Moab Happenings Archive
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Moab Community Dance Band
by Nancy Kurtz

Do si do in Moab—“No partner or experience necessary”

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

William Butler Yeats, 1927

It’s a beautiful evening with early spring bursting forth in all its glory. Up here, past and present shimmy about the circle of souls who comprise tonight’s Moab community contra dancers.

When I arrive at the venue—the large and accommodating albeit slightly sweltering Center Street Gym—the seven-person live band is lined up, while a few intrepid newbies and a couple of aspiring “callers” accompany Wendy Graham, calling and dance coach, on center stage, which given that it’s a gym, is actually center court.

The band plays a distinctly Irish-sounding tune and the dance begins.
By the time I leave an hour later there is a majorly expanded ring, as upwards of three dozen Moabites, all ages, all smiling, whirl around the circle as if by centrifugal force and reach out to join hands with “partners” and “neighbors.” They’re changing partners, they’re waving goodbye to the old partner and greeting the new.

This is “contra” dance, which is kind of like square dance, derived from the same bevy of folk traditions, maybe more of a line dance with facing partners, maybe a little less involved (a party for all the people), but square dancers will recognize a lot of the moves.

Suddenly I realize that I am smiling too, as I scribble the various calls into my notes. “Lean back a little. Gallop into each other’s arms! Shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip for the double do si do!”

“Contra dancers don’t want to stop dancing!” Wendy Graham declares. She’s building on simple and making it sound easy, and it really is so easy.

The big news, I find, other than the flash mob-sized turnout on the gym floor, is that new callers are being anointed. Wendy Graham has been coming to Moab from Durango, and although she enjoys having Moab as a kind of second home, dance band director Miriam Graham (no relation to Wendy) would like to have some local callers available.

According to Miriam, relying on outside callers has been making scheduling difficult. So she put together a caller school.

From the looks of it tonight, the effort has been wildly successful. Trainees Kevin Fitzgerald, Liz Ballenger, and Caroline Conant are on the floor taking turns honing their skills. It’s a powerful learning curve, but so very worth it.

Now in its 20th year, the Moab Community Dance Band has become a noteworthy addition to Moab’s nonprofit world. As Wendy puts it, “We’re lucky to be in Moab, where they have an amazing local live band.”

As for Miriam, when I ask her what has changed since the early days, she says, “The band has gotten better!” Miriam, herself a skilled musician, plays the concertina, and at least three other band members are also veterans who have been playing for dancers since 2004.

How many people come? “Unpredictable,” Miriam tells me, adding “lately it’s really a lot.”

How does this happen? Blame it on Moab, where word of mouth is king. Or just show up at the next contra dance event—now scheduled for Saturday, June 8, 8 p.m. at the (non-sweltering) MARC.

To get in touch, find the Moab community dance band on Facebook, check the local papers, or sign up for the group’s mailing list. Miriam Graham can be contacted at 516-376-8003.

And don’t forget to mention you read about it here in Moab Happenings!

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