Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dancing where the tourists fear to tread

"It's what kind of dance?" I asked.
"A douf-douf dance," Sharon said. "At least that's what Linda calls it."
"Why does she call it that?"
"Because if you stand outside her house when the dance is on, all you can hear is the music going douf-douf-douf. She says they're a lot of fun, and a great place to see some real Aussie characters."
The official name of the dance, it turns out, is the Verrierdale Full Moon Dance, and last weekend we got to experience it. If one of the goals of an exchange is to see parts of the country that tourists never see, the Full Moon Dance was definitely one of the highlights. You will certainly not find this event in any guidebooks. Even most of the locals I've talked to have not been, although everyone has heard of it.
Verrierdale is one of those places that once aspired to be a hamlet, but never quite made it. It's somewhere between Noosa and Eumundi, an area where you realize you're no longer on the coast and have entered the region known as the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, a region of rolling hills and tall trees interspersed with patches of cleared farmland.
If there are any signs pointing the way to Verrierdale, I didn't see them. If there were ever any shops, a post office, or a pub there, I suspect they've vanished. But what remains is the old community hall, and once every few months, when the full moon falls on a weekend, the hall is the site of a Full Moon Dance.
Full moon dances are an old tradition in Australia and in Canada. It dates back to the time before electricity, when a full moon provided the light you needed to get back home late at night. Around 20 or 30 years ago, someone started holding dances at Verrierdale every time a full moon fell on a Saturday, and they're still going on.
Linda gave directions as I drove along the back roads to Verrierdale. We could tell we were nearly there when we started to see cars and utes parked along the roadside. We found a place to park and made our way toward the music, walking through a night rich in the scents of eucalyptus and marijuana.
Up the steps, past the security guard, and into the hall and we were suddenly surrounded by music. The hall is about ten metres square. And yes, hall is too grand a term for it. It's a barn, a shed, a room, with bare wooden studs, an exposed tin roof, and lights that consist of a handful of bulbs in plain metal shades. The main lights were off when we entered, though, and all the illumination came from a cluster of spots aimed at a two-foot high platform at one end of the room that serves as the stage. A middle-aged guitarist was doing a solo gig, hammering out some rocking blues and singing with a gravelly growl. About 60 people packed the room, bopping to the music and cheering enthusiastically at the end of each song.
The guitarist wrapped up his set shortly after we got there, so while the dj took over the speakers we wandered out the back door in search of the bar. Down another set of steps and we were in the yard, where a hundred or so people milled around and the beer was being served. The dances are run or sponsored by the local chapter of the CWA (Country Women's Association, which seems to be roughly equivalent to the old Women's Institutes in Canada), so the bar and the barbecue area -- you can't have an event in Australia without serving beer and sausages -- were staffed by friendly matrons who looked like they should be named Helen or Olive. Drinks in hand, we started circulating.
It soon became clear that the Full Moon Dance is the preferred pick-up venue for folks who have been living in the hills since the Rolling Stones were relevant. Since I was the only guy in our group of five, we found ourselves making all kinds of new friends with the male locals. At least one of them invited our group to come and join an after-party at his bus (it wasn't clear whether it was a mode of transport or a home, but in either case we declined).
While the attention was persistent, it was polite and friendly, and led to some interesting conversations. I had a chat with a postie, and told him I thought he had the best job in the world. (Posties -- mailmen -- in Queensland deliver the mail on dirt bikes, riding up sidewalks and across lawns to put the letters in the mailboxes without getting off their bikes. It looks like tremendous fun, and apparently the used bikes are in enormous demand.) He said he thought he had the best job too, for the first day or two. "At first I couldn't believe I was getting paid to do this," he said. "Now I wonder if I'm getting paid enough. Rain is a bitch. So are dogs. And these days, magpies."
While chatting with him, we missed the start of the next band, and only caught a couple of their songs. They were a folky duo -- a guy on guitar, a girl on keyboards -- and, judging from the songs we heard they sang an awful lot about the joys of having sex. Still, they were very good (musicians, that is -- although she was gyrating pretty convincingly, and he indulged in some enthusiastic howling), and I was sorry not to have heard more of their set.
Another drink out in the yard, and it was time to catch the third band. This was a three piece, two guitarists and a stand-up bass. These guys were real pros, and it soon became clear that many of the people in the crowd knew their songs. They called themselves the Brewster Brothers (the two guitarists were obviously brothers), but one of our group told us excitedly that they were the creative force behind a great 80s band called Angels. Their set drew in the crowd from the yard, and soon the hall was packed with  over a hundred people, stomping their feet on the wooden floor and bouncing along to the tunes. When we called out for an encore, they said they had to clear the stage for the next band but would perform an acoustic number on the floor if we would clear them space. We did, and they did, performing a jugband piece which I'm sure was inaudible from any more than three metres away. But those who were closest to the music stomped and clapped along, and those who were standing a little farther back stomped along to those in the front row, and a good time was had by all.
The final act of the evening was a complete change of pace, a nine-piece dub/reggae band called Dub Marine. They were fantastic: energetic and talented and just the right way to bring a musical climax to the night. You can see them on YouTube if you want to get a taste of their style.
And then, suddenly, it was all over. There's apparently a rule that the music has to stop at midnight (not everyone appreciates the douf-douf, it seems), so the sound went down, the lights went up, and the crowd started to disperse. We collected the rest of our crew, and told the friendly locals thank you very much, but we really wouldn't be coming back to the bus.
As we left the hall, a brilliant full moon lit the way to our car. And suddenly, despite all the music I'd heard that evening, I had another song going through my head. It really was a marvelous night for a moon dance.

1 comment:

Dave C said...

Good stuff. Shades of the dances one of my guys used to throw in his horsebarn, except he didn't have live music. Keep 'em coming.