Just got back from the big medieval conference in Kalamazoo: as usual, I went to the dance, but I did not dance.
The dance at Kalamazoo remains an institution, though the beer is no longer free, and one must show one's conference registration badge to get in the door: they actually have people guarding the entrances. One rarely if ever needs to show the badge to attend a panel, go to the book room, or virtually anything else, in my experience, but the dance is another thing.
It's probably a wise policy, and it's probably intended to keep local kids and others from sneaking in and drinking up the cheap beer, but it's hard not to also imagine that the guards also serve to protect unsuspecting innocents from seeing hundreds of medievalists, of all ages and types, gyrating and jumping, and singing along with Bon Jovi at the highest possible volume. That's a sight that only a medievalist could endure, I suppose, but the cheap beer helps, even so. And some of my closest friends always dance at the dance, so perhaps I shouldn't mock it too harshly.
But I did all the things that one goes to Kalamazoo for: I gave a paper (about medieval poetry, no less), went to a few panels, spent money in the book room, got way too little sleep, and drank way too much beer. And I talked, talked, talked, with a few old friends and a few new strangers. And I didn't have time or occasion to talk to many other old friends, which is too bad, but that's also Kalamazoo.
I carpooled there and back with one old and good friend and fifteen hours together in the car was just barely enough time to get a little caught up. Except when I called her to retrieve my cell phone from her (I left it in her car), I literally did not even see her at the conference until I went to her panel, from which we jumped straight into the car for the return trip.
Talked to another dear friend at dinner one night, as part of a party of six, and we had our heads together so much that when the waitress brought us all our separate checks, ours were combined, as if we were a couple.
Talked with a couple other great friends at the dance, as the conference was wrapping up, and I realized that some of these people are among my very best and closest friends, though I may see them only once a year or sometimes less. And there we all were, trying to cram in a year's worth of friendship and fellowship into one long weekend. No wonder I slept too little and drank too much. That's what a conference is for.
Let's hope we all get to do it all again next year.