This week I want to capture and share with you some of the memorable moments of the Brockman Barn Dance that took place on the occasion of the 100th birthday of our family’s barn, built by my great-great-grandfather in 1912. But before getting into that, here’s a brief update about the happenings on Henry’s Farm this week: We’ve had a series of sweltering 90 degree days, when time ticks by more slowly than ever. Wednesday night we planted beds and beds of lettuce, basil, summer spinaches, etc., and are hoping for more rain soon. And we are gearing up for our annual Garlic Harvest that will occur next week!
Our farmhand Val’s goal for the Brockman Barn Dance, held last Saturday at my Aunt Jill and Uncle Will’s farm in Danforth, Illinois (the Brockman Centennial Farm where my grandfather and great-grandfather were born), was to see “Dancing Brockmans,” and to get every single Brockman to dance. I did not see how this could be possible, since I had never seen my brothers, let alone Mommy, ever dance in public before.
Yet I felt my hope steadily rise as, after hundreds of Brockman family and friends alike ate, mingled, listened to Grandpa’s rousing speech on the Barn origins, toured the barn and listened to snippets of bluegrass bands, we all made our way up the steep ladder-stairs and into the hay loft. Then, as I started to feel the music of the band, Ten Feet Tall, enticing my bones to dance, out of the corner of my eye I saw Grandma begin to move. Soon she was on fire–basking in the orange sunlight streaming in from the windows and smiling, eyes closed, as she waved her arms and stepped to the quick music. Aunt Terra, Daddy, and I all looked at each other in wonder, then fixed our gaze on this joyful 77-year-old woman in all her dancing glory once more. When the song ended, Grandma laughed and said, “It’s just so fun to dance!”
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen you do that,” Aunt Terra told Grandma, with awe in her voice. I looked at Grandma, now shimmying to the next tune, and grinning, filled my heart with music. It was time to dance.
The next song was a slow, sweet ballad so the dance floor began to clear. Some couples braved the attention of the crowd of onlookers sitting on hay bales that had been set up all around the large loft and began to sway lovingly. My feet pulled my body to be centered in front of the band and I started to do turns, feeling the music ripple up through my toes and up through my legs and arms, and up to the top of my head. I moved slowly, letting my body follow my heart. This was a private dance, a raw form of self-expression that I usually performed to an imaginary audience at home. Yet I knew that this time, eyes were fixed on my movements – and my whole family was watching. There was a moment of embarrassment and losing my focus, my dance turned choppy. But I could not stop, and as I kept improvising, I finally lost myself in the music, wrenching out my emotions. Later, I watched my Aunt Beth move in the same way, eyes closed, movements graceful. I had never seen her dance before, yet our movements were so much alike – connected by the Brockman bond.
When the Golden Horse Ranch Square Dance Band came on and the singer began to croon, “I’m going to Jackson…” Daddy finally joined me on the floor. I watched as he crouched low and started to pound the hundred-year-old boards of the Brockman Barn loft with such powerful stomps that I became fearful that he would break through, crashing down to land in one of the goat pens. Aunt Terra and I joined him, stamping our feet to the beat of the music, laughing. Soon the dance floor was filled with moving bodies, all energetically banging their feet in unison. Aunt Odette danced with my baby cousin Chenoa, Aunt Jill and Aunt Teresa danced together, and my cousins joined us, as well.
The Golden Horse Ranch Band’s main vocalist and square dance caller–a dark-haired young woman in a polka-dotted blue dress named Annie Coleman – began to teach us some square dances. She arranged us first into couples and told us to make two circles, one within the other. Couples in each circle faced each other. Next, Coleman showed us how to do a series of high-fives – right, left, and both hands – then clap our thighs, swing elbows, and finally move on to the next partner. I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I clapped hands with people I had never met before, making my way around the circle. I was burning up from all of the dancing and the high temperature of the loft, but as sweat rolled down my face, I kept on dancing with my adorable partner, my little cousin Celeste who is half my size, learning how to promenade, make a right-hand-star, and jive to the sound of the fiddle.
By the time it was Peter Adriel’s turn to take the stage, I had to lay down to rest. The rain was starting to pour down outside, making a rush of noise on the barn roof. I felt the cool wood beneath my sweaty back and closed my eyes, drinking in the sound of Peter’s deep, soothing voice, coupled with the Bob Dylan-esque pitch of the harmonica, strong strumming of the guitar and the tapping of his feet on the wood. When the rain began to dump down halfway through his set, adding another dimension of musicality, I lost myself in the simple splendor of his words.
“That was beautiful,” Coleman commented, as the room of people, once so filled with laughter and noise, was silent, pensive. To get us back into dancing mode, her band played a polka tune, and we all stomped once more. Then she taught us a series of square dances, including one where the girls were twirled around the circle, one that partners sashayed through the entirety of the barn, the Virginia Reel, and one in which we grabbed hands of people, spelling out BINGO, and then hugged the O person.
I decided to force my younger brother Kazami, who had been reading a book on his Kindle most of the night, to get up and dance with me. Once on the floor, he was a dancing machine – and I was filled with joy, remembering dancing to Bob Marley together in the living room when we were little. I knew he could dance. My older brother Asa, though, was more difficult to force to dance. However, Val succeeded in pulling him to the dance floor and Henry’s apprentice Janaki and I also made an attempt to stop him from fingering his phone and enjoy the night with us.
At one point, we were in dire need of another partner set for a group to have enough people, so the caller kept begging for a duo to stand up from the hay bales. No one would volunteer, though, so Daddy grabbed Mommy’s hand and pulled her to the floor. I could see the words “But I’m too tired…” on Mommy’s lips. I looked at Val, excited. Mommy was going to dance! Later, after the dance was over, I looked over at her. She was smiling, clearly having fun. I was filled with a feeling of family, and of gratitude to the art of dance, which has the power to bring us all together.
As the night came to a close, Coleman kept repeating, “Can we join your family? You guys are awesome!” My cousin Halley’s boyfriend stomped so hard that one of the floor planks broke, but we covered it with wood and kept on dancing the night away. Every dance, there seemed to be fewer people sitting on the hay bales in the back, and by the time the last song came around, every single person was dancing, including Grandpa. We sang along as the band played “May the circle be unbroken…” and held hands, walking in one big and one small circle around the center of the barn loft. Aunt Beth broke off of her circle, grabbed my hand, and we formed a conga line, producing cheers from our dancing friends and family. We were one.
Making my way down the ladder from the loft, I went outside, drenching myself with the rain. It washed the sweat from my face and cooled me down, an instant, natural shower. Every Brockman had danced that night. It was an amazing feat that filled me with so much joy.
The next day, I learned that the rain that fell in Danforth also drenched our farm, reviving our seeds and wilted plants. It was the perfect Father’s Day present for Daddy.