By Giselle Miranda and Jasmin Suknanan
In a tucked away barn in Smithtown, 78 year-old Pearl Doctor locked arms with a man wearing a red checkered shirt. The duo spun slowly in a circle through the open floor space. Doctor’s green dress flowed swiftly as their dance movements intensified. Then, as quickly as they had joined hands, they slipped out of each other’s grasp, and Doctor turned to her next partner.
Almost 35 years ago, Doctor, a Central Islip native, attended an English Country music and dance festival on Long Island. She saw people dancing and from there she knew she was part of a community.
“I met my husband contra dancing you have a common interest it’s a great way to meet people and there’s no social pressure,” Doctor said.
On Sunday, April 9, fourteen folk dance lovers gathered in Frank Brush Barn in Smithtown for Long Island’s third to last English Country Dance event of the season.
English Country is a traditional community and folk dance from the Elizabethan era. Interest in this style of folk dance peaked in the late 18th century but began to dissipate with the rise of other dances such as polka and waltz. At Frank Brush Barn, each participant exchanged partners over the course of the 3-hour event hosted by the Long Island Traditional Music Association (LITMA), a nonprofit devoted to traditional dance.
“You had to go with your chaperone. You couldn’t just talk to men, but, when you were dancing, you could flirt with a man and whisper little things to him,” Doctor said.
English Country Dancing came to America around the colonial period in the late 18th century. With approximately 246 members, LITMA is the only English Country Dance organization on Long Island. Members execute dance events monthly on Sundays, and there is live music at all of the dances.
“Long Island has a long history, and preserving traditional dances is part of that history,” John Gallagher, an English Country Dance caller, said. “You can lose the importance of what you’re doing today if you don’t remember what people did years ago.”
Most people have been members of traditional dance groups for decades. However, a concern is that there won’t be as many younger people to fill in and move the traditions forward.
“When new younger people come and see few people their age, they are less likely to return,” David Chandler, the secretary at Country Dance New York Inc., said.
Reaching the younger generation is a goal that English Country Dance organizations are working at in New York. LITMA members hope to grow their presence on social media such as Facebook and Twitter to reach the younger generation. “When the Jane Austen movies come out, we get a little more people,” Steven Sprachman, a member of LITMA, said. “Maybe having special Jane Austen dances is something they might be interested in.”
LITMA will host their next English Country Dance on Sunday, May 18 at the Brush Barn.