It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in a dry summer, on a lonely farm must be in want of a dance.
How long has it been since I was complaining about the standing water in the yard? And now that the corn and beans are planted, we need rain. The forecast seems to creep forward ... or dissipate. It seems that for the past few weeks we've been promised thunderstorms "tomorrow," but tomorrow never seems to come. So for now I carry water to the tender transplants of trees and flowers in my corner meadow.
This morning Michael pointed out that I'm at the mercy of the weather.
"You like it damp and cool. When it's hot and dry, you're in a mood."
My husband knows me well. Dry weather makes me feel both lonely and antsy. Is it any wonder that we went all the way to town for the Playford Ball?
The Central Illinois English Country Dance Society holds monthly dances at the Phillips Recreational Center in Urbana. At the wedding several years ago, I learned a secret about my husband. Although he is loath to dance in the freewheeling manner we both grew up with, he loves dancing that has specific steps he can learn. Our friends had a contra dancing reception, and he danced the night away. For once, it was me who was begging to sit down, offering to find him another partner. Now, we would travel over dry fields into town for some socialization and recreation.
The Playford Ball is one of the main events of the season. We arrived a little late, so the dance was in full swing. Some people exhibited finery, a few in convincing period costumes (one woman wore an emerald green silk gown with elbow-length white gloves, her blond locks in an up-do; another sported a full-skirted print dress with a ribbon in front and short, lace gloves the color of tea.) A few wore whimsical renditions of a fancy ball dress — when we entered, the caller had a tall hat of grey velvet and a coat to match, one woman modeled a cat ears headband; others wore plain street clothes. I wore a long dress of ruby velveteen — one that seldom leaves my closet — my hair done up in my grandmother's comb with blue stones; Michael wore jeans.
We sat down to watch and enjoy the live music from the house band, The Flatland Consort. Genteel pairs of couples step forward into a square, clasp hands, step back, and promenade, weaving around and between each other, all in fluid patterns moving with the graceful music.
We didn't have long to watch because no sooner had the dance ended, then one of the dancing masters approached us to ask if we would dance. "We don't know how!" I didn't mean to sound so plaintive, but he quickly procured a partner for Michael and led me to the floor, himself. I needn't have worried, since the caller runs through the dance beforehand, teaching each section step-by-step before the dance begins, but even so, our first partners were experienced dancers who cordially guided us through the movements. Since each dance is composed of a few basic steps, after a few more dances we found our rhythm, and everyone was gracious when we missed a beat or turned the wrong way on a "hey."
The dances have distinct parts for "ladies" and "gents," but I'll bet in Jane Austen's time, the genders were a bit more concrete. Here we were gender-fluid. Everyone is welcome to take whichever parts they wish. One woman wearing a dress ran to don a temporary necktie when she took the gent's part — a funny little visual cue to help everyone remember which part she was dancing.
For me, the theme of the day was welcoming celebration. At the break we all went to the snack room to nosh and visit. We came from various parts, but everyone was there for the same reason — to have a good time with historical and contemporary music and dance. We will start coming to the monthly dances and practice up for our next ball. For more information, see http://www.centralillinoisecd.org. Hope to see you soon.
Dance in beauty; welcome peace; blessed be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She has just uploaded photos of the new chicks and their momma on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via snail mail care of this newspaper.