We kicked up our heals and circled left. Then the other way around. The fiddle player crooned and the banjo player strummed as the caller told us to swing our partners. I hooked Charlotte’s arm and we whirled around, just like we had as little girls.
Well blow me down with a cactus if we weren’t square dancing in the middle of New York City.
Stranger things have happened, sure, but it’s not how I typically spend my Monday nights. No sir-ee. A week before, when I saw the sign proclaiming free square dancing in Bryant Park, I let out a hoop and a holler. “Come hail and high water, I’ll be dang busted if my patootie is not at that shindig,” I thought to myself, “And Ima gonna git my favorite little missies to join me.”
They didn’t take any convincing. Miranda and Charlotte yee-hawed right along with me when I told them about the event. We went whole hog outfitting ourselves in checkered shirts, affixing suspenders to dungarees, tying bandanas around our necks, and braiding our hair into pigtails. When offered a plastic cowboy hat by the event staff, we said “Thank you ma’am,” and topped our ensembles. Not quite up to our usual standards, but festive enough that a group of tourists begged us to take a photo with them exclaiming, “You look like real country girls!”
It wasn’t all tourists on the dance floor. I’d bet a mother-of-pearl grip attendees were mostly locals. I had no idea what sort of crowd a hoe-down in NYC might attract. My mind considered the worst case scenario: not one of outlaws and unsavory characters do-si-do-ing. That wasn’t going to make me quake in my boots. Nah. My worst case scenario was a cart load of grizzled coffin-dodgers, of being the only dancers not in danger of breaking a hip at the next grapevine.
This couldn’t have been farther from the reality. The crowd a pretty fair picture of New York diversity. Spanning many decades, from tiny tots who didn’t last the complexity of the first dance to a memorable elderly couple- the wife leading her husband, berating him at every misstep. People who came from work, people who came on dates, people who came with friends. In such an eclectic mix, it was impossible to be out of place, those who didn’t have a partner easily found one.
Yet there was something strange about those assembled. Something lacking. When the caller told us to form a circle and all join hands, everyone did just that. Smiles shining from everyone’s face. We danced around the circle, switching partners. Saying hello to strangers, grabbing the hands of people whose names we’d never know, giggling as we figured out dance steps together. These were the same people I avoid eye contact with on the subway, who I don’t even excuse myself when I bump into them on the street. What was missing was the jaded wall New Yorkers usually cloak themselves in. It truly felt like a community, a joyous one. It was better than a frog-leg jamboree and a full moon in September.
Miranda, Charlotte, and I have a long history with square dancing. One could argue it is how we became friends. Don’t get all riled-up, I’m not yanking your chains! I’m dead serious. Our friendship started 15 years ago at Girls Chorus Camp, a camp where 200 girls rehearse music for six hours a day and think it’s the best part of the summer. Between music theory, sectionals, choreography, and memorizing over a dozen songs, there was still some time for your average camp activities. Western Night being the best. Left in the wrong hands, it could have been lame. But the older girls always had the most enthusiasm for the Chicken Dance, counselors made over-alls look cool, everyone loved Steve- who came back every summer to be the dance caller. Maybe it’s because we all braided each others hair before it, but those summer camp square dances bonded me forever to my best friends.
Bryant Park Square Dance brought us right back to those childhood memories. We spun each other around, giggled, clapped, and whooped like we were twelve again. This time with out the self consciousness of adolescence. We visited the tent where they were turning photo shoots into flip books 3 times, planning our moves like a summer camp skit.
It was a great night. Darn-tootin’. We had such a great time, we’re going back next Monday. If you live in the city, come on down to Bryant Park at 6pm and dance with me! If you don’t live in NYC…the event was sponsored by South West….I bet if you tell them you want to fly out just for their event, they might give you complementary tickets. It’s worth a try! How often do you get the chance to wear a plastic hat and dance to a live band? And nothing but friendly New Yorkers- take my word for it, it’s worth the trip.