Every Tuesday night, a large group holds hands and sways in a circle, while the strains of French accordions float through the warm air of downtown Boulder.
This isn't a cult -- at least not a dangerous one, unless a few stubbed toes count as sinister.
Instead, it is the weekly community boogying event, Folkdancing on the Plaza. "We go around the world experiencing and teaching all kinds of dances, like the Ukrainian wedding dance" explains Tom Masterson, director of the Postoley Dance Ensemble, which co-sponsors the gathering. "We really try to explore new cultures and explain the history and meaning behind each dance."
This was my first organized dance outing since I gave up tap dancing eight years ago, so I stood on the sidelines for a few go-rounds, until a man grabbed my hand and pulled me into the circle. At first, I felt like a bit of an idiot prancing around. But that passed quickly as my fellow cultists, er, dancers hummed, whistled and yelped along to the music.
"There is always a mixture of people that we've never seen before and people who have been dancing with us for twenty years," Masterson promises. "All of the dances are quite easy to pick up; we break it down so everybody knows which left foot to put forward."
The correct left foot, that is. You really don't need to be an Arthur Murray graduate to attend -- the group is open to all experience levels and ages. By the time we danced the La Bastringue (pronounced "lah buh-STRANG"), a Quebecoise dance that involves a lot of light toe tapping in a circle, I was swinging my partner round and round. Tres formidable!
Luckily, the spirit overcomes any cultural barriers.
"I usually forget the steps; I'm not a very fast learner," says eleven-year-old Anna Lassman from Boulder, who was also out for her first time last week and at about my skill level (though her feet provided smaller targets). No matter, Masterson constantly shouts out words of encouragement. "It's so easy, you can do it in your sleep," he yells above the music that he provides out of the open hatchback of his old yellow Subaru.
Colorado sure is a hotbed for folk-dancing folk. "One of the main reasons my wife and I retired here is because of all the great folk dancing on the Front Range," says Arnie Guminski, a former district attorney from Los Angeles sporting a ragged T-shirt and black beret. "There are a whole bunch of us who do this every week, sometimes more than once a week," agrees Ralph Vornaske, a conservative-looking mapmaker from Denver.
Celebrating its twentieth season this summer, Folkdancing on the Plaza lures anywhere from forty to a hundred people for the free immersion lessons each week. "It's not just footsteps; it's a lot more: the joy, love and spirit of sharing," says Masterson, demonstrating the basic grapevine move. "It's a stress-free way of interacting with others."
And bringing a partner is not necessary, because the majority of the dances involve either moving in a circle or line dancing. Picture your grandma doing a mellow version of the electric slide. Now picture yourself doing it with a group of grandmas. "I come by myself because I love the sunset on the patio, being outside, moving freely," says Cara McMillan, a physical therapist from Jamestown who dances with the group on a regular basis. "Folk dancing is something that I grew up with. The people who come here are so nice and welcoming; it's like a family."
As a song ends, we women curtsy, and the men bow. Nobody clutches stomped toes, despite some close calls. "Nice dancing, folks," Masterson says, clapping. "Let's give ourselves a big hand." To go along with some big feet. -- Julie Dunn