|Dancing and Supporting Go Hand in Hand|
Contra Dancers Support One Another Beyond the Dance Floor
Contra dancing is a traditional dance style with lots of swings, do-si-do’s and the like. The music is a mix of Celtic and old-time, with jazz or rock influences thrown in for good measure. At the local dances around the Triangle area of North Carolina you will see as many as 200 people, from teenagers to seniors, having a good time together and with smiles on their faces. Everyone is welcome and people do not need to come with a partner.
What does this have to do with Support Teams? Well, since 2008, the Triangle contra dance community has created a network of trained and experienced Support Team members who have provided caregiving support to 27 contra dancers, their friends and family members. Over 100 contra dancers have served on 14 teams, and 4 dancers have gone through Project Compassion’s Support Team Leadership Training, with other dancers underwriting the costs for them to attend. Now, whenever there is a need, there are plenty of people available to help get a team organized and rolling.
Along the way, we’ve learned a few lessons. Here are three of them:
1: You never know when a team will be needed! Last summer a contra dancer injured her foot and needed surgery, so we had to put together a team in a hurry. Fortunately, we had a Rapid Response Team of trained volunteers in place, so we had a team organized in no time. We created this team with the idea it would jump into action as needed and then turn over its work to a longer term team. It worked just as we hoped!
2: We’ve learned teams can work well even when the need is short-term. Quite a few of the teams have been created to help out after surgery – from heart surgery to neck surgery, to knee and hip surgery (yes, some of us are getting older!). Most of these teams have been needed for 6 weeks or less. We have many veteran team members ready to go when needed, so when someone is recovering from surgery and the outlook is positive, it takes less effort to pull a team together. Earlier this year a team provided 7-day a week support for 6 weeks to a woman who lives alone and was on crutches after hip surgery. There were enough people active to equal 3 teams. They helped with every meal and ate with her, partly because she could not carry a plate from one side of the room to the other. They drove her to every physical therapy appointment five days a week in the first month. Plus, a team walked her dog, did her laundry, and helped her buy groceries. The usual endless list of everyday living needs that we sometimes take for granted, and would have been overwhelming for her to do after surgery, was taken care of. Even now she says, “I don’t know what I would have done without my team of support.”
3. We’ve learned how comforting, reassuring, and exciting it is to have the possibility of help for each of us when we need it. The Support Team experience has brought many people closer together, helped us get to know each other, and affirmed our shared values of caring and helping one another. It has made us less fearful of illness, and more confident about aging. We are all grateful for our wonderful contra dance community and buoyed by knowing how much we are interconnected. We also understand better what the smiles on the dance floor are all about!