Last updated March 17, 2021

CDSS is delighted to introduce you to our Cultural Equity Advisory Group! We are convening this group to help us move forward in our commitment to cultural equity, and we are excited to work with this group of people on this important project. The group will meet regularly over the course of a year, and will analyze the organization from an equity perspective and provide recommendations for things that we need to change.

Here's a look at some of our ongoing work to enact our core value of Inclusivity and combat racism:

  • In February of 2020, the Board initiated development of an inclusivity statement for CDSS. Staff members researched inclusivity and equity statements from organizations similar to ours, began drafting, and solicited feedback from select members of our community who could provide a variety of perspectives. Right now, we are incorporating that feedback and settling on a final version that we will share with our wider community. Staff has established a team to develop plans for implementing this statement throughout our programs and operations.

  • In April 2020, we had our first equity training session for the full Board and Staff, and we are committed to continuing with additional sessions.

  • We are amplifying the work of Black traditional music and dance artists on our Facebook page. Send us a message there; we’d love to share your favorite artists, too!

  • In August 2020, we created a new inclusivity section of the Resource Portal. This section includes links to articles, podcasts, videos, and other resources about the intersection of race and traditional dance and song. This section also includes resources about different intersections: gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, etc.

  • Recognizing that true change must include the whole community, CDSS Community Grant funds can now be used for equity and anti-racism training for local dance organizer teams. Priority will be given to CDSS Affiliates. Moving forward, we will expand this funding to other capacity-building efforts.

  • We are owning our history. Cecil Sharp’s work teaching English country dance and documenting songs and dances from people in Appalachia (1916-1918) inspired a group of Americans to create the organization that later became CDSS. Sharp was a passionate student of English and Anglo-American folk traditions who traveled to white mountain communities and collected music with ties to his native England. Sharp’s racist and anglo-centric worldview caused him to ignore and exclude traditions, including Black traditions, that he deemed less valuable. These actions set a false narrative of single-influence traditions that many song collectors and folk dance historians later adopted without question, and that was later reinforced and legitimized during the folk and dance revivals.1 This is just one example of how the full history of traditional music and dance has been obscured for many years. We are committed to elevating resources that represent a broader, more accurate understanding of traditional dance, music, and song on this continent.

  • We are open to feedback. The vast majority of our staff, Board, and community is white. We will mess up. We will listen. We will keep going. Thank you for being here with us.

Here are ways you can further this work in our communities:

  1. Commit to learning more! Most of us know a very whitewashed history of the traditions we participate in. There are loads of things to read, watch, and listen to that can help us see a more full picture of the ongoing history of traditional dance and song in North America. A selection of these resources is below, and more will be listed in our Resource Portal ASAP. We’d love to include your favorite resources on these topics! Email us.

  2. Listen to Black, Brown, and Indigenous people singing and playing a variety of American folk traditions. Buy their music!

  3. For Organizers: Publicly state your support of anti-racism work. Share anti-racism resources with your community. Organize equity training sessions for your board and volunteers. And remember that if you apply for a CDSS grant, we’ll help you pay for it!

  4. For Participants: Get involved! Find out if you can join your local organization’s board, or volunteer in another way to help your community engage in this work. And talk about the things you’re learning with the folks you sing and dance with!

For further reading and listening:

  1. 8 Ways to Become a Decolonizing Agent, from Decolonizing the Music Room
  2. Community and Connection, Rhiannon Giddens’s Keynote Address at IBMA 2017
  3. Sing, Don’t Shout—An Alternative Approach, from Crys Matthews
  4. Addressing Racism as a Dance Community, from Portland Intown Contra Dance
  5. Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics, by Phil Jamison

1 Filene, Benjamin. Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music. University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Cultural Equity Advisory Group

Dena JenningsDena Ross Jennings
(Group Facilitator)

Dena Ross Jennings (she/her) is a human rights activist, musician, instrument-maker, and a medical doctor, and brings over 20 years of experience working on conflict transformation with her organization Imani Works.

You can find out more about Dena’s work on her website.

Hannah AssefaHannah Assefa

Hannah Assefa (she/her) is an elementary educator who has worked with children for most of her life, whether it be through private instruction in traditional fiddle or as an educator in the classroom. She grew up in Northern Vermont playing Scottish and Cape Breton style fiddle. Hannah has taught in various classroom settings from early childhood education to elementary and, in each environment, she has worked to make a classroom community in which each student is celebrated, nurtured, seen, and heard.

