The rhythm is counted out with a steady drumbeat; as the melody swells everyone steps as one towards the center of the circle, one–two–three–four, raising their arms and clapping on the four: one–two–three–clap! Then walking backwards to where they started: one–two–three–clap!, this time clapping behind their backs. And the dance continues, moving to the right, the circle of dancers whirling around the high-ceilinged movement arts center.
I sit on the couch at the edge of the dance space and eagerly gulp my water—I’m thirsty after our previous dance in the July heat. Under the couch, neatly tucked out of the way, is Delia’s white cane. I’m watching her and Mary Ellen as the circle moves around the room. Delia’s right hand rests gently on Mary Ellen’s left shoulder. As Mary Ellen dances forwards, one–two–three–clap!, Delia moves with her, lifting her own left hand in time with all the dancers in the circle. Then back–two–three–clap!, and Delia moves backwards in perfect step with the others, lowering her arm.
I’ve been admiring these two women this whole week at the dance retreat. I’m fascinated with the graceful way they dance, always next to each other in the circle, often side-by-side with their arms around each other’s waists. Before each dance, while the leader demonstrates the steps, Mary Ellen whispers to Delia: “Left foot forward…” When the dance has arm movements, Mary Ellen takes Delia’s hands and demonstrates for her.
Sometimes it takes Delia a little longer to learn a dance, and she and Mary Ellen have to step out of the circle as they struggle to get it right. When Delia has the steps down and they’re ready to join in, the two dancers nearest them unclasp hands, and the circle of joined hands expands effortlessly to include them as the dance whirls on.
Other times Delia picks up the dance quickly. When someone says “grapevine” she doesn’t need to see to know where to put her feet; her feet have danced that flowing step many times, in many different circles of dancers in many different dance halls.
Swaying in my seat to the beat of the music, I drink the last of my water. The dancers move in their circle around the room. One–two–three–clap!
*From “Among School Children” by William Butler Yeats