Category Archives: Ideas & Resources

Talking Square

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Rima (3rd from right) representing CDSS at the 2015 National Square Dance Convention (photo by David Millstone)

We had the privilege of participating in a national organization panel at the National Square Dance Convention, late last month in Springfield, MA. Colleagues on the panel represented: CALLERLAB (http://www.callerlab.org), Contralab (http://www.contralab.net), Alliance of Round, Traditional and Square-Dance (http://www.arts-dance.org), United Square Dancers of America (http://www.usda.org/), Roundalab (http://www.roundalab.org), and the Canadian Square and Round Dance Society (http://www.csrds.ca). CDSS was invited to be on the panel and we were represented by Executive Director, Rima Dael.

Topics of discussion included:

  • What are the challenges facing folk dancing today?
  • What does your organization consider the greatest priorities to address?
  • Are there possibilities of sharing and coordinating projects to address these issues together?
  • What are your near term goals (next five years)?
  • What needs to happen so that we can expect active participation in the various forms of dance for the next 100 years?

Rima shared that we think the biggest challenge for our dance, music and song communities is time and money. With enough of both, all problems or challenges could be solved, but given that both time and money are scarce resources for all nonprofits and volunteer groups, we focus on three ways to help our communities be resilient:

  • building a pipeline of dancers, callers, musicians and organizers
  • problem identification/problem solving through sharing common issues and best practices
  • communication best practices online and offline

(These are three areas CDSS has identified through the Strategic Direction and specifically articulated in the “CDSS Theory of Change” section in our recent Education Report.

All the panelists shared concerns around time, money and cultivating volunteers needed to help keep our organizations going, and involving the younger folks in stewarding our art forms. Ironically, with many questions raised about how to involve youth, none were present in the conversation. Rima posed that we need to ask our younger constituents how to better engage them, and to consider defining what we mean when we say “youth”—in some instances, it could mean 40 or under, or students K–12, or young adults.

There was a lot of discussion around involving next generation and youth participants. CDSS was the only organization on the panel that promotes intergeneration programs and has weeklong summer camps that teach kids, youth and young adults dance, music and song skills.

It was an interesting discussion as the national organizations represented are all arts service organizations that serve their membership with programs and services from insurance to skill-building and best practice workshops. One thing we can learn from the Modern Western Square Dance groups are how connected many of them are with their local/regional Tourism Boards and the use of assisted hearing devices that are in sync with the caller’s microphone; these are two areas CDSS would like to investigate more. David Millstone, CDSS President, also in attendance at the panel discussion (and, in his teacher/caller’s role, leading several dance workshops at the Convention), shared with the panel and audience the new New Hampshire Art Council social dance map, based on West Virginia’s Mountain Trail Dance Map.

It was great to see so many folks in downtown Springfield, from all over the country, dressed in their formal square dance attire. This was the Convention’s first visit to New England; we look forward to seeing them again soon.

 

American Week, Pinewoods 2014

by Chuck Abell

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Photo by Garrett Fondoules

When I first heard about the Country Dancers of Rochester (CDR) scholarship program for CDSS camps, I developed an immediate interest. As a new caller—and as an experienced musician—I was looking for any opportunities to hone my skills in both areas, and just to collaborate with other callers and musicians.

Having never been to Pinewoods before, I was initially struck by the mellow, woodsy environment, along with the two beautiful lakes/ponds situated next to the camp. Pinewoods is truly a New England paradise. The next revelation was the outdoor dance pavilion, again tucked back in the woods. There really is nothing like dancing outdoors in a covered pavilion in mid-August. From the first night it was evident that magical things would happen in the pavilion over the course of the week—in many ways, it was really the center of the camp. The final thing that struck me right from the start was the diversity and the energy of the campers. I confess, I was bracing for something perhaps a little more on the stuffy side when I first registered, but that notion was well wide of the mark —teenagers, college students, young couples, middle-agers, and more “seasoned” dancers all converged at the camp for a week of creativity and true rejuvenation.

