“Bow to your partner.
Now bow to your corner.
Take your partner’s hand.”
I have never been a country girl. Cowboy hats always seemed more like a prop from an old western movie and less like a fashion accessory. Country music makes me cringe, especially the poppy, southern yodeling one can often find on a random radio station. And living in the country itself? No, no. Not for me. Not for the girl who loves people and cities. It’s fine for others; don’t get me wrong…but not me.
Yet, here I was on a Friday night in early June at a barn dance. A man with a southern twang calls steps for the next move. Over 100 people are standing in or near the entrance of the old wooden barn.
It’s humid and sticky. My cotton dress was the lightest article of clothing I had packed, yet I am still burning up. Then again so is everyone else. My hair is a mess of frizzy curls and I haven’t been wearing shoes for the last two hours. I look down at my dirty feet and smile.
Now from what I’ve just written, you would think I would find this appalling, maybe even revolting. But of course…I love it.
For five days this past week I went to visit Montreat, North Carolina. This small, Presbyterian-based community doubles as a conference center and college campus. During the summers, Montreat also becomes a day camp for pre-school aged children through high school teenagers. I worked here last summer, helping to run the day camp or “clubs.”
I never came here as a child like the majority of the staff. But my good friend Alice and her family were avid Montreat-goers. Her parents met at a barn dance, her family owns houses on Montreat property, and she grew up participating in clubs. Last year she asked both me and our mutual friend Kelley to join her and spend a summer in the hills of NC.
I had visited briefly before and couldn’t resist the opportunity.
“Now raise your free hand.
If you’re raisin’ your right hand, you’re a right.
If you’re raisin’ your left hand, you’re a left.
That’s how we call the steps.”
I looked around the crowded barn as we prepared to “promenade”. I remember the first time I came to one of these dances, nearly four years ago on my second visit to Montreat. I had expected to be annoyed. I had assumed there would be cowboy hats, cowboy boots and horrifying music. I also was prepared to feel out of place and excluded from the many Montreat traditions that some practice from birth.
Yet Alice, her family, and her friends partnered with me and taught me the important steps and customs for both line and novelty dances. Alice assured me that I would not be out of place, and promised not to wander far from my possibly very embarrassing first attempts.
Now, four years later I am glad they proved me wrong. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to work and visit Montreat, understand its funny little customs, and appreciate its people. It’s not the country; it’s a mountain retreat. There are not many cowboy hats, and if there were I would have to deal with it, because that would be the Montreat way. One of my favorite aspects of this community is that there is not one type of person. There are not just republicans, or democrats, or visitors, or regulars. They are a congregation of many. Last year I found myself standing with an independent, vegetarian, pacifist and a pro-gun, republican, meat-eater. And it was great.
Some of the helpful dance instructors...
“Bow to your partner.
Bow to your corner.
And bow to the Stony Creek Boys.”
We applaud as the barn dance comes to an end and then pile in all sorts of vehicles to go to Blue Cone for milkshakes and ice cream. I already know nearly 30 people will be in line before we even park, but I can’t help but smile as we weave through mountain roads to complete a traditional Friday night.
I’m sad I will only visit Montreat once this summer, but Ireland is fast approaching and new experiences are waiting to be made. In less than two weeks, I will be participating in a different adventure, meeting diverse people, and learning more about myself in an unknown atmosphere.
But of course a visit to Montreat must be made every summer.