During my last week in Laos I got the great opportunity to try out Square Dance with the pupils of my school; this time without Lao teachers but with a great class of 13-year-old pupils instead. I was very excited and asked all of the other volunteers and Prof. Martin to come and join me, so we had a handful of semi-professional dancers in between the Lao group. (Such helpers are actually called “angels” in Square Dance parlance, which fitted our project very well.) The students seemed a little confused to start with when we asked them to leave the classroom and meet in the schoolyard. (Lessons are normally not conducted outside.) Nevertheless, they were eager to find out what was going on, and soon some teachers were observing the strange goings-on outside as well.
We started with the easiest dance for the day, just like we had done in our Square Dance workshop with the teachers. Distinguishing between the different commands was as difficult for the pupils as it had been for the teachers, also because some moves seemed to be completely new (e.g. the partner swing). However, after a few minutes they managed the formation changes and we moved on to a more difficult dance: the “Maine Mixer”. We practiced command by command and put the steps together. It wasn’t easy but after a while the pupils were able to dance the different formations.
However, there was always a problem with the partner change and soon we found out why: The pupils behaved just like German pupils of that age group. They were too shy to dance with partners of the opposite sex, and additionally, physical contact between dance partners is not common in Lao culture at all. As we could not address the matter by talking about it, our only option was to ignore their embarrassment – and after a few minutes they overcame their initial adolescent anxiety and we all had a nice final dance.
Text by J. Bauer
Stills by I. Martin