Some snapshots of the next six days:

  • Gathering at 10 am every morning for Phil Jamison’s Southern Squares class. What a great tradition, and a great teacher. Having no sense of what distinguished a Southern Square from a New England or Western square, I quickly came to understand that Southern Squares are about improvisation, about calling to the beat of the music, not to the phrasing. What a liberation! For the rest of the week, we took turns inventing—and calling—squares to the great old time music of Julie Metcalf and company, always under the skillful guidance of Phil, who really seems to me to be David Kaynor’s long-lost Southern brother! Well, brothers in spirit at least….
  • David Cantieni’s “tunes by ear” class which became a virtual playground of ideas and genres. Being one of the few instrumental “ensemble” classes, we were charged with preparing each evening’s “processional”—a joyous musical march through the darkening woods just before the evening dance. (“When the Saints Go Marching In” never sounded so good!)
  • The daily camp gathering that followed morning classes, but preceded swimming and lunch. A time for jokes, songs, stories, contests, and other spontaneous acts of generosity by staff and campers alike. It was the one time of the day when we really came together as a single camp, and it was an honor to see otherwise taciturn campers get up and perform in front of 150 audience members.
  • The Roadhouse after-dance party, midweek. Okay, I’m biased here—being one-third of the nominal “house band” charged with backing up a small parade of crooners, blues singers, and jazz soloists—with a room full of enthusiastic swing, blues, and bossa nova dancers—is right where it’s at for me. They pretty much had to drag us off the stage at 1:30 am.
  • Emily Troll’s music ensemble class—that is, band class for musicians. Okay, I confess, some of the “touchy/feely” interpersonal games at the start of each class reminded me a little too much of the upcoming school year (not an image I wanted to entertain), but once we got past those, the class was really useful and helped spawn several small instrumental ensembles that took the stage at Camper’s Night (see below).
  • Gaye Fifer’s “Dutch Crossing”—hard to really put this into words, but definitely a highlight of the week. Look it up on YouTube if you want. Basically, a dance that requires 16 couples, takes 55 (intense) minutes to teach, and five minutes to actually dance. A great teamwork activity.
  • Swimming Squares. Yes, real Southern square dances, performed while swimming in the lake. Not only hilarious but a great form of exercise. Just be careful when “ducking for the oyster.”
  • Camper’s Night—a true highlight. A chance for (very talented) campers to run the evening dance. Somehow, I ended up in five to six music ensembles, so I never got to dance until the second half, but it was well worth it. A memorable, and somewhat revolutionary, segment: David Cantieni’s entire ear training class joined by Ann Percival’s entire chorus class performing “Wimoweh” as a contra dance set. It actually works!

And the list of highlights goes on: the food, the lodges, the pre-dinner parties, the after-dance parties, the midnight swimming, the networking, the afternoon old time jam sessions led by Larry Unger, the not-so impromptu marshmallow fight at dinner one night, the full moon over the lake as I drifted to sleep in my bunkhouse…

Looking back, both my calling and my playing have improved as a result of being at American Week—not only do I have an expanded repertoire of dances and tunes, but my skills have sharpened considerably. Had it not been for the CDR grant, and matching CDSS scholarship, I most certainly would have missed out on an invaluable experience.

Chuck Abell is a contra dance caller and musician from Rochester, NY. His band, Tempest, featuring fiddler Tim Ball and several other great western NY musicians, just released its first full-length CD, Equilibrium, and will be touring extensively over the next year to promote the release. Keep an eye out for them, or visit www.chuckabell.com for more info on the band.

Come to American Dance and Music Week at Pinewoods, August 8-15, http://www.cdss.org/american.html. Or the equally fine Harmony of Song and Dance, July 25-August 1, http://www.cdss.org/harmony.html. Space is available, and so are scholarship funds until we run out. To read about all our programs at Pinewoods (MA), Ogontz (NH) and Timber Ridge (WV), see https://view.publitas.com/country-dance-and-song-society/country-dance-song-society-2015-camps/page/1. Questions? Call Country Dance and Song Society, 413-203-5467 x 2.

