Thursday, August 23, 2018

What Goes Around Comes Around, Or, How I Started Dancing, Stopped Dancing, Started Kayaking, And Eventually Got The Dancing Back Too

Pity I didn't get any use out of these DANCE SHOES, isn't it? 😉

Another rambling walk down Memory Lane because of something I pulled out of a closet. Ah closet cleaning. Once every fifteen years whether they need it or not, eh?

1998 was the year I started paddling seriously.

My main hobby before that had been Irish music and dance. I'd been introduced to Irish music by a co-worker at Carnegie Hall, where I had my first long-term job in NYC (got to go to the Carnegie Hall Centennial Gala, even!). One March, I'd found a copy of John B. Keane's The Bodhrán Makers in a St. Patrick's Day display at a nearby Barnes and Noble. The Bodhrán Makers is an excellent novel about small town life in Ireland in the 1950's, with the bodhrán (goatskin drum) makers of the title being rural folks who were terribly poor but cherished rich musical traditions that had been handed down through the generations, and the people of the town - particularly the Church - who wanted to see the old ways dead and gone. Fantastic book, in fact I just stopped typing for a minute to go find it because now that I'm thinking about it, of course I have to read it again.

I'd first read my dad's copy in the UK, where my folks were living when I first moved to NYC. I'd really enjoyed it, so when I saw it at the bookstore, I grabbed it. Well, when Annmarie from the development department walked by my desk and saw it, she came to an abrupt halt, pointed at the book, and said,

"WHERE did you get THAT?"

Am's family is good solid Brooklyn Irish with deep roots remaining in Ireland, and she was very familiar with the author (best known here in the States for writing the play that became the 1990 film The Field, starring Richard Harris, and held in the highest regard in his home country). She already knew the book but this was in March of 1993 and it had just had its US release in October 1992. She was completely startled to see it sitting on a random co-worker's desk! Once I told her where I'd gotten it, she smiled and said,

"If you like that book, there's someplace we need to go some night".

"Someplace" turned out to be a local pub (was it Muldoon's, or Kate Kearney's? So long ago!) where Brian Conway and Don Meade were running a weekly seisiún.

I was completely enchanted by the music and Am and I got to doing that as a regular thing. Next Am introduced me to the Irish Arts Center, where we signed up for set dancing classes. She also brought me a tin whistle back from one of her trips to visit family in Ireland, so that's where that started, and I was doing some Irish song classes there for a while too.

Annmarie has ended up being pretty much my oldest and best friend here in NYC. Her family made a habit of welcoming young folks who were far from their own families for Thanksgivings and other events; TQ and I tend to go to his mom's for most holidays now but I've had some great times with Am's family and I still look forward to seeing everyone at the big family gathering an aunt and uncle hold around St. Patrick's Day every year in Brooklyn. Am moved out of the city years ago and I don't see her as often as I used too, but I still see her whenever I can.

Anyways - once she introduced me to Irish music and dance, that became What I Did through most of the 90's. At first it was set dancing (much like square dancing except that instead of a caller, there are set "figures" that the dancers learn). There was a great Irish social dance scene in the 90's, with Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies (great musician!) and friends playing for set dancers at Flannery's Pub every Wednesday night and ceilis to go to on weekends. I made a good group of friends through the dancing, eventually started dating one of the guys, it was pretty much my entire social life. Good exercise, to boot!

For a while I just did set dancing, then the fella and I started taking step dancing at the IAC. He'd done it for a little while as a kid until his mother made the mistake of having him appear onstage before his elementary school classmates in West Virginia shortly after they'd moved there from somewhere where Irish American kids just took Irish dance classes because "that is how they do" (quoting Zefrank). Oh yeah, and she put him in a kilt. Turned out 1970's children in West Virginia weren't ready for a little new boy in a skirt, the curtain went up and the laughter began and they were laughing at him, not with him, and that was the end of his dance career at that point, but he was genuine Irish American (last name Murphy, ok?) and as an adult he'd gotten interested again. I wasn't particularly good at it, but I was having fun plugging away, and after I'd been doing it for a while, I started talking about getting some proper shoes for it. I'd been using the same shoes I'd used for set dancing and they just weren't really bangety enough for the step dancing, which is the solo percussive dance that everybody's now seen in Riverdance. I mentioned that I needed some "riverdancing" shoes to my folks and they decided that would be a great birthday present.

Now at that point I think they were in Hawaii, so they couldn't exactly take me out shopping, but they sent me a check that was going to cover the shoes plus a really nice dinner or two with the fella.

Except that that was when the fella heard from his college dreamgirl, and then things kind of fell apart. She was thinking of moving to NYC, and yeah, she was willing to think about going out with him (which she'd never been willing to do in college, which I think was part of the appeal). Turned out that he was still carrying a torch for her lo these many years, which in hindsight wasn't all that surprising (I had all along been more into him than vice versa), so was the end of us (sad trombone).

Unfortunately that then made the social dancing really frickin' weird. Irish set dancing may not have the obvious smolder factor of, say, tango, but the fella was a good dancer, we danced well together, and although we would split off and dance the occasional set with friends we mostly danced together.

Lost my partner, what'll I do?

So one day I wandered down to the Hudson to watch the water go by and think things over and there went a whole flock of tiny boats. Oooh.

Take a kayaking lesson and discover a new addiction that didn't need to be a couple thing at ALL, that's what!

Oh, yes, when TQ came along it did become something of a couples thing - but that was years down the road and I guess I was ready. And the boating is still nowhere near as much of a partner thing as dancing had gotten to be - we like paddling together but we both like paddling on our own and with other friends, too. Better balance, really.

Anyways, with the What I Do in my life changing (I kept on with the tin whistle 'cause that had been more my thing than our thing, I backed off on the dance, and was loving the time on the river) I sat on the shoe money for a while and then all of the sudden it was fall and I wanted to keep paddling and that's when the theoretical shoes magically transformed into an actual Henderson paddling suit. POOF!;

i mean really, you'd think it just sat in the closet the whole time, wouldn't you?
Practically pristine...what a waste...

No, seriously, this was a great piece of gear and I wore it absolutely to shreds. At first it was just out on the river, then as it started to wear out, I got a new one, and this one became my pool suit. There was a while when I was regularly going to weekly pool sessions in the wintertime (note to self: you should get back into that!); chlorine's hard on gear so it's good to have something old to sacrifice, and this Henderson suit did that dirty job for a very long time.

I have finally just chucked it as part of project Seize the Storage. Old gear goes. But here's the comes around-goes around part - with dance classes back into my life (delightfully small world, Megan, one of my teachers from way back when, literally turned up calling a square dance in the back yard at Sebago and it turns out she's teaching close to where I work and at a good time for me to get over there) that right about the same time as the wetsuit that was originally meant to be a pair of dance shoes reached the end of a spectacularly long and honorable run -

I finally got the shoes! 

No comments: