Smile Politely

Getting Groovy with the Central Illinois English Country Dancers

Life often includes trying new things, or at the very least, occasionally being forced to do things that make us nervous or uncomfortable. Some of us may take these moments as they come, with bitter resentment in our hearts. Others take the bull by the horns and jump at those opportunities and take every chance to try things that push them outside their comfort zone. For those of you who are of the latter group, looking for something new to try in Champaign-Urbana, the Central Illinois English Country Dancers (CIECD) may be the group for you.

When trying to picture English Country Dancing, the easiest place to take your mind, is a Jane Austen movie. Picture lords and ladies, the height of refinery, and graceful, twirling routines. English Country Dancing was popular in the United States during throughout the 1600s and 1700s. As Americans are wont to do though, early Americans quickly took English Country Dancing and made it their own in the forms of Contra and Square Dancing. Today, CEICD takes us back to simpler times and early America as they continue this older tradition of dancing.

CIECD meets monthly at the Phillips Recreation Center (PRC) for laid back dancing to live music. Throughout the year, the group has more “formal” events such as a Christmas Ball and Playford Ball in June. CIECD’s monthly dances at PRC are typically from 7-10pm, featuring a break for some refreshments and snacks. For those intimidated by attending a monthly dance, Jonathan Sivier, one of CEICD’s “callers” assures that, “if you can walk, you can do this.”
English Country Dancing, Sivier explained to me, consists largely of dances that occurr in repeating patterns. The dances are not too complex, ensuring that there are not many parts to memorize. Even better, is that there are callers, or individuals that lead the dances by announcing the coming steps. While the goal is obviously to eventually end the prompting done by the caller, each dance is walked through a few times and done with a caller leading before the dancers are left to flounder to the music independently.

In addition, throughout the evening, everybody dances with everybody. For this reason there is no need to bring a partner to an event. Novice dancers will be paired with more experienced dancers, ensuring that throughout the night, there are many people to learn from and get pointers. Because of that, the calling, and repetitive nature of the dances, it’s quite easy to learn as you go when English Country Dancing.

These are also some of the things that make these events fun. The Flatland Consort provides live music, the dances are easy to pick up, and it’s very much a community activity. CEICD creates a very supportive community, working together toward a common goal: completing these simple, but interesting dances, without much prompting. One of the best parts says Sivier, is that you don’t even realize you’re getting a mental and physical workout as you learn and complete the steps of each dance.
Another great thing is that CEICD is not just an insular, isolated community. Many of CEICD’s members are also members of other dance groups in the area such as the Country Dance & Song Society, the Urbana Country Dancers, or the Illini Folk Dance Society. Attendance at one of CEICD’s events can open up an entire sub-community of dancers within CU. CEICD opens up not only English Country dancing, but also Contra and Folk. You can find and pick a favorite style of dance, or learn and do as many as possible. The dancing world becomes your oyster.

What I am most intrigued by are the period costumes. For the monthly dances, attendees are free to wear whatever is comfortable and allows them to move easily. However, for the special annual events such as a Christmas & Playford Balls, some of the English Country Dancers choose to wear period costumes. Period costumes are certainly not required for these events; many choose to merely dress more formally than they normally might, but they do sound like great fun if I do say so myself.
Whether or not period costumes are for you, English Country Dancing might be. Don’t wait for new and possibly uncomfortable situations to come to you, embrace an opportunity you may not have heard about and head to CEICD’s next event and learn something new. CEICD’s next dance is its annual Dancing in the Garden event at the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden in Mahomet.

For a complete schedule for 2016 you can visit the CEICD website. If you have any questions about CEICD and their events Jonathan Sivier can be reached at [email protected].

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