Looking for patterns, finding a balance

Juneau Color

Posted: Monday, December 15, 2003

Odette Foster could talk for hours about her life in dancing. From ballet dancing in her childhood to her current passion for English Country Dance, she can associate a type of dance with most years of her life.

"(Dancing) has been something that gives me such pleasure." Foster said. "It's kind of like a language I speak naturally. So when I'm dancing, I'm sort of fluent."

Foster moved to Juneau in 1975. And though she spent many years learning, teaching and performing belly dances, clogging, contra dances and English country dance in town, dancing is part of a larger pattern in her life. A tour of her downtown home hints at this pattern.

A sewing table sits in the corner of Foster's living room. Fabric is neatly organized in an old letter box shelf she bought at an auction. Scraps of cloth fill a box next to a chair. On the other side of the chair, spools of every color of yarn fill several baskets.

Multi-colored crocheted squares yarn-pinned are pinned to one wall of her living room. She'll turn the squares into a blanket. Another wall has quilted squares with pictures of jungle animals pinned to backgrounds of green foliage. The squares will become a quilt for her grandchild.

Beds and couches in the house, and many of the walls, are covered with intricately sewn quilts. The closets in a bedroom are filled with costumes Foster designed and sewed after researching clothing worn to European dances 300 years ago.

All this in the home of a woman who has focused her career on writing and recently decided she'd make a good accountant.

"It's all about finding balance and patterns and symmetry," Foster said of accounting, and of the myriad other activities with which she fills her day.

The pleasure that comes from finding balance in the books at KTOO, where Foster works, is similar to the pleasure that comes from seeing a contra dance come together, she said.

"When things are really going well you have this kind of cycle of energy flowing around between the dancers, the musicians and the caller," she said. "It's wonderful."

Contra dancing can best be described as a form of American folk dancing in which dancers form two lines down a room. Always to the beat of live music, the dancers are guided up and down the lines by a caller.

"For me, contra dancing is all about building patterns, and I just see that so clearly as a caller," she said.

Foster was introduced to contra dancing while trying to find a place to go clogging, or Appalachian step dancing, during a trip to Portland. She learned the basics of the dance and began attending contra calling camps around the country.

As with belly dancing, which she learned in the late 1970s, clogging, which she learned in the mid-1980s, and English Country Dance, which she started to practice several years ago, Foster felt the need to learn the dance and teach it.

"Part of a caller's job is to train new callers and dancers," she said. "We're all missionaries in a way."

As long as it's not June, July or August, contra dances are a common occurrence in Juneau. The first contra dance in Juneau took place in Sept. of 1988 in McPhetres Hall. Popularity of the dance outgrew the hall, though, and the dance moved to the Scottish Rite Temple in downtown Juneau, and then to Centennial Hall.

"Juneau just really honed in on it," said Foster. "The timing was really appropriate."

Contra dancing allows people to meet and interact with each other in a non-threatening environment, she said. Men seem to be just as excited about the dance as women, and a single person can attend a contra dance without worrying about not having a partner.

"I think dance is an event that gives people a connection to each other," Foster said. "I think people are hungry for that."

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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