 

Trad Dance & Music Exhibit Opens in New Hampshire

by Lisa Sieverts

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Image: mid-1850s Dance Prompter’s Notebook

Interested in the history of contra and square dance? Come to Peterborough, New Hampshire, to view an exhibit opening on January 24, 2015:  “Gents Bow, Ladies Know How: Traditional Dance and Music in the Monadnock Region 1750-2015.”

“Gents Bow, Ladies Know How” traces the long history of traditional dance and music in southwestern New Hampshire from Colonial times to the present, with an emphasis on the 18th and 19th centuries. The Monadnock region of New Hampshire is one of the few places in the country where these dances have been done continuously since the mid-1700s.

The exhibit features artifacts, documents, instruments, photographs and audio recordings.  In addition to the on-going exhibit, there will be a series of presentations scheduled monthly beginning in February.

“Gents Bow, Ladies Know How” will be open to the public through May 23, 2015. The Monadnock Center’s regular hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM, and admission is $3.00 (free for Monadnock Center and Country Dance and Song Society members). The exhibit takes place in the historic Monadnock Center building in Peterborough, New Hampshire at 19 Grove Street.

Two local organizations, the Monadnock Center for History and Culture and the Monadnock Folklore Society, have partnered to develop this exhibit. Generous grant funding was received from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. In addition, the Animal Care Clinic-Monadnock has sponsored the exhibit—the owner is the grandson of the caller Duke Miller.

The Country Dance and Song Society was the inspiration for this exhibit—the idea arose as the Monadnock Folklore Society brainstormed how to participate in the celebration of the CDSS Centennial.

For more information call 603-924-3235 or visit http://www.MonadnockCenter.org.

The Monadnock Center for History and Culture is a community museum that has been dedicated to preserving and celebrating local history and culture since its founding in 1902. The Monadnock Folklore Society was founded in 1980 to increase the visibility of folk dance and music events in southern New Hampshire and provide educational services in the folk arts to the community.

Lisa Sieverts is an experienced project manager and facilitator, and owner of Facilitated Change. She is a longtime contra dancer and caller, and a regular caller at Nelson, NH’s Monday night dances. Lisa is a CDSS member and a member of the Monadnock Folklore Society’s board.

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Monadnock region of New Hampshire, named after Mount Monadnock

 

 

How to Photograph a Contra Dance

by Doug Plummer

Doug Plummer is well known in the dance community nationwide as that guy who takes all the dance photos and videos and puts them all over Facebook and in a calendar. Since 2012 he has self-published the Contradance Calendar, a premium wall calendar that captures the best contra dance moments from around the country. To get a 2015 calendar, support the Kickstarter campaign for it, which is live from now until September 11, or buy one from the CDSS store come November.

South Coast Folk Society contra dance at Green Acres Grange Hall, Coos Bay, OR

South Coast Folk Society contra dance, Green Acres Grange Hall, Coos Bay, OR, 2014 (Doug Plummer)

There is no such thing as a photograph of a contra dance. The only thing we can capture is a moment in a dance. So the first thing is to identify that: a moment that might be captured.

Actually, let’s back up. The first thing is to identify how we feel at a given moment. When we dance, we go through a series of fleeting emotions. There’s the cordial greeting of a hands four. There’s the ramp-up anticipation of a balance. The connection of an allemande. The dramatic feeling of a wall of you convening and receding in a great long line. The delight of a new neighbor. The alarming stare down contest of a gypsy. The consummation of a lovely, long swing with your beloved partner, until you dump her for the next dance.

Contra dance, AmWeek, Jones Gulch YMCA Camp, CA.

Contra dance, Bay Area CDS’s American Week, Jones Gulch YMCA, La Honda, CA, 2014 (Doug Plummer)

When you watch a dance, those moments and feelings have physical expressions. There are bodies in contact and in connection that you can isolate and capture. That is the reason to have a camera at a dance—to more deeply connect with those significant, fleeting moments full of feeling, and to maybe stop and hold one.

So, given that, what do you do to take a photograph that holds all that ambition? The first trick is to watch for just a single moment that you emotionally connect with. Shoot only that. Thirty-two beats later, it comes around again. Keep whacking away. How you feel inside is your signal that you might be getting closer.

