This Hobby of Mine — Jacob Deck

Hobbies are fundamental aspects of ourselves. They help define who we are as individuals; they are the things we choose to immerse ourselves in with what little free time we have. This column aims to explore the vast range of unique and interesting hobbies and pastimes hidden within the Lawrence community, and to grant insight into what makes each Lawrentian unique.

Junior Jacob Deck.
Photo by Larissa Davis.

Music and humanity are as inseparable from one another as a dog is from its bone. And just as a dog wags its tail in thrilled anticipation for the bone, so too the human taps their foot and sways their hips to the pleasant sounds of an upbeat melody. If you, as a Lawrentian, find yourself rushing to your next class or enjoying a meal at the Andrew Commons only to hear the distant melody of a tin whistle and rhythmic tapping of a foot echoing from somewhere close, chance is you’re hearing junior Jacob Deck enjoying the spoils of his bone: playing music, singing and dancing. Over a hearty meal, Deck discussed one of his many foot-stomping, heart-pumping hobbies: Contra Dancing.

“[Contra Dancing] is what English Country Dancing turned into before it became American Square Dancing,” Deck said. “You start off with a partner, with whom you execute a series of maneuvers — you know, swings, do-si-dos, the whole lot. By the end of each song, you switch partners and advance one place in the line of couples that are moving along the hall. And then you repeat, repeat and repeat.”

Each tune is 32 bars long of primarily fiddle, piano and folksong. A series of eight dances is followed by a waltz, which is to the tune of traditional waltz music. “The only real restriction is how long the tune is,” Deck said. “The dance bands will play polkas, jigs, reels and waltzes. Sometimes there will be dances from other cultures. For instance, sometimes they’ll play to this popular Swedish dance called the Hambo, so there’s plenty of diversity musically.”

“I love doing it,” Deck continued. “It’s a great way to get out, have fun, listen to great music and spin around in circles until you’ve forgotten your own name. There’ll be seven, eight dances and a waltz, followed by another eight dances and a waltz, then suddenly your heart’s racing and you’ve been there for three hours. But you still can’t get enough.

“It’s a great social space for me because it combines all the things I like at once: fiddle music, moving around, meeting new people… I’ve met a lot of friends through it. I’ve gone so many places.”

When Deck isn’t at Lawrence, he’s back at home in Boston where Contra Dancing is at its most popular. He attends weekly Contra Dancing nights at the Concord Scout House. Deck mentioned traveling to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to attend various Contra Dancing events across the country.

Deck noted how personal Contra Dancing has become. “Every time I come to school and don’t dance, I die a little inside for three months,” he said. “I can’t cope with it; I get depressed. It’s hard to make up. There’s not a place within fifty miles of campus dedicated to Contra Dancing.”

Deck expressed interest in forming a Contra Dancing Club here at Lawrence, noting the plethora of capable fiddle players, pianists and dancers. “It would fit perfectly in the Lawrence community,” he said. “I would absolutely be interested in it. I’m sure a lot of other Lawrentians would as well, considering the number of musicians and dancers on campus.”

Deck explained the roots of Contra Dancing. “It descended from English Contra Dancing, as well as some of the dancing that came down from French Canada,” he said. “It then bubbled up and stewed around in New England in the 1940s, when it was dying out.” He also mentioned important figures of the Contra community, saying, “Interestingly, Henry Ford was interested in traditional folk dancing and played a big part in its revival and contributed to the recovering of its history.” Another such figure is Dudley Laufman, who is currently in the Smithsonian Folk Hall of Fame for contributing to the revival and preservation of Contra Dancing. 

“It’s way more fun than you could ever think possible,” Deck finished. “It’s got the thrill of a visceral amusement park ride, except it lasts for hours and hours. The community around it, especially the kids, is just so brilliant. Everyone is so loving and amazing and inclusive … and everyone gives great hugs!” Laughing, he said. “I have so many memories from this, so many people I will never forget. It’s something no one should miss out on.”

If you’re a Lawrentian looking to start a Contra Dancing club, or looking for one of a wealth of beautiful Contra Dancing stories, you can find Jacob Deck performing the tin whistle to all residents of Warch — you can’t miss it.