Thursday, May 26, 2011


At a recent contra dance, one fellow offered everyone in his square a Life Saver candy. It was the second half of the dance night following a thirty minute medley (which was wonderful and exhausting!). I'm sure my breath was less than minty so I was glad to accept a lemon one. Virtually nothing was said as we passed it around, but I thought it was a nice gesture. I'm sure my future partners were quite appreciative as well.

It got me to thinking about acts of kindness that we do for each other as individuals while expecting no recognition. Just doing it because we see a person in need. I'm not talking so much about organized group efforts which serve so well in our community. These are the daily acts that go unnoticed but still affect people in such a strong and positive way. There are no ulterior motives... just a desire to see a person live a better life. In the hustle and bustle of life, I'll be honest in that I don't do the best job of recognizing such opportunities. I think I do a little better in the contra dance community as more situations present themselves. Even there though, I have days when I fall way short.

I think of each act like the candy mentioned in the opening. They are life savers. Call it the Spirit. Call it karma. Call it the law of averages. I truly believe we meet the people we are supposed to meet by simply being out. We are in a position to raise their lives with the smallest of acts. We may never know how a simple smile, a quick touch of the shoulder, or a helping hand will make a person's day. I know it has for me too often in my life on a down day. Someone who thinks no one in the world cares about them may have their spirits lifted. That can save a life!

The contra dances present so many opportunities for giving. People of all ages, backgrounds, and dance experience are thrust together to accomplish one seemingly daunting task... dancing. We ask a partner, form our lines, and listen to the caller walk us through the upcoming dance. Then we dance. It becomes a kaleidoscope of feet walking, bodies twirling, people connecting to the music performed for us by a live band. We combine our individual styles with the group so everyone experiences the joy that is contra dancing. The beginners are helped along with pointing to the shoulders and gentle nudges. Basic style points are taught during swings and other movements. It can look chaotic at first, but I have also have been taken up with the idea that everyone in the hall is doing the same thing at more or less the same time.

Partner asking can also be an act of kindness. You are, in essence, offering a ticket to that person to the next dance which of course happens to be your ticket too. It is an invitation that can be freely accepted or declined although it is customary to accept unless you have a very good reason. Everyone has wildly differing ideas about who to ask. Some stick to people they know. Others do a better job of balancing their dance card. It is usually encouraged to get the beginners involved early and often and also to look for those who sat out the last dance. This leads to greater participation which benefits the dance community in the long run. I think of it as not keeping a good thing to myself. If I have found something that has enriched my life this much, why would I not want to share it with someone who is already there wishing to participate?

Conversely, it is up to the person asked to accept. This is where it can be a bit tricky if the answer is “no.” Maybe the person asked does not want to dance with the person or was hoping to dance with someone else. Taking too long to say “no” pretty much relegates the other person to the sidelines as all other partners are taken by then. Also the person asked may already have a partner. Do they offer a future dance? Then there is, “I think I have a partner.” That one really hurts.

Writing the above reminds me of the acts that make my day but also of those that send me into a funk if I let them. I have been part of both extremes. I know I am not alone in experiencing those extremes. I also realize how easy depression can lead down a self-destructive path. I think of people I have known who committed suicide and wonder what could have been done to take them off that path. I believe that we can do so much for each other early in that cycle by simply being there and being available to help. Before a person descends into an isolation that spirals out of control. Before it is too late to help. As Olivia Newton John once sang, “Let Me be There.”

So is dancing a life saver? I think so. You never know what kind of day any of us has had when we walk into that dance hall. By making sure everyone is dancing, everyone gets a good piece of a very tasty pie that makes the rest of life better. I'm sure there are many other worthy activities that raise the quality of life . Dancing is the one that does it for me. Fortunately, it also does it for my partner, my square, my line, the hall, the whole community.