Here is maybe the most important advice to becoming a better photographer. Don’t stare at the back of your camera at what you just did. Don’t pay any attention to the results of your shooting. It only takes you away from the moment. All that investment in getting connected with the dance, with the dancers, with the beat and rhythm and the energy surrounding and carrying you away—look at the screen for longer than a second and you’ve left the room. It takes great effort to reenter. Edit when you get home.

Another tip: get close. Get within elbow dodging range. Make people know you’re there. Be engaged with them. If someone doesn’t want you there, you’ll feel it and you can adjust. But that rarely happens. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t feel you have to be a wallflower in order not to be one. Everyone notices the person trying to photograph unobtrusively. If you’re in the middle, you disappear.

The first thing I tell my workshop students is, go forth and fail. You have great aspirations to capture the perfect moment, and mostly you won’t. That’s part and parcel of the creative process. You flail and you fail again and again, and then, you get a glimmer of something that’s starting to work, and you chase that and see if you can do it again. It doesn’t matter a whit what kind of camera you use. The process of creative growth doesn’t care.

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Wasatch Wiggle, Salt Lake City, UT, 2013 (Doug Plummer)

Photography, especially in the digital age, is an act of great profligacy. That’s not to say that you shoot indiscriminately and without intention. Just the opposite. It takes a great deal of attention and effort to stay deeply connected with the moment, and from that connection comes the urge to click the shutter. It might happen a lot of times in a few seconds, particularly in the complex, dynamic environment of a contra dance hall, as a feeling hits. I rarely come away from an evening of photographing a dance with fewer than two or three hundred exposures. And I don’t sit out that many dances.

And when you do sit at your computer that night, posting on Facebook? Don’t post the two dozen variations of a single move that are pretty good. Post only the best one. The fewer shots you post, the better photographer people think you are. And it indeed makes you a better photographer.

This article is in the Fall 2015 issue of the CDSS News in both print and online versions.

Handing on the Tradition

by Zoë Madonna

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Outside the dance hall (Photo by Zoë Madonna )

The 2014 Ralph Page Legacy Weekend’s Saturday dance was buried in eight inches of wet, heavy snow that started falling at about ten in the morning and did not stop till late evening. Fortunately, the gym of the Memorial Union Building at the University of New Hampshire was heated enough to keep everyone comfortable. The kind of vigorous dancing that makes dancers sweat through their shirts was nowhere to be found at Ralph Page; even after three hours of dancing, I was hardly tired. The tunes were played at a moderate pace, some dances didn’t have partner swings, and one of the staff callers tells me he’s never used a calling card in his life.

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The past into the future (Photo by Zoë Madonna)

The Ralph Page weekend is more of a celebration of social dancing history and tradition than it is a modern “dance weekend.” A loop of David Millstone’s documentaries on Dudley Laufman and the history of contra in New England played in one room, where dancers could rest their feet. Memory books about now-deceased Ralph Page mainstays were laid out on a table. Workshops and dance sessions were themed around the past; a retrospective of mentors (Bob McQuillen, Larry Jennings, Ralph Sweet, Marianne Taylor), a program themed around one of Ralph Page’s Tuesday night dances at the Boston YWCA, and a session of “contras and squares that folks think ‘Dudley doesn’t know.’” “Dudley” is Dudley Laufman, who made immeasurable contributions to getting youth involved in contra dancing in the 1960s. He still plays fiddle and accordion, calling while he plays.

I was there because I’d gotten a calling scholarship, so I was in attendance at Dudley’s workshop on the “dos and don’ts of calling.” He hadn’t come with any dos and don’ts past “don’t ask at the beginning how many people are there for their first time” and “don’t let the band boss you around,” but the other attendees had plenty of questions for him and he had plenty of stories to tell, like the time he and his wife Jacqueline played a gig on a Boston Harbor yacht for a convention of insurance salesmen, during which they had to wear full colonial dress and were  not allowed to speak to their fellow performers or the audience. Dudley is in his 80s and had heart surgery recently, but that isn’t stopping him from calling barn dances. These days, a Dudley set usually consists of a few chestnut contras, some circle dances, a New England style square, and a Sicilian circle or two. Moves that have become commonplace in modern contra, such as the hey for four and gypsy, cannot be found in Dudley’s sets.

