We took seven steps to the right, then seven steps to the left. Repeat. Three to the right, three to the left (twice). One right, one left, one right, one left. At the end, we were exactly where we started. All that energy expended and we got nowhere at all. But oh, so joyfully.
It was folk dance night at our International Orff Levels Training. This was Alunelu, our opening dance. From there, we continued to whirl, twirl, run, leap, twist, hop, jump, spin, rock, clap, rise, fall, turn, and march our way through eight more dances, often in a circle going nowhere, always holding someone’s hand and feeling their temperature, weight, smooth or rough hands, astounded by the variety as we switched partners. We whooped, shouted, laughed and got beautifully quiet when the old recording of Ma Navu came on, that old familiar voice that I heard four decades ago circling around a big tree under a full moon on a crisp autumn night at Antioch College in Ohio and then heard again when I was a student in this same Orff course back in the 1980’s. The young people sensed that these recorded singers and musicians were from a different time and that the people who danced this before us were isolated Americans trying to capture a sliver of the old village life, when the community gathered and celebrated our brief moment on this earth together by circling around without ambition to get somewhere, just savor and enjoy.
We purposefully decided to try to find those old recordings (most on the Folkcraft label), both for my own nostalgic cravings and to introduce them to the next generation. But the last two dances, we did what we’ve often done before—assembled a live band, this one complete with tuba, accordion, concertina, panpipe, tinwhistle, recorder, clarinet, piano and drumset. The rise of the DJ and loss of young folks dancing to live music, any style, is one of the many sadnesses I feel about “progress” (along with the end of the handwritten letter, good penmanship, walking the streets without texting and sitting under a tree a bit bored until the world catches our attention).
But it’s never too late to have a happy childhood and that’s a good deal of what we’re doing here. If you stop and think about it, it’s pretty remarkable to hear grown adults share with each other with such childlike excitement, “ I got to be the big Billy Goat Gruff today!!!” While the fires blaze away miles to the south, we’re here putting out the flames of ambition and spending our days circling joyfully in the center of the gifted moment, going nowhere at all.