Exploring local communities through contradance

By April Xiaoyi Xu
By April Xiaoyi Xu |

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April's adventures extend beyond college and the "Claremont Bubble".

Having lived in Claremont, California for three months now, I find it easy to be “stuck” in our comfortable “Claremont bubble”, where tranquil cafés, bakeries, and froyo shops have become lovely weekend escape spots. Luckily, I got to explore the surrounding communities, largely…through contradance!

Contradance is a form of partnered folk dance whose mixed origin can be traced back to 17th century England and France. Couples dance in two facing lines, in groups of four that resemble a matrix structure. My fondness of the English country dance in the film Pride and Prejudice previously drove me to do a maths project on its matrix structure. However, as someone who is inexperienced in dancing, I didn’t think that I would actually contradance myself, and certainly not on the West Coast of the United States, where contradance is rarely heard of. 

“If you can walk and smile, then you can contradance”. I was given those words of wisdom as a local high school teacher offered my friend (an New Englander who has been contradancing since he was four) and me a ride to the dance in Anaheim.

Apart from naming a few contradance jargons, the friendly woman also shared the history of our nearby cities (towns, rather, by Hong Kong standards) of La Verne, Pomona, and San Dimas, and spoke of her personal background as an American-born Portuguese who enthusiastically embraced contradance a few years ago. “Look straight into your partner’s eyes to avoid dizziness,” she further advised me, citing her own initial discomfort in direct eye contact, which is relatively awkward in Portuguese culture. 

Contradance, usually accompanied by a live band and well-attended by members of the local community, is elegant and invigorating. Everyone knows each other, and brings food to share. From the past three dances in Anaheim and La Verne, I got to know someone who started contradancing as a treatment to Parkinson’s disease, and a bearded man who wore a white laced dress and a necklace out of a simple love of “beautiful things”. 

Coming from Beijing and Hong Kong, I rarely talked to my neighbours or attended events that would bring together members of the community. It would be too challenging for those mega-cities to organise such events, and individuals may not be interested since they're culturally work-oriented. Here, however, I have enjoyed experiencing a completely different lifestyle, and way of reconsidering individuals in relation to our communities. Contradance opened a new window into the local communities for me, and now extend far beyond the images conjured by films like Pride and Prejudice.