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Avidly cutting an English rug

BY CHRIS CURTLAND | JUNE 22, 2009 7:21 AM

Complete with period costumes and a string trio, English Country Dancers had a ‘ball’ in the Old Capitol Museum on June 20.

Barbara Zilles, the group organizer of the English Country Dancers of Iowa City, went swirling by in a red cape with a long dress flowing around her, stretching down to her ankles and resting above a pair of clog-like leather shoes.

Without any formal or flowery introductions, she and Lorelia Falsetti, dance facilitator and performer, immediately began teaching visitors a few basic dance moves.

Now, my cha cha slide is real smooth. My robot may be rusty, but I’m still programmed to get freaky. I even have the Harlem shake in my repertoire. But despite my previous rug-cutting experiences, I really had to “step up” at the event.

The English Country Dancers of Iowa City — which meets on the first Saturday of every month in the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center — has been around since the 1980s, organized the program.



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Zilles said the event was taking place in conjunction with the museum’s downstairs exhibit, Fresh Threads of Connection: Mother Nature and British Women Writers, which started March 7 and runs through July 26. One display in the exhibit suggested society in the Renaissance — when English country dancing began — was built on “rational thought and orderly process.”

Emphasizing proper etiquette, the dance form was founded on similar principles.

Zilles is also a member of the Iowa City International Folk Dancers, and she knows contra dance. Falsetti described her as “the one who keeps the [English country dancing] group together.”

The English country style is a “social dance done with partners in lines, circles, and squares,” said Falsetti, a two-year “caller” whose duties include reminding dancers of upcoming steps and warning them of when the pace will quicken.

“It’s the older cousin of American dance forms such as square dance and contra dance,” she said.

Although its set, rigid moves contrasted my usual free-flow style, there were still opportunities for creativity. The back-to-back, dosey-doe-esque move provided an ample time to throw in a moonwalk. When one dance called for partners to swap by stepping in opposite directions down two lines, I didn’t miss my chance to bust an electric slide.

Before I knew it, I had developed a good burn and needed to sit a round out, which was common for several visitors. I wiped the sweat from my brow and sat down next to fellow amateur jiver in attendance, Rod Manion.

“This was definitely my first time doing anything quite like this,” he said. “I’ve really only danced at weddings before.”

Manion was there with his girlfriend, who was glad to get him out for a night of dancing even if it meant minor humiliation.

“It was a tad embarrassing missing a few steps, but I had fun,” he said.

Perhaps there is no better way to let go than by learning a wildly unfamiliar dance with a room full of strangers ranging in age from seven to seventy. I’m just glad I have some new moves ready to break out for the next wedding I crash.


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