Dudley also had plenty of questions for me, whipping around with surprising speed for someone his age every time he remembered something he wanted to ask. “If a bus full of Girl Scouts, no, if a bus full of people with Down’s Syndrome pulls up and everyone comes in, what are you going to call?” I puzzled that question over for a minute before saying I’d call the simplest circle mixer I know. “Would you have them change partners?” asked another caller. I didn’t know what to answer. I still have a long way to go.

The defining moment of Ralph Page for me happened during lunch on the final day. As I was walking through the cafeteria, the jam session that had been playing struck up Money Musk. Two couples set up at one end of the cafeteria aisle and called for a third; I grabbed a partner and we three couples started dancing. No calls were needed. We all knew this dance. By the time my partner and I were waiting at the top, the line was at least twelve couples long. By the time the dance ended, there were at least twenty couples on the line: a good quarter of the people at the weekend, dancing Money Musk in a cafeteria for fifteen minutes with unabashed joy.

The Ralph Page Legacy Weekend was created in 1988 to recognize the contributions that caller Ralph Page (1903-1985) made to contra and New England folk dancing. It’s held the weekend before the third Monday in January (MLK, Jr. Day), at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH and sponsored by the New England Folk Festival Association.

A singer, dancer, musician—and Oberlin junior―Zoë Madonna is interning with CDSS this month.

Youth Traditional Song: The New Kid’s Tale

by Zoë Madonna

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I was the Doctor in the mummer’s play. My role was a) to use the tiny flask and revive the Soldier and the Sailor after they had fought and killed each other, and b) make a glaringly obvious Doctor Who joke. (Photo by Suzanne Mrozak)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “youth” as “the time of life when someone is young” or “the early period of existence, growth, or development.” Something or someone is “youthful” when it “[has] or [shows] the freshness or energy of someone who is young,” or is “in an early stage of development.” With that in mind, was Youth Trad Song, which took place during the first weekend of January, a “youth” event? To encourage young people to attend Youth Trad Song, admission was balanced 80% “young” (under 50) and 20%  “young at heart” (over 50). Still, 40 or 45 years old is not considered a “youth” under most definitions; what, then, makes Youth Trad Song a youth event?

The answer to that question is involvement and openness. Before the weekend, a schedule of staff-led workshops was posted on the website, but the directing committee also actively sought submissions for camper-led workshops, with the reminder that anyone could schedule one at the last minute at the weekend; all that a would-be workshop leader had to do was write the location and the theme of the workshop on the giant schedule on the dining room wall. The result was a delightful, spontaneous hodgepodge of song (“Around the World in 80 Songs,” “the anti-pub sing,” “Georgian and Ukrainian harmony singing,” “camp songs with Jillian and Eevy!”) filling up every corner of the handful of buildings YTS occupied. There was room to create, and share creations and ideas; the only thing that everyone was asked to do for the weekend was learn “West Indies Blues” to sing together at the first dinner. The crowd didn’t even make it ten feet before breaking into “Bringing in the Sheaves,” kicking off a song circle that lasted till three AM.

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Sam Kleinman leads a song from the new shapenote tune book, The Shenandoah Harmony. (Photo by Zoë Madonna)

