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Dance, dance, dance
Evo Bluestein will tell you what he tells his students.
“Just because you're in sixth grade doesn't mean you can't be knowledgable about traditional things,” says Bluestein, a folk musician who teaches traditional folk dances in schools across the state.
He also coordinates a Community Contra Dance, the second Saturday of each month at the California Art Academy, 4750 N. Blackstone Ave. The next dance is 7 p.m. this Saturday.
The United States has a long-standing tradition of these dances.
“That is to say, folk dances have been around forever,” he says. That's long before electricity poured through power lines, when the dances were the center of a community's social interaction. This is before discos and DJs and and the iPod, when transportable music meant you carried your guitar.
“If you did it with music, it was live,” he says.
So, the second Saturday dances feature live musicians and a live caller, who decides which dances will be run during the course of the night and is responsible for calling out the moves while the music is playing. The dances are a mix of traditional folk styles — the most popular being Contra dance, a New England style that was the precursor to square dancing. And we all remember that from junior high, right?
In some places, these dances are still hugely popular. Bluestein and his brother used to travel the country playing community dances. In Washington State, you can go to dances, twice a week, every week, for the year, he says. They'd regularly play for 400 dancers or more.
And people can get pretty manic about it, Bluestein says. They dance, fast and hard, all night long, with few breaks.
Around here, things aren't so serious. Typically there are 40 or dancers, at all ages and skill levels, dancing for a whole slew of reasons.
Some come for the exercise. Others see it as an opportunity to share experiences with friends and family.
It's a chance to be playful and flirtatious and meet interesting people from different backgrounds. It's also an excuse to put down the earbuds and to listen to some really good live acoustic music, or keep a connection to family roots and traditions related to some ancestral homeland.
“For me, it's all of the above, and more,” says Nick Cuccia, the guest caller for this week's dance.
Still, it can be a somewhat odd concept for some to grasp. We're not much for community dancing anymore, Bluestein says. This is more of a Billy Idol, dancing-with-myself world. People, in general, have forgotten what it's like to be “rhythmically coordinated,” especially in a group setting.
So, there are the flub moments, when the caller says circle left and a dancer goes right. But it's nothing a quick lesson won't fix. First timers should show up at 6:30 p.m. for a quick tutorial.
“If you've ever done the Virginia Reel in elementary school, or, for that matter, square dances in junior high, you've done a contra dance,” Cuccia says.
And so you don't think this is just something for school kids and old folks (no disrespect), there's Kimberly Gibson, a University High school student who's taken Bluestein's folk dance elective for three years. She's seen a number of teenagers doing folk dance and says the only barrier she's come up against is looking cool and impressing friends.
If you need real convincing, Gibson is totally right when she says, “everything is worth trying once.”
Just wear comfortable shoes.
Second Saturday Community Contra Dance, sponsored by the Fresno Folklore Society
7 p.m. Sept. 13
6:30 p.m., for beginner's instruction
California Arts Academy, 4750 N. Blackstone Ave.