Monthly Archives: May 2014

Lifetime Contribution Award for 2014 goes to…

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Jim Morrison

 

Jim Morrison of Charlottesville, VA, will be this year’s recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award.

Jim brought youthful enthusiasm and strong connections to emerging contra, morris and sword dance movements when he started work for CDSS in late 1970. Serving as National Director from 1975 to 1977, he then continued as part time Artistic Director after moving to Virginia. Jim & Marney MorrisonIf you have danced Jack’s Health, Young Widow, late night Kerry sets, or played Puncheon Floor or Buck Mountain, his influence was there. Jim wrote 24 Early American Country Dances (CDSS, 1976,) founded the Greenwich and Albemarle Morris Men, and has recorded five albums of traditional dance music. An early family week advocate, creator of American Week at Pinewoods, and multi-genre dance fiddler, Jim has continued throughout his half century career to teach and play for contra, square, English, morris, sword, flatfoot, and Irish set dancing all over North America. We are delighted to honor him this year. Details about the award presentation will be announced later this year.

Are You Committed to Dance Organizing?

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Gaye Fifer, dance organizer extraordinaire

Then our special Dance Organizers Course is for you. Led by Gaye Fifer and held during CDSS’s English & American Dance Week at Pinewoods (EAP), August 23-30, 2014, the course is designed for people involved in organizing their home dance community—contra, square, English, adult or family. Two one-hour sessions will be held each afternoon to discuss and strategize about issues that affect local dances. Sharing, questioning, collaborating and connecting will be our watchwords as we interview guest speakers from the EAP staff, create solutions to problems, brainstorm, practice and give feedback. We’ll create a network of support and a toolkit of ideas that each participant can take home. You’ll have fun, learn a lot and your local community will benefit. And for the rest of the day and evening, the wonderful resources of English & American Dance Week are yours.

English dance at E&A Week, Pinewoods Camp, MA

English and American Dance Week, home this summer to Dance Organizers Course (Doug Plummer)

If you know people in your community who are “up and coming” leaders, send them this message and link; the course is also useful to people wanting to start a dance. Scholarship help is still available.

MORE INFO
daily schedule
class descriptions
staff list
fees
scholarships
more info about the course
our other weeks

Ready to join in the organizing? Register here.

Course leader Gaye Fifer has been calling at dance weekends for many years. Her pleasant style and graceful teaching put dancers at ease and set the stage for a great dance experience. She has also taught numerous waltz workshops at virtually every dance weekend in the East and travels whenever she gets the opportunity. Gaye has a passionate interest in organizing to support dance community leaders and organizers.

Pinewoods Camp, near Plymouth, MA, and home to the Country Dance and Song Society’s programs since 1933, is a beautiful setting, creating a retreat where you can immerse yourself in nature, music and dance; see a slideshow of the facility.

The Country Dance and Song Society is a traditional dance and music organization, celebrating its Centennial in 2015.

“Come be part of the magic!”—English & American Dance Week, August 23-30, 2014

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photo: Doug Plummer

There’s lots of sublime English country dancing and exhilarating contra dancing at CDSS’s English & American Dance Week at Pinewoods, near Plymouth, MA. This year a Dance Organizers Course will run concurrently (separate registration).

E&A Week is our classic core program, mixing together two much-loved traditions for a fine dose of exhilaration, against a background of amazing music. This year there also will be ritual dance from England (NW morris and longsword), percussive stepping from Quebec, waltzing, Irish sets, and square dances from north and south. You can give your feet an occasional rest and do harmony singing, play in a dance band, hone your calling skills, hang out, swim or take a nap. And that’s just the daytime activities. An incredible staff will guide and inspire you through it all. See the class schedule, class descriptions or staff list, learn about Pinewoods Camp or about our other summer weeks. And here’s info about fees and scholarships.

Ready to join in the fun? Register here. We look forward to seeing you at camp this summer!

brenneman-shawnShawn Brenneman, program director for the week, began dancing at a young age with her family at a 4-H dance weekend in WV and the Berea Christmas dance school, and never stopped. She calls all over the country and plays piano in contra dance bands House Red and Tickle Scratch & Groove. She’s had an organizational role in many dance and music events, from the Blacksburg (VA) Contra Dance, in her own community, to the CDSS Governing Board.

Here’s what she says about E&A week:

“Some of the best times of my life have happened at English & American Week, and I’d love to share great times with you this summer. Music, dancing, singing, delicious food, swimming and community—come be part of the magic!”

Learn more about the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS).

English & American Dance Week is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. We thank them for their support.

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photo: Cynthia Armour

Techno, Gender-free, and Bluesy Contras: Evolving Tradition?

by Abigail Hobart

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Abigail at the Downtown Amherst Contradance last fall­­ (photo courtesy the author)

What is tradition? This question is relevant to all contra dancers, whether we realize it or not. The past several decades have witnessed somewhat of a contra revival, especially among youth and students. College dances have sprung up across the US, typically at smaller liberal arts schools, such as Oberlin (Oberlin, OH) and Hampshire (Amherst, MA) colleges. The increase in college-aged dancers has brought about a shift towards more progressive leanings, newer trends in musical tastes, and sexier dancing. At the forefront of these changes are the use of gender-neutral terms in calling, the increasing number of techno contra dances, and the incorporation of “blues moves” into contra dancing, especially in the swing. The emergence of trends like these within a folk tradition like contra dance, reflect the constantly evolving demographic of participants, and changes in popular culture and political/social culture.

Gender-free contra dances have been happening since the 1970s. The push for non-gendered dances came out of the LGTBQ movement, and has grown steadily. These dances promote experimentation with using non-gendered terms, such as lead and follow, or bare arms and arm bands, in place of the more traditional terms, such as ladies and gents. This change reflects the evolution of the understanding of gender and gender roles, and is a response to the traditionally binary gendered-nature of contra dance; an attempt to break away from the gender roles that society assigns us.