A perfect example of the kind of organic creativity YTS’s environment cultivates:  I participated in a mummer’s play during the open mic on Saturday night, in honor of Twelfth Night. The idea of doing the play had been brought up just that morning at breakfast by Marvin Warren, who had seen a good number of Twelfth Night plays but had yet to take part. After a bit of tossing ideas around at lunch (St. George? Sarcastic dragon?), we gathered enough people (Soldier, Sailor, Doctor, Chimney Sweep) to perform the stock play in the song “Rise Up, Jock.” We picked parts, added parts where they were needed (Old Father Christmas made an appearance in the guise of Brad from the Foggy Bottom Morris Men), we gathered and made props (most out of paper bags and duct tape, in keeping with the Paper Bag Mummers of Waltham’s tradition), learned the chorus to the song, found stock lines and insults thanks to Lynn Noel’s iPad, and found a willing stooge whose open mic performance Marvin (playing the fool) could interrupt by shouting “Room! Room!” and banging on a pan, announcing the arrival of the mummers. Five minutes before we went on, a woman named Rose volunteered to be Beelzebub and pass the hat at the end of the play, and we ended up raising some money for next year’s Youth Trad Song scholarship fund.

What does it take to be young at heart, or youthful? Some of the attendees, like myself, were at very early stages of our lives as folk singers. But then there were people at the event who have been singing for 50+ years, who have well established identities as performers and singers and leaders in folk and traditional music communities.  I wouldn’t have been too surprised if the veterans had cliqued up and did their thing while us kids did our thing, as I sometimes see at contra dance events. Instead, everyone sang like they were new and youthful and open to everything they heard, celebrating each contribution alike.

A singer, dancer, musician—and Oberlin junior―Zoë Madonna is interning with CDSS this month.

Exceedingly Good Song Night

by Zoë Madonna

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“And I bid you good night” (Zoë Madonna)

What do you get when you take a back room of a New York bar, fill it with singers coming out of varied folk traditions, sell them some food and beer, and then give them five hours to sing what they will? That’s Exceedingly Good Song Night, a monthly event in New York’s East Village run by acting coach Ken Schatz. Professional musicians and amateurs, experienced singers and first timers: generations mix and join in on the choruses at Exceedingly Good Song Night in a way I rarely see at any other traditional song event.

I went to my third EGSN last Sunday as part of a trip to New York which I wasn’t sure was going to happen until about a half hour before it did. There’s a loose theme every month; this month, the theme was “noise.” Ken serves as unofficial master of ceremonies, constantly looking around the room to make sure everyone who wants to sing gets a chance to sing, calling on people who might be shuffled into a corner of the small stage or otherwise not in the center of the room. One of Ken’s songs of choice for the night was “The Fox,” not to be confused with “What Does the Fox Say.” Most of my generation knows the story in that song through Peter, Paul and Mary’s kid’s album, but Ken’s version was set to a different melody with the relevant line “up jumped John, ringing on his bell.”

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Spontaneous blues dancing (Zoë Madonna)

Hunting songs were plentiful that night, probably because of all the hunting horns that usually appear therein; someone sang “Dido Bendigo,” and then Heather Wood, formerly of the Young Tradition, followed it with a parody version, as she sometimes does. Charlie, from Maine but visiting family in Brooklyn, sang “West Indies Blues.” There was a whole contingent down from Massachusetts at this Song Night; Nicole from Amherst sang a bluegrassy murder song (“ain’t nobody knocking at the door”), Mel from Boston sang “The Heavenly Aeroplane” (“this old world’s going to reel and rock”) and Laura from Williamsburg sang a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with a chorus borrowed from the Civil War (“shouting the battle cry of freedom”) and some decidedly not kindergarten-safe verses.

Most of the songs at Song Night have choruses or opportunities for harmonies, but most people are glad to take a little break from singing when someone wants to sing a story song or a ballad without a chorus. After Ken announced the next month’s theme, “Romance Or Lack Thereof,” I asked if it would be apropos to lead one that fit both themes and sang “The Little Duke Arthur’s Nurse,” a rare ballad with a happy ending about a man who hears his sweetheart singing (fitting both themes) and then escapes would-be killers by…listen to Frankie Armstrong’s version and find out.

