I don’t know much about contra dancing because I only recently tried it for the first time. I also don’t know much about dancing in general, but of course, I’m going to write about it anyways.
Contra dancing is social by classification, though more than that, it’s social for its fundamentals. Much of it, I soon found out, is built on trust. Everyone chooses (and chooses to trust) a partner, who becomes the person you swing with and, in my case, step on the most throughout a dance. But as you work your way down the line, you often dance with your neighbor, and your neighbor’s neighbor, and your neighbors three times removed: people you probably don’t know and can only trust that you can trust.
And throughout it all, as you’re swinging and allemand-ing and getting generally dizzy, you all abide by the principle of giving weight: leaning slightly away from your partner and keeping your arms tense, so one of you doesn’t fling off and the other doesn’t fall to the ground.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, for my own sake), I was much quicker to understand the importance of giving weight in contra dancing than I have been in everyday life.
Growing up I always placed immediate importance on pleasantry, on being as easy as possible to get along with. I held it like a badge of honor all throughout childhood that in every class, in every grade, I was known as “the nice girl,” and to adults, “sweetheart.”
Even now, as many other women can probably relate, I am called “sweetheart” as if I were still that 10-year-old girl. But that’s for another day.
More importantly, even with the people I’ve gotten to know more complexly and who see me (I hope…) as more than just “nice,” it took me a painfully long time to understand that, like any partner in a contra dance, they wanted some weight. What would make them happiest is knowing they’re getting a real-life, i.e. sometimes contradictory, sometimes unpleasant, and sometimes difficult, person: not a pull-string talking doll that goes around only saying nice, trite things.
It’s still not always completely natural to me, to give that weight. But it has gotten easier to swing that way.