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Scottish Dancing at Fermilab


By Abby Stocker

Fri, Jun 28th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

Dear Readers,

By the time you read this, I’ll have commuted to my internship at least 15 times. In those 15 trips, I have yet to figure out why, in the course of 12.9 miles, it is necessary for the speed limit to change ten times, never accelerating to higher than 50 miles per hour. Why must the speed limit drop from 45 mph to 35 mph a mere .2 miles after the limit changed from 40 mph to 45 mph? True to Chicago stereotype, speeding is more or less taken for granted. Considering the temperamental state of the speed limit, it’s maybe understandable.

The first major thoroughfare of my commute is Kirk Road, speed limit 45 mph. About a mile on Kirk, and I pass Fermilab. In case you don’t remember from last week, Fermilab is a high-energy particle physics lab, home to advanced research on particle physics (think protons, neutrinos, dark matter) and part of the U.S. Department of Energy. Cancer treatment, superconductive power cables, and the Internet all have roots in particle physics.

Last week at the Batavia Public Library, I found out that Fermilab also hosts cultural events. Including weekly Scottish country dancing. I’ve been English country dancing a few times, and loved it. If you haven’t been, it’s a bit like square dancing—dancers have partners and the dance itself follows a specific pattern of steps, but in Scottish and English country dancing, the dancers are arranged in lines instead of in squares.

I’d never been into Fermilab before. It’s a big place, lots of woods and open green space, and I thought that maybe I was lost when I arrived late and found that I was the only one in the auditorium. Before long, however, Mary Ellen appeared and gave me a friendly hello. I quickly met Doug, Gwen, Ruth, Charles, and perhaps ten others. Some are physicists at the lab, others just like to dance. They’re an internationally diverse group, warmly welcoming and forgiving whenever I forgot a step. They began dancing at Fermilab in the early 90s, and were perhaps my favorite part about the evening.

As with the English country dance community in St. Paul, the Fermilab dancers were friendly, excited to show me how to dance, a mini community in themselves. I’m told there is a vibrant Scottish country dance culture across the globe, with groups everywhere from the UK to the US to Japan. They told me their stories of how they came to Scottish country dance, dancers they knew, groups they’d been in. When I left, they waved me goodbye and told me to come again next week.

And you know? I think I will. It’s the people that really make a community, and though I certainly want to hit all of the tourist must-sees, I also want to know Chicagoland as a local as much as is possible in ten short weeks. Fermilab may be home to what was once the second-fastest proton accelerator in the world, but I also know it as the dancing home of a quirky, friendly group of Scottish dancers, as a beautiful stretch of woods, and as nearly-connected to the road of many speed limits which I’ll drive not just once, but as part of my daily routine for this period of my life. For now, remember: Charles is the one in the kilt, and to “set” is different if you’re in slow or quick step...

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