Other songs I heard that night included a bunch of mountain spirituals, a handful of shanties, and one “Cherokee deer song” which is apparently supposed to travel through the ground into the leg of the deer and make the deer come to you so you may eat them. No deer showed up; they must have been stuck in the traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

In addition to all the singers, there was a healthy contingent of people with instruments who could improvise, so most of the songs ended up having a few instrument notes behind them. There were guitars, a banjo, a concertina, and a Shruti box present; the latter only came out to accompany its owner as a haunting drone under a ballad. Some people got up and waltzed during a song in 3/4 time, and during a blues number a few people got up to blues dance. Most of the songs were traditional or have been folk processed enough that they could be, but near the end of the night Ken requested a decidedly modern song and Will, from Montague, sang the “Ballad of the Button Box.” (“If you can type, you can play the concertina…”) Though I had the longest journey home (three and a half hours) this time out of any of my visits to Exceedingly Good Song Night, I was able to stay till the end for the first time; when I was living with my family, I always had to catch a train home well before closing, but this month, I was present to sing the last song, and joined in for the choruses on “And I Bid You Good Night.” I bundled myself into Will’s car and slept most of the way back to Massachusetts, tired, happy, and full of new old melodies.

Zoë Madonna is interning with us this month; her blog last week, abouther first dance experience, is here.

Encouragement

by Zoë Madonna

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Zoe, in blue.

In come I, an Intern, welcome or welcome not, sheltering from the polar vortex in Western Massachusetts and helping out at the CDSS office for my winter term project this year. I’m Zoe, I’m a junior at Oberlin College, and I’ve been dancing and singing since shortly after I started school there.

I don’t remember what or who exactly brought me to my first contra dance; someone had told me that it was a. fun, b. possibly relevant to my interests (I had started playing piano accordion a few months pre-college), and c. happening at the school gym on Friday night. I was only there for the last half of the dance, following a production of Waiting for Godot. I missed the beginner lesson and was therefore adrift on the floor; some people I knew from various other activities were there and asked me to dance. Initially I was terrified of messing up, of causing a traffic accident with another dancer, of being not fun to dance with. Unlike lindy hop, which I had begun to learn two months prior, my partners wouldn’t be stuck with clueless me for just three or four minutes, and the amount of damage I could do was significantly multiplied by the fact that contra required me to interact with everyone on the floor.

When I stopped looking at my feet after a few dances, I was pleasantly shocked by what I noticed passing in front of my eyes as I danced down the hall, allemanded my neighbor, and stumbled my way through my first attempts at a hey for four. These experienced dancers weren’t only tolerating the other newbies and me; they were smiling at us, helping us by way of a guiding hand or a point at what shoulder to pass. They were asking us to dance.

Like many of my generation, I’m quite wired into social media, and I once searched the “contra dance” tag on Tumblr to see if anyone else had posted stories or just snippets of their dancing lives. The most re-shared post on the tag was not wholly about dancing, but included a few sentences about the author’s negative experience wherein “barefoot dancers of all ages gave [the author and his friends] fierce stares and shouted directions at us when we failed to do what the dance dictated.” I have seen those same fierce stares directed at new dancers on multiple occasions in various scenes, when veteran dancers meet a newbie and see an obstacle to their enjoyment of the dance, rather than a future dance partner and community member. It takes courage to step onto a dance floor for the first time and meet the eyes of complete strangers, and when those first attempts are scoffed at or refused, one cannot expect that the new dancers will have any desire to return.

I left the gym that night riding on a cloud of endorphins kicked up by fiery fiddle notes, feet stamping the floor in unison, and the almost constant smiles of my partners and neighbors. If I had been met with the same reception as the discontented Tumblr author was, I cannot say whether or not I would have returned for the next dance (and the next, and the next, and…). Experienced dancers actively welcoming in new ones with a smile and a request to dance is the only way how the tradition will stay alive and evolve through my generation and all who will come later.

Small to Large Gifts—It All Helps!

by Rima Dael and Caroline Batson

Help us Help Teachers! CDSS + Valley Gives, Thursday 12/12/13, until midnight

CDSS VGIt’s Valley Gives Day, 12/12/13, the 24-hour e-philantrophy event! This year CDSS is raising funds to create online toolkits to help teachers and parents bring the rich heritage of North American and English traditional dance, music and song to more classrooms and communities. See recent blogs on CDSS’s website about why we think this is important.

