Dance Hall Girl
By Eva Murray
Created Apr 21 2008 - 8:39pm
I got home from a week away to find a small notice tacked to the back of the post office bulletin board…there was to be a contradance on Matinicus, and in just a few days. A band was coming, a real string band, with a caller, and we'd feed them breakfast in the church basement because now we had running water to do it, and make doughnuts, and… Oh, sure…like the weather's going to let that happen. Somebody's being optimistic; we'll just see. I did have my hopes up, quietly. Live music is a rare treat on this island.
The Sheep Island Rovers came from somewhere up the Bay, aboard the Sunbeam, along with about half the wintertime population of the Cranberry Isles and a small truckload of instruments. The Matinicus schoolhouse is a bit small for a dance hall, but it's the best we've got. Teachers and kids had managed to stuff all the desks and nearly everything else into the tiny back room and the closet, and an open dance floor invited us to whirl and sashay and what the heck, look foolish. Biscuit's red pickup and a couple of the white formerly-telephone-company trucks were conscripted to gently haul guitars and mandolins and flutes and, of course, the bouzouki. Trucks were lent to the crowd of visitors, who may or may not have been in love with the idea of getting covered with our mud (the roads are, as I write, at their seasonal worst.)
The little schoolhouse was noisy and hopping with children and adults from Islesford (which is Little Cranberry) including their teacher, who has taught her students to contradance. Matinicus was mostly represented by the school kids and their parents, and a couple of others such as Paul and I (likely my connection with the island school will never end, whether I have children or a job there or not.) Admittedly, this correspondent dances with the grace of a rummied-up lumberjack or maybe a disoriented Newfoundland dog; I don't know left from right without a couple of seconds to think about it, so dance calls go by awfully fast, and my feet tend to be on top of the next guy's, and with us being short a few male dancers (at least two husbands nursing injuries) I was sometimes a gal, sometimes a fellow in the sequence, but we all had a blast, and despite me going flat on the floor in the middle of a reel with a dramatic (but relatively painless) splat, nobody got hurt.
The caller suggested Lady of the Lake toward the end of the evening, and expressed hope that some of us knew what to expect. "Anybody contra'ed before?" I didn't figure that once every three or four years counted, so I kept still. "I'll bet Lady of the Lake has been danced thousands of times on this island," he said. I turned to Paul:
"Where would that have happened?"
"K.P. Hall, of course."
Back in the 1920's, `30's and `40's when Matinicus was a much larger community, they had town dances in the old Knights of Pythias Hall. Some were fund raisers for the Nurses Association, which paid for courageous young RNs to spend the winter out here. Some of these nurses married and stayed. I have never heard when last Matinicus had an actual Knight of Pythias. Today, the KP Hall, still so-called, has been remade into three apartments, which often sit empty. Some say it is a shame.
The next day, a couple of us were having coffee at Donna's, and the subject came up again. "There used to be dances every Saturday night on Criehaven. We'd all pile in and a boatload would go over; it was a good time." She mentioned the name of the local reprobate who taught her to dance the Lady of the Lake, unaware of the comment that had been made the night about that particular dance.
It wasn't that long ago, those dance-hall days. Now it seems almost impossible to put something like that together…most of the musicians have to come from off the island, and be somehow fed and boarded (thanks to the crew of the Sunbeam for that!) and there really isn't a big hall anywhere (thanks go to the school and to our micro- PTA for making room and organizing this.) This was another example of the Stone Soup Method, which is what it always seems to take out here. Anybody with any sense would have said it wasn't going to work.
I'm already looking forward to the next contradance. After all, I can do the Lady of the Lake.
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus, where she bakes delicious breads, cinnamon buns and whoopie pies.