So many of us are wondering, is there any hope for the world at a time of deep divisions at home and abroad, between the states and between the sexes? Well, a resounding “yes!” would ring from anyone’s lips who happened to be at the Milford New Hampshire Town Hall for the monthly contradance on Friday. Not only was it an unqualified success (as usual) for the local population, it was also a big victory for international relations. Let me explain.
First, for those of you who have never heard of a contradance, it’s an American folk dance, particularly beloved in New England. It’s like the better-known square dance, with a live band of fiddles, banjos, guitars and a caller who shouts out the various moves as the music plays. The dancers are typically in long lines, but sometimes they are in squares of four couples, and there is always a waltz for couples who aren’t afraid to hold each other closer.
The Milford contradance is sponsored by the Recreation Department and is probably the most family-friendly example of this genre of any held in the region. Amateur musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments and join in with the band. On Friday there were about 20 players, some as young as ten, sawing away on their fiddles or strumming their guitars. People of all ages were dancing: couples, families with little kids, even white-haired ancestors who can still trip the light fantastic with the best of them. The caller takes time to walk everyone through the figures before the music starts, so even beginners can feel comfortable. You don’t have to come with a partner—some people just pair up once each dance starts, and it’s common for girls to dance with girls, or boys with boys. And let’s not forget the snacks, mostly homemade, free for the asking. It’s a place any New Hampshirite could go to hang out, talk, and have fun on a Friday night without a screen or device to distract them.
But the best part of the evening came when 12 Chinese 7thand 8thgraders with their chaperones came to see what this thing called a contradance was all about. They are visiting students from a private school in a neighboring town, here for three months studying English and learning about the United States. Now most kids this age in a strange place with strange customs would be pretty shy about joining in—not these guys. Right off the bat they rushed to be a part of it, following the instructions as best they could, copying the moves of the Americans carefully. The people of Milford rose to the occasion and came to them individually throughout the evening to partner with them, or demonstrate a step. The whole night these Chinese kids were dancing like there was no tomorrow, laughing, grinning from ear to ear and they didn’t stop smiling until the chaperones announced they had to leave at which point they begged to be able to stay till the end.
Dancing and music have a tremendous ability to bring people together. The Sacrament of the Arts intersects with the Sacrament of the Group to create these special moments. None of these Chinese students will ever forget this night. Seeing these young people having so much fun was a moment when you could feel proud to be an American—our country at its friendliest, at its most welcoming, at its best.
I couldn’t help contrasting this joyous expression of community, this pure fun and welcoming atmosphere with the hate-filled, paranoid anger leveled at some European students who attended a Trump rally in this same town 3 years ago. For those who are sorry to see America go down that Paranoia Highway, let’s hold onto this image of some visitors from abroad who saw the best of America Friday night in Milford. It’s a way to save the world, one step at a time.