Here’s what a gift, small or large, can do for us:

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Photo by Daniel Friedman

$12—Why give $12? Because today is 12/12! $12 is meaningful because it is about what one can spend on coffee easily in a week, if you’re getting regular coffee. If you’re getting lattes, $12 doesn’t get you through the whole week, but $12 is a meaningful commitment to help CDSS help teachers bring dance, music and song into classrooms.

$20—Dance, music and song are important in the lives of children. See Nils Fredland’s blog about teacher support. And this just in, we’ve got more requests from other schools to replicate the teacher training he just did with CDSS member David Wiley!

Erin Nolan_Karana and JuliaFWP2012$53—A tank of gas. We travel to speak to teachers and artists. CDSS Education Director, Pat MacPherson, used a tank of gas to go learn about the Common Core State Standards at a creativity conference where she met a professor from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA. At this conference there was learning and networking with teachers on how to use the Arts with the Common Core State Standards now adopted by most States.

$100—Online resources for teachers. We’ve talked to teachers who have asked us to provide them with online resources. Why online? It saves them time! Online resources will showcase teaching notes and how other teachers have used dance, music and song in their classrooms. Let’s make this happen for them!

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Photo by Paul Bestock

$250—We want to get with it, electronically! We have some great resources for teachers that exist in binder and booklet format, but need to embrace the 21st century to digitize and update these resources for use online.

$500—Tablets have become a great resource in the classroom. Not as heavy as a laptop, and a good way to read book, articles, research on the go and show videos. The e-book format is exciting for us as we envision a resource that will connect theory to practice and right on the same page a “how-to” video or audio! We’re excited to make this happen.

Donate before midnight! CDSS + Valley Gives

Legislative Testimony

by Rima Dael, CDSS Executive Director

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Rima and Sen. Connor Ives

This past Friday, Pat McPherson, Director of the CDSS Education Department, and I provided testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. State Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord) and Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives (D-Newburyport), Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee, are traveling around the state with fellow committee members to solicit ideas from the arts, cultural and tourism communities, and the general public, to help the Committee develop policies that strengthen arts, culture and tourism in Massachusetts.

Tourism is recognized as the third largest revenue producing industry in Massachusetts with a $3.6 billion payroll across 124,700 jobs. In 2011, 21.3 million people visited the state and spent $16.9 billion, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Tourist surveys consistently indicate that arts, culture and history are among the top reasons for choosing to visit our state. Nonprofit cultural organizations employ nearly 18,000 Massachusetts residents, generating $28 million in payroll taxes and $1.2 billion in annual in-state spending.

“Tourism and the arts bring Massachusetts to life,” said Atkins. “People come from all over the world to visit Walden Pond, Tanglewood, the Freedom Trail and our other internationally renowned destinations. Our artists, dancers, and musicians produce captivating works that produce jobs and showcase the creativity of our Commonwealth. On this tour, our Committee will explore the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Massachusetts, its impact on our economy and our communities, and ways the Legislature can help sustain it for future generations.”

Our primary goal of providing testimony was to raise the visibility of traditional dance, music and song in Massachusetts and showcase the good work of the Country Dance and Song Society over the past 98 years.

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Rima and Rep. Andrews

“I look forward to visiting different parts of the state and working with the Regional Tourist Councils to promote these areas and the attractions that they offer in an effort to encourage economic growth throughout the Commonwealth,” said Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives.

Senator O’Connor Ives and I shared a fun moment as fellow alums of Mt. Holyoke College. Rep. Andrews, a member of the committee, came up to ask advice from CDSS on thoughts and resources for bringing dance to a community in her district and engaging children and their families in participatory dance. Also in attendance were Linda Henry, CDSS Outreach & Grants Manager; Lynn Nichols, CDSS Webmaster; and CDSS member Alex Krogh-Grabbe of Amherst.

CDSS is working on creating toolkits to provide to members with best practices to engage local elected leaders to increase the visibility of traditional dance, music and song, and provide testimony on the value of our participatory arts in our communities. We thank the Massachusetts Cultural Council for their on-going support of our work and thanks to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development for their time visiting towns around Massachusetts.