Cotillions, to me, mean steps. Dreaded little displays at debutant balls with all sorts of rules about the places where feet are supposed to go and when they are supposed to go there. Dreaded long, long evenings of standing around in starched shirts and following rules. Dreaded hours of propriety and displeasure. I never went to a debutant ball. Thankfully.
The point is that I like to dance. I do it to have fun. I do it not to follow somebody’s rules but to have a good time doing my thing, whatever that is. Somebody said you should always sing like no one is listening, dance like no one is watching. I like that philosophy.
When I used to go dancing, I’d go to roadhouses and honky-tonks and the kinds of places you can loosen up. The kinds of places where people don’t dance steps. Oh sure, there’d always be a few cowboys floating across the floor with their ladies doing a nice slow, or moderate two-step, with an occasional twirl thrown in once in awhile. I always like to see that, because they weren’t out there two-stepping as much as they were out there communicating with each other. Most of the time, however, the dancing is, well, unstructured, if you know what I mean. When the music is slow and bluesy, nobody goes very far at all, they just sort of hang out swaying in one spot, enjoying each other. And when it gets noisy and the tempo’s fast and the beat is thumping, it’s sort of like bumper cars. And nobody seems to mind.
I went to the dance at Casa del Rancho near Pojoaque with my fellow posse members, the Sheriff and Deputy J. The Rifters were playing. The place was packed, mostly with people from Taos. I’d been there a few times. Once before, the Rifters were playing. Another time it was Michael Hearne & SxSW. The bands change, but the people don’t.
All sorts of people: There was Randy, in his sleeveless shirt, which is changed in between each set, probably because he just never quits dancing, and gets a little sweaty. I wish he had sleeves — basketball courts, I think, are the better places than dancehalls for displays of elbows and armpits. There was also the little guy in the red ballcap, two-stepping with somebody a foot taller than him. He’s the kind of guy who will dance with a chair if that’s all he’s got. There was the long drink of water in the white cowboy hat, dancing with a two-foot-tall woman. And there was the fireplug dude with the long braid falling from under his black Waylon Jennings hat, wheeling around the floor like a bowling ball, missing everybody, thankfully…there was the ma’am with the short red hair and primly perched eyeglasses, spinning her squaredance skirt, and, as always, the good-looking guy who dances with all the ladies and talks to none.
They have rules, too.
It’s not quite a cotillion, but it’s getting close. If you don’t do the two-step — fast, moderate, slow; country, rock, bluegrass; it doesn’t matter what — or if you don’t do the occasional polka and act like its actually fun, or if you just want to hang on and sway when they play an occasional waltz, somebody is disapproving, somebody is judging, somebody is put out. Unless you are content to commit to the constant counterclockwise current, you could be trampled and cast into the parking lot. And, if you actually bump into somebody? oh. my. god. Grievous sin. Eviction looms. Permanent banishment is a very real possibility.
It appears that everybody who shows up is required to have the talents of the remaining four finalists on Dancing With the Stars. The Sheriff, after a long conversation with a Realtor from Taos, who was interested in his horses and his riding adventures, accepted her request to dance. She led for awhile, and then said to him, “I hope you ride better than you dance.” Then she told him to get a full-length mirror and go on YouTube to learn some steps. Gee, thanks.
I’m luckier. I can do what passes for a two-step, especially if it’s really a two-step, which means a certain rhythm, a moderate tempo, and a friendly beat. So I can wing it. But am I having fun? Most of the time, no — instead of enjoying myself, I’m mostly thinking about where my feet ought to be, and when. I’d rather be enjoying the moment. When it’s time to loosen up, I really don’t give a big rats where my feet are, thank you. Steps, dreaded steps, are the last thing on my mind.
So the next time they have a dance at Casa del Rancho, and if the band’s from Taos, I’ll probably go find a honky tonk in Baja Santa Fe, raise hell with the fast songs, and hang on and sway to the slow ones. Either that or I’ll get a full-length mirror.