not ask her to dance—she blessed her faintness—it would make the perfect excuse for refusing him.
The man stood before her a moment later and threw his arm out with a triumphant smile. “May I have this dance, my darling?”
My darling? Stunned, and still dazed, Rachel fought to piece together a coherent answer. “I’m sorry—I can’t. I got up early and I haven’t eaten and—” Such a feeble attempt at a refusal, but it was the best her befogged wits could concoct.
He smiled, and she thought she had never seen a man who looked so like a rattlesnake. “I haven’t eaten either—I’m rather hungry actually—my stomach’s growling.” He walked closer and crouched down, then sat back on his heels, affecting to watch the dancers as she did. Rachel kept her eyes on the dancers, willing this man leave her—she hadn’t enough brain to successfully fend off a determined man.
A moment later he turned back to her. “Where’s a good place to eat around here?”
Rachel shook her head. “I’m not sure—I don’t live around here.”
“Oh? Where do you live?”
“In Virginia,” Rachel replied slowly, hoping it was a vague enough answer. The man nodded, seeming pleased that he had got her to speak.
“And what do you think of it?” He motioned to the dance-floor.
Rachel smiled, tolerating this sort of question. “I like it—I’ve never done contra before—only Civil War and square-dancing.”
He raised his eyebrows and shifted so he looked at her squarely. “Oh?” He remarked further on his lack of experience in that arena, then returned to watching the dancers.
Rachel sat back in her chair, and decided to ignore him, whatever the cost.
He turned to her again. “I’m so hungry, I really can’t wait.”
Good Heavens—he wasn’t about to ask her out to dinner, was he? Rachel stiffened, hoping she could summon a regal, cold, demeanor to discourage any thought of such a thing. She raised her proud chin proudly and looked with steadfast interest on the whirling dancers beyond the crouching man.
He stood, repulsed at last by her incivility, then wandered behind her to lurk among the tables or saunter off to fetch his dinner. He whistled a wandering, haunting little tune as he retreated, and Rachel breathed a sigh of relief.
Then all at once she smiled, and tried to stifle a laugh—notwithstanding her present exhaustion, nearly fainting had been quite a novel experience.