This year we scheduled a few tours we've not attempted before, and I've been extremely pleased with how this has been going. We choose a neighborhood that has a few pubs or restaurants with outdoor seating, and we find places to dance within sight of those venues (stopping for a beer midway through). We've toured the area around the Cedar Cultural Center and the West Bank, where we practice, and we've toured around Northeast Minneapolis. Last night we toured the neighborhood of my own workplace, the Riverplace and St. Anthony Main complexes and the surrounding neighborhood.
For each of these tours I have been pleasantly surprised, even thrilled by the response we've gotten. I'm grown used to people ignoring us, and even getting annoyed by us. Most business establishments don't know what to make of us, and in my experience have not always considered our presence an asset. And yet this year none of this has been true. Pub owners have invited us to dance indoors. People have bought us beer. People whose evenings you might even say we are interrupting by dancing and singing have engaged us in conversation and shown their appreciation. Last night, while we were dancing in a tiny little space in an outdoor plaza outside of the Punch pizzeria, the cooks and staff came out to watch us dance, with big smiles on their faces.
I am convinced something is definitely up, as if there's a change in the air regarding what people want from their public spaces. Last night Denise said that people don't even know how desperate they are for this sort of thing. I realize that from the outside that could sound like a very sweeping sort of statement, but I think it's absolutely true (and I always have). Sometimes people at the pubs and bars have had a little bit to drink, and they try to engage us, sometimes in a stilted manner. One women in particular last night was effusive and awkward, just a little bit too friendly -- although she did wind up buying our beer. It's as if some people want to connect with us, to what we are doing, but don't quite know how.
So what has changed? Well, I do think there are general social changes afoot. But I realized last night that only a few years ago there weren't nearly so many establishments in the Twin Cities with outdoor seating. But now there are -- squeezed into the small sidewalk spaces. And why? Because of the new smoking laws, which make it illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants. All sorts of places have put up outdoor seating, which seems to be creating more of a streetlife than I've ever seen. The increased outdoor patio seating of establishments throughout the Twin Cities is providing more places where Morris dance integrates into the social fabric, in a positive way. This was certainly not the intention of the laws (I can just imagine such a debate on the State House floor), but I am convinced it is a result. I am delighted.