OK, actually it wasn't first practice; it was second practice. But on the night of first practice I had a raging fever and I stayed home. Reluctantly. Sometimes even I give in. If I hadn't missed last week I would have considered missing this week, since I thought I was in no shape yet to dance, what with the lung crap stil lingering on top of over half a year of out-of-shape laziness and lethargy. But I knew we had a new recruit, and as it turns out we had two, and attending practice in many ways is about more than just dancing. It's about pizza as well, and Tuesday was the first day that my actual desire for food had started to return. Desire for alcohol hasn't yet come back, so I drank cranberry juice instead of beer at Pizza Luce and it hit the spot. You know this is serious, man.
But oh, oh, what a necessary and wonderful thing to have gone to practice because the big surprise was that Russ was there, after two years in the Peace Corps in Africa. He was only passing through town, unfortunately (unfortunately? tragically!), on his way to settle with his wife in Portland (where he has already hooked up with a Morris team, who has hooked him up with an apartment). We met Russ at the end of his freshman year of college and he became the most amazing key member of our team. We danced at his college graduation. Actually, so did he -- in his dress shoes and robe and everything.
Russ's departure from the team left a gap that time did not and will never fill. We all knew his plans did not call for a return to the Twin Cities (his wife is from Hawaii, and Minnesota cold is not something she wanted to live with on a permanent basis), but it was sad to be reminded of this. Evidently Portland is the new hip city; Russ and Lisa already have a community there. He admits, though, that after the Braggarts all Morris teams for the rest of his life will be judged in comparison and in some ways will likely be found wanting. Or at least he knows enough to tell us that.
But it was not sad to see Russ -- bittersweet, perhaps. It was mostly just great. It felt so regular and right. He's been gone for two years but we are the same, in key ways. And so of course I had to dance, if only a little, and I had to dance in a set with Russ. I said I had only one dance in me, and the first dance I did nearly killed me. It was strange, because I had the energy and desire and it wasn't as if my muscles were sore, but I had no oxygen. Very odd.
The boys kept dancing and at the end of the evening a couple of folks had already left and we wanted to show Russ one of our new dances and that meant I had to dance in. Fortunately we danced "Mrs. Widgery's Lodger", which is our version of a non-knackering dance (meaning it's only desperately tiring rather than impossibly tiring), and I got through it. But then, because Russ loves the dance, Bob started to play the tune he wrote for "Mopping the Cedar" which is our most knackering dance of all, a dance so complicated that an audience doesn't even notice all the complications. With each verse the set moves one quarter of the way around AND each dancer moves one position forward in the set. It's a source of pride that the complication is something for the dancers only. And the dance never stops, with its tiring high leaping steps, ever. "But I can't!" I whined. And the boys said, "Just hold your position and take it easy". We wandered into a set, as the music played, without discussion or question, as if Russ had never moved away. We started the dance and all of us -- including me -- gave it our all and kept going and DID NOT FALTER. In my very last splitter (of four sequential ones) in the very last figure I started to give out, making the final hey an ordeal, but I was so happy to be dancing again and dancing with the Braggarts and dancing with Russ for the first time in two years (and the last time in who knows when) that it was a celebration and a welcoming and a farewell all at once.
Sometimes dancing Morris is not about having an audience.