Ballentine family dances together through lifePublished 1:05am Monday, March 3, 2014
Together they dodged the flamboyant dancers who ricocheted off each other, kamikaze contra. Charlie Ballentine took Amy into his arms, smiling as he spun her into a swing.
“We danced together before we ever talked together, and we were friends for a year before we became more than friends,” Amy said.
They didn’t plan to fall in love.
“We weren’t into dating at all. We could go by ourselves, dance all night and then go home alone, if we felt like it,” Amy said. “It was wonderful.”
Charlie, who’s from Brevard, N.C., had been dancing since 1986 when Amy, who’s from Spartanburg, S.C., got up her courage to get on the dance floor in 1997. He was among the dancers she admired from afar, one who knew what to do and how to do it.
“I watched the contra dancers and thought they were beautiful,” Amy said. “I watched dancers for about a year and a half before I got on the dance floor myself. It looked like a kaleidoscope, with all the people dancing, and they all seemed to know what to do and when to do it. It scared me at first.”
Amy went to the Black Mountain Folk Festival, before it became the Lake Eden Arts Festival. Then, one friend camping with her began dancing and convinced her to try it for herself.
“I decided to stop psyching myself out, and just go do it,” she said. “It was beautiful. It was so simple.”
The Ballentines have been dancing together ever since their first dance at River Falls Lodge at Gap Street State Park.
“Our minister tied dancing into our wedding vows,” Amy said. “The minister talked about how in marriage, like in dancing, you can give each other balance, as you maintain eye contact and stay steady and focused. You can keep each other in balance.”
Amy’s grandfather stood up with her at her wedding, and the gifts given to her from her grandparents’ lifelong love included their dancing.
“My grandparents square-danced, and were part of that community,” she said. “They traveled all over to square dances. I remember watching them so happy. I remember being six and going to those square dances with my grandparents, watching them dance and dance.”
“My husband and I danced up until two weeks before my son was born,” Amy said. “I danced all the way through my first pregnancy, and that child definitely has rhythm.”
They have passed along the legacy to their own sons, Dylan, 11; Andy, 8; and Riley, 6.
“We dance everywhere,” Amy said. “Our family dances in the kitchen, in the living room, in the driveway. The children dance at the dining table.”
Once in a while, her children’s love of dancing reminds Amy of her own childhood, too.
“Sometimes I’d fall asleep on a chair while my grandparents danced, though not always,” Amy said. “The other day, my youngest son fell asleep on a chair, while my husband and I danced. Sometimes the kids can dance all night, 7:30 to 10:30.”
All the boys join them not only dancing at home, but also at the contra dances they attend together as a family.
“My 11-year-old is a dynamite dancer,” Amy said. “He asks people he doesn’t know to dance, and he hasn’t a care in the world. My other sons will dance with us. The 6-year-old really wants to dance with everybody, but he’s a little bit young.”
They will go contra dancing next on March 8 at the Blue Ridge Contra Dance at the Party Place in Saluda, and they’ll take their three sons with them.
“Now it’s harder to drive to all the different places, there and back, with the kids,” Amy said. “The Blue Ridge Contra Dance is close by here and it’s really nice.”
The Skeeziks, a popular local band that includes fiddler Alan Dillman along with Joel McConnell, Terry Maluk, Wes Maluk, will play at the Blue Ridge Contra dance. The Ballentines have several favorite bands, but through the years, many of them have dissolved and reformed again. Through all the changes of their married life, Amy and Charlie keep dancing.
“Our friends say the family that dances together stays together, and you know, it’s true,” Amy said. “You can keep contra dancing with your kids, even when they get older. Here it’s terrific. We’re so close to so many dances.”
Contra dancing involves many of the same moves as square dancing, but dancers move in long lines on the dance floor and usually change partners with every dance. A cool-down waltz occurs at the middle and the end of the evening.
“We waltzed at our wedding, and we’d learned to waltz from contra dancing,” Amy said.
A brief half-hour introductory session usually opens the dance, so that beginners can learn the basic moves, and the dances get progressively more complicated as the evening continues.
“There’s so many benefits to dancing, it’s hard to name them all,” Amy said. “It’s great exercise and a tremendous stress reliever. You come away worn out and completely at peace. It’s a communal event.”
Contra dancers often travel to weekend workshops and festivals, and regular dances occur across the region, and the Ballentines traveled greater distances for dancing until their children were born, when traveling became more challenging.
“It’s good for people from all walks of life,” Amy said. “When you dance with people, you don’t know and you don’t need to know anything about them. Maybe you know their first name and share a handshake. Everybody can bond through love of dance. It’s spiritual for some people, and good for families. It’s a safe community. There’s no drinking or doing drugs. It’s healthy, safe environment for the whole family. You can’t dance and drink at the same time; you’d be a wreck. There’s something special about people who dance that’s truly beautiful.”
The Ballentines have lived in Columbus since 2001. Amy has taught English and works as a library media specialist. Charlie retired early when Hewlett Packard purchased his company, EDS, and now he’s a handyman and stay-at-home father.
“He can fix things,” Amy said. “He helps the teachers as a room dad and does a little bit of everything for everybody. He’s a good role model for our sons, because he is successful in a non-traditional role. He shows our sons that you truly can be whatever you want to be. A suit and tie lifestyle doesn’t suit him now.”
They have many dance friends throughout the Carolinas, particularly one couple in Charlotte, N.C. and another couple in Landrum.
“We like to take turns making dinner for each other, and so we party before we go dancing and then go together,” Amy said.
When they get ready to go dancing, they dress for comfort.
“I wear a bracelet on my right arm so I can know the difference between right and left without having to think too much about it,” Amy said. “We wear whatever feels comfortable, especially comfortable shoes. My favorite dancing shoes have duct tape holding the soles together but I hate to give them up because they are so comfortable.”
Amy said she appreciated the philosophy of Leo Buscaglia, the author known as “Dr. Love.”
“He said you need to live, to laugh and to love, and that’s the closest to any philosophy we have, but we would add, you need to dance,” Amy said. “There is so much music in life, different songs for the different feelings we experience, and all the joys. We have learned that slow can be a really beautiful pace.”