“Spend the weekend with an oxymoron!” is how Potato Run dance weekend is advertised by the Louisville Contra Dancers. I thought it was just an excuse to decorate the fliers and the dance hall with Mr. and Ms. Potato Heads. But apparently there is a creek called Potato Run in the Leavenworth area of southern Indiana. As you might imagine, potatoes are a theme at the meals: a potato bar Friday night, potato soup for lunch Saturday, and potato skins Saturday night. Surprisingly, no hash browns for breakfast Sunday. I guess they didn’t want to be too predictable.
One of the cool things about the contra scene is that they are often amenable to exchanging work for the price of admission, which is how I was able to attend. Of course I wasn’t much help in the food prep area but it quickly became obvious that I could rule in the dish room. Along with the other volunteers, we got an efficient bucket-brigade-type routine going that served us well. Tips to endear yourself to a dishwasher: Scrape your plate. Put your dishes to presoak in the tub of soapy water. Don’t be the last person to bring in your stuff, after we have finished doing dishes for 60 people. Contra dancers are known to be quite tolerant but pull a stunt like that and you might end up being “asked” to clean the bathrooms at the end of the weekend.
Accents seemed to be a theme for this weekend. I rode with a friend from the Bloomington group who is originally from New York City. One really cool guy for whom we had a birthday cake had a speech impediment that made him difficult to understand. Of course there were a variety of Southern drawls from the attendees hailing from south of the Ohio. Then there was the Englishman who played the autoharp at the campfire after the dances as we sang 1960s protest songs.
Most interestingly, one of the chefs had an Irish accent. I ended up talking to his sister-in-law who informed me that he did not have this accent before he went to seminary. (He did not become a priest, preferring instead to feed people physically rather than spiritually.) I suggested it was an affectation to impress people, like some of my college friends who would pretend to be British to meet girls. She insisted that it was some organic change in his brain, because (she said) if you woke him up in the middle of the night he would still sound like that. I speculated to myself what would have happened if the man were Orthodox and went to St. Tikhon’s seminary; would he come out sounding Russian?
One had the option to camp in a tent but I was afraid it would be too wet on Friday and too cold on Saturday (it turned out to be neither). The accommodations were cabins with 26 beds in each but at least they weren’t bunk beds, and my cabin was only half full (or half empty). I feel ashamed to even consider calling this camping when my brother is an Eagle Scout. But at least there was no cell phone reception so I didn’t have to worry about being awakened by someone’s phone.
As you may have gathered, the whole contra culture sees itself as a community. It is perfectly acceptable to sit down to eat with people you don’t know and join in the conversation. If you walk into a group and say that you need duct tape for your shoes (so you can slide better when you dance) you’ll be told, “It’s under the seat in the red car just over there. It’s unlocked.” Add to that the element of Southern hospitality, and you are not just offered beer at the campfire, but, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
The dancing Friday was not as good as I had hoped. Attendance was down from last year, and other dance weekends with a conflicting schedule were cited as the cause. The Lexington group was holding a waltz weekend; everyone I talked to agreed we would be bored to tears if all we got to do all weekend was waltz. There was also a huge dance weekend in Huntsville, Alabama, and someone who was a regular fixture at the local dance had apparently flown to St. Croix for a week to attend a dance camp there.
Although the temperature Saturday was cooler, the dancing was hotter as we had some last minute additions. I was happy for this opportunity to dance off the two trips I made to the pasta bar (alfredo and pesto sauces!) By Sunday I was ready to go home and wash everything that now smelled of campfire. I’m happy to report I only found one tick (on my sleeping bag, before I put it into the car). My other souvenirs are about half a dozen new Facebook friends, and a severe case of dishpan hands.