Tis’ the season to… well, not get a holiday mix from me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of holiday music. And I break out a fair amount of seasonal music to get in the mood: Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector,” The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “A Very Special Christmas” (various artists, from 1987), and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas” primary among my selections (and there are many). I made a double disk set for Karl and Kathy last year (gifted along with a six-pack of homemade seasonal brew and a few shots of home-made Limoncello) and, although I don’t know if they actually listened to the whole thing, it should stand as a testament to my love of the holiday genre.
Having said that, I wanted to draw your attention to holiday tradition, which is, I think, unique to Pagosa Springs — the Family Dance.
The Family Dance has little to do with the holiday season — there’s no holiday music played for the event but yet it occurs every mid-December and captures the spirit of the season. Celebration, families coming together to dance but, mostly, the unconditional expression of love and a sense of community.
Last Wednesday night, families gathered into the Pagosa Springs Junior High school gym to learn the dances taught to them by their fifth- and sixth-grade children. Irish jigs and Mexican square dances, line dances and, well, just a lot of fun. Parents (for the most part) tried to follow their children’s steps and, God bless ’em, looked clumsy and uncoordinated in the process, as the kids tore up the proverbial rug. Attempting to participate, many with all their heart, but stumbling, bumbling, parents made some effort as the children were not reluctant to hide their amusement at how badly mom or dad (or both) botched the moves.
It was quintessentially small town. Amidst the Christmas lights draped around trees and berms of brown snow piled at the end of the block, parents and children filed into the gym, to mix and mingle and, sometimes, to dance.
“Howyadoin?” I asked innumerable fellow parents, glad-handing and talking about holiday plans, discussing this or that issue I’d reported in the paper, shuffling off to talk to someone else, amazed that so many people I knew were all gathered together in that small gym.
Amazing to me, I’ve only lived here two years.
Yet, no matter how many walnuts I pocket at a county commissioner’s or council member’s soiree this season (perhaps sponsored and funded by Red McCombs), the Family Dance is real Pagosa, the haves and have-nots gathered together for an hour of innocent fun, class distinctions equivocated by our children’s enthusiasm in dragging us out onto the floor to see us make fools of ourselves.
The brainchild of Shawna Carosello, Intermediate school music and dance teacher, the event has become a fixture in town and, quite possibly, the social event of the season. Sorrels are more expected than strings of pearls as parents gather to grab their children’s hands and participate in something other than the nightly drudge of monitoring homework.
“I grew up in a small town in the Midwest,” Carosello said, “and we used to have weekly square dances. When I moved here, I discovered we didn’t have anything like that. So, I wanted to create something that had that feel.”
She succeeded. Although the music is not to this Insufferable Music Snob’s taste (the Macarena has to be one of the most annoying songs ever — perhaps a topic for another column — and Achy Break-y Heart, played just after the Macarena, grrrrrrr, is a close second), the enthusiasm of the children gathered on the gym floor was intoxicating, invigorating and infectious.
Indeed, to see some of Pagosa’s so-called movers-and-shakers trying to, well, move and shake, was comical (anyone who wants to comment on my own spastic attempts at dancing will be reminded that one shouldn’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrelful. Savvy?).
Needless to say, the intermediate school Family Dance has to be, by far, the finest holiday gathering that this town has to offer. And that’s saying more than I know how to say. We do some pretty cool things in this town to honor the season but, if you’re really invested in how this town comes together to honor the holidays, in a way that supersedes stupidity (“the war on Christmas” and all that inanity), attend the Family Dance.
I’m not exaggerating: it’s like we’re the Whos in Whoville, joining hands and singing while the Grinch sits atop his Wall Street perch and fondles his sack full of government endowed goodies; us Pagosans are merely glad to be together, despite our circumstances. No one cares what the Grinch does with his fourth home on the beach of Bermuda while others worry what will be enough for tonight’s dinner.
Screw ’em. We have each other. In a small gym, dancing with our kids and living in the temporary light of this brief moment, where we watch them grow, moving their feet across the boards of the gym floor, tweens, just a small step away from high school when they will look back on all this as something silly and puerile, we have just that and that’s enough. We don’t need a second or third or fourth home, we have that moment and the knowledge that it is home. This, us, together here in Pagosa.
So we savor that, drink it in like the tepid punch served, scrape the crumbs from the free cookies and push them into our mouth, capturing every scrap we can and holding it on our tongues, in our minds. No Grinch can take it away.
In this small town, we are ultimately, intimately, all that we have. In this season, there is no reason to watch the least of us fall; the dancing should remind us of that. We all dance, maybe to a different tune, but in the end, in an intermediate gym or out on Main Street, we do it together, hand in hand, holding together as a community.
We are Pagosa. This is us. Our daughters and sons, growing together, unaware of the challenges facing all of us, assured only that our love is unconditional and eternal, expressed as we gather together and bust an awkward move on the gym floor. Children or not, we all know these are not the best of times but also, probably, not the worst of times. We can all debate the merits of, in these times, a development on the mountain, but at the end of the day, we are all we have. We face each other in that gym and determine if we’re going to dance or merely shuffle out the door, shamefaced, a sham, a shadow of what we should be in the face of a community in peril.
It’s not a role I think any of us should choose to take on.
We are Pagosa. In these times, we matter knowing that we are a community, rising or sinking with the tide, with the rest of us. What I saw in that gym last Wednesday tells me that we will stand together and survive, not sinking but staying afloat — as long as we hold each other’s hands. Looking up at the light and grasping each other’s hands as tight as we can.
And dancing. Listening to the music, unafraid of how we look, just moving and grooving, doing everything our kids hoped we’d do because, they don’t care, they just want us to come together and learn something we never knew we didn’t think we knew.
To dance. Together.