I went to a local contradance last night. For the uninitiated, contradance is a New England-based, 200-year-old social dance that has spread around the entire U.S. and some of Canada. It’s easy, fun, aerobic, has participants of all ages, and is, for most, absolutely relational. Every three minutes a dancer is thrust into the arms of new people, then comes back to her partner, then the next new people. Eye contact is part of the dance. Connection is mandatory. Flirting encouraged.
Because the whole room is doing the same steps in time with the music, while gazing into someone’s eyes, and feeling the same feeling, joy, it may be the most intersubjective dance form. (Intersubjectivity, necessary for growing capacity for attachment, is when two people are aware that they are both aware that they are sharing a feeling, right now, together.) There are times when the whole room stomps or claps as one. Other times when you run into a person whose playfulness and joy wholly match yours and you are transported to the heights of positive affect. I imagine that oxytocin levels, in all participants, are at record highs. (Oxytocin is the chemical that arises in new moms and babies, and at orgasm. We don’t attach very easily without it. Luckily, we make it ourselves.)
Each set begins with a caller directing the action. "Swing your partner", "do-si-do", "left-hand star". Then as people grasp the pattern, the caller stops, and the dancers continue the pattern, first with this other couple, then with that one, right down the line. When the left brain stops thinking about the steps, the right brain takes over. The smiles begin, the energy rises, the band plays faster, the joy pulses through the room.
Last night, there were five 20-year-old girls, new to the dance, milling at the side of the room. Ever the social worker, I taught them the basic dance steps, and thrust them into the arms of random men. I watched them struggle with the steps. (It takes about 3 "sets" to really pick it up.) Then I watched them connect, and connect, and smile, and then glow. I don’t think it was just the aerobic activity.
I can never go from work to a dance. I’m too open to my "therapy brain" and I diagnose everyone, right down the line. On non-work nights, I’m able to leave the therapist at home, and connect with the joy of it all. I recommend contradance for clients who want to do something fun that doesn’t involved drinking. I send people who have enough attachability to tolerate the eye/human contact and who can tolerate some positive affect. If your person has an anxiety disorder or very low self-esteem, they may not tolerate the learning curve. I suggest these people get a few lessons before they hit the dance floor. I warn other clients that they will be completely lost for the first few dances, and then they’ll catch on. They do, and come back triumphant. You may want to try it yourself, before you refer your clients. But only if you want more contact, more community, and more joy.
To see some photos and links to contra web sites, click here.