In the past decade or so techno contra, or crossover contra dances, have really taken off. In 2001, Lisa Greenleaf, a Boston-area caller, first experimented with calling contra dances to prerecorded electronic music, in place of traditional, live bands. Since then, “techno” music has been increasingly incorporated into the standard dance circuit in the US. At the downtown Amherst, MA dance series, hosted most Wednesdays, there were ten techno contra dances alone in the past year! This reflects the increasing emergence of electronic, dub step, and techno music in popular musical production and consumption.

For years, swing dance accents have found their way into the stylistic choices of contra dancers. For example, during a partner swing, it’s common to see a variety of underarm turns and flourishes that come from the swing dance canon, and even the more complicated swing moves, such as sidecars (a difficult acrobatic lift move) or the pretzel (a complicated under arm flourish), can be seen occasionally on the dance floor. The boundary between the contra and swing dance communities has always been porous, so it follows that blues dancing (from the same era as Lindy Hop, but slower and smoother) moves also have slowly been incorporated into contra dance style. The blues posture is used frequently in partner swings, with typically a closer partner hold, and distinctly more intimate. The Asheville, NC contra dance scene is regarded as a hotspot of dancers emulating a sexier, blues-fusion dance style, though blues moves can be seen in contra dances all over the country.

Tradition, an odd word, seems to refer to a thing of the past; tradition is all around us though, and continues because we continue creating it. Gender-free, techno, and blues-infused contra exists because contra dance is a living, breathing tradition; these new styles and expressions are in response to the evolving needs and interests of the dance community. The way we approach these changes will reflect the community norms of contra dancers as a whole, and of smaller micro-communities throughout the contra dance network. As a community we decide what makes contra dancing itself. We decide how far we can push the tradition before it stops being contra dance. Our own needs and innovations create the tradition, and it creates us.

Abigail Hobart studies ethnomusicology, sustainability, and food systems at Hampshire College, where she also organizes a monthly contra dance series. She is an avid contra dancer and lover of the tradition, and is from the Pacific Northwest.

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“Notes from the May Day Train,” Cambridge, MA

by Jane Winans, from Notes from the Train
(used by permission)

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Leaping in the air: Nathaniel Diamond-Jones (by Jane Winans)

I was photographing Newtowne Morris this morning. (Muddy River and Red Herring were also there but I didn’t see them dance.) It was pouring rain and in this one dance by the Charles River you can see the Maypole falling, it actually started to tip over but was caught before it hit the ground.  The men never missed a step and kept on dancing. :)

I am a writer who is writing a book called Notes from The Train;  this is what I wrote about this morning:

Notes from the May Day Train: Oh the Merry merry month of May. “I was up, long before the day-o, to welcome in the summer, to welcome in the May-o….” As per tradition, I stood along the banks of the Charles River at the foot bridge in Cambridge to watch the Morris Dancers dance and sing in the May. The Maypole was listing as buckets of rain fell steadily creating bigger and bigger puddles. But this did not stop the dance, nor the singing, nor the merriment. Morris Dancers are made of strong stuff and know they have a job to do.

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Tilting Maypole (by Jane Winans)

At one point in the dance, the Maypole started to slide and was caught in the nick of time before it touched the ground. It made me wonder, what would happen if it DID touch the ground? Would that mean we’d never have good weather again? Without blinking the men continued their dance as someone held the pole in place. Then we all paraded across Memorial Drive to the center of Harvard Square and started the Maypole dance. I noticed a tour gathering off to my side where tourists were getting instructions on where to meet up. Turned out they were all from China. I met the eyes of one couple and exclaimed, “Aren’t you lucky that you get to see Morris Dancers on the 1st of May. If you see them dance, you will have a Year and a Day of good luck. It’s a tradition out of England.” They smiled and nodded at me as they took out their camera… the next thing I know we were a few people short on dancing the Maypole. I went over and asked them to join in. The wife jumped in and grabbed a ribbon and as we bobbed and weaved, up down, up down, I ran into three more Chinese women who had also joined in our dance… all giggling and laughing as they turned, up and over, up and over…. to the music.

Only one couple on that entire bus knew English and it was the one I had originally talked to. She was an English teacher so I got her to translate to others what luck they had stumbled upon. Many pictures were taken, hands shook and even hugs given out as people greeted each other with “Merry May!” Then the traditional songs were sung all before 8 a.m.

I grabbed a large hot coffee, and juggling my rainbow umbrella, my phone and my gloves (yes, it was a very cold morning)… I had stuck a $20 bill in my pocket with my car keys, so I was trying to get them out and the $20 must have gone flying. I realized once I got to work that it was gone. Perhaps someone needed it more than me. When I got to work, I remembered that one of my young coworkers walked that same route to the T station. When he showed up, I asked, “You didn’t happen to find a soggy $20 bill on the sidewalk in Harvard Square this morning did you?” He looked at me curiously. “No.” So I explained my morning, showed him the pictures and sighed. “Perhaps the Faeries wanted it” and he said “Or it was payment for service to the Green Man.” I grinned: “Green Man payment for services?” and he turned red and exclaimed “Oh, Dear!!! Oh dear!” Poor guy got flustered very easy and I could tell that really wasn’t what he meant. As I walked down the hall, I could still hear him saying, “Oh dear!” I just smiled and went back to my desk.
If my $20 assures us of a good spring and summer, it will be well worth it!

Sing with me now: “Unite and Unite, oh let us Unite, for Summer is a coming today…. and wither we are going, let us unite, in the merry merry month of May….” Blessings to all.

© 2014 Jane Winans; please do not copy without permission of the author, sing2trees@yahoo.com.