Hannah currently teaches kindergarten at Milton Elementary School. She holds a Master of Education degree in curriculum & instruction from Southern New Hampshire University (2016) and a Bachelor of Arts degree in music & elementary education from Saint Michael’s College (2013).

Cayley BucknerCayley Buckner

Cayley Buckner (she/her or they/them) will be graduating from the University of Florida in May 2021 with a B.A. in English and a B.S. in natural resource conservation and a minor in education. She is passionate about outdoor education. She fell in love with contra dancing in August 2016 at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC.

Cayley is the 2020-2021 president of the Gainesville Oldtime Dance Society, where she has been a strong advocate for gender neutral calling, especially positional calling. She is also the co-founder of the Safety Team (a group of individuals who ensure that all feel welcome and secure) and the I.D.E.A. (inclusivity, diversity, equity, and accessibility) subcommittee (which brings a diverse group of individuals together to address social justice issues within our community).

Rima DaelRima Dael

Rima (she/her) has over 25 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations in public media, arts, education & the human service sectors. She is currently the general manager at WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, CT, having previously worked at New England Public Radio in Springfield, MA. Rima is passionate about the essential role of public media in our communities and the transformational power of the arts. Rima was the executive director for the Country Dance & Song Society during its centennial celebration in 2015, transitioning the membership organization to a capacity building, arts service organization through a multi-city community residency model to build resilient dance, music, and song communities and improve skills of dance organizers. Rima was also a founding faculty member in the Nonprofit Management & Philanthropy master's degree program at Bay Path University. She continues to enjoy teaching online as an adjunct professor in the program.

Originally from the Philippines, Rima spent her early years in Connecticut, and in several Southeast Asian countries with her family attending international schools. Living overseas also exposed Rima to military coups in Thailand, the People’s Revolution in the Philippines, and she participated in the Tiananmen Square protests in Hong Kong as a teenager. These foundational experiences brought forth Rima’s interest in working in mission driven organizations that promote social justice and community advancement.

Rima received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and theater arts from Mt. Holyoke College. Her master’s degree is in nonprofit management from the Milano School of Management & Urban Policy at the New School University, where she was a Community Development Finance Fellow.

Ezra FischerEzra Fischer

Ezra (he/him) started making the trip from his home in New Jersey to Pinewoods for Campers’ Week 30 years ago. Since then, that trip has become a regular part of his life and much shorter since he moved to the Boston area where he now lives in Arlington, MA. He was particularly thrilled to work for CDSS as a Salesforce admin and consultant over the past few years because of the opportunity to contribute to an organization that has been such a steadily positive influence on his life. Ezra dances with Still River Sword, sings with Boston Harmony, and studiously does not play either the trombone or concertina.

Nadia GayaNadia Gaya

Nadia Gaya (she/her) was the little kid sleeping under the piano at her fiddle-playing parents' gigs and grew up immersed in the traditional music and dance community of Western New York, where she was raised. Nadia currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and was on the organizing board of Brooklyn Contra from 2012-2015. Nadia currently dances and plays diatonic button accordion with the Ring O' Bells Morris team, plays piano for the CDNY in-house band, the Contrapolitans, and plays piano accordion with the scottish-inspired contra dance band, Torrent. When she's not playing, dancing, singing or crafting, Nadia is a tax attorney/accountant for an advertising technology company and is busy raising her 4-year old daughter in whom she hopes to foster a lifelong love of traditional music, song and dance.

Aravind NatarajanAravind Natarajan

Aravind Natarajan (he/him) is a contra dancer and identifies as a cis-hetero male from India. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, and is passionate about fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in academic spaces. He founded the Science Blender podcast to capture the experiences of scientists from diverse backgrounds and identities. He loves how music and dance bring people together and is eager to make this joy more widely accessible.

Stephanie Marie VoncannonStephanie Voncannon

Stephanie Marie Voncannon (she/her) is a contra dancer and caller in the Charlotte, NC, area. She has been dancing mostly in North Carolina since 2009 and calling regularly since 2013. Stephanie attended Lisa Greenleaf's week-long caller class at Pinewoods Camp in summer 2016. She has called at both mainstream and gender-free dances. Stephanie also enjoys helping others discover a love of dancing, whether calling or dancing at home. Stephanie was also very involved in the LGBT community in Charlotte, including planning the Transgender Day of Remembrance from 2008 to 2010.

Bailey WaltonBailey Walton

Bailey Walton (she/they) is a community organizer, research ethicist by trade, and banjo player from Missouri. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in public administration, and currently studies studio art. She is passionate about community-building, growing and sharing food, and connecting people with resources. She is excited to have the opportunity to provide her input in this advisory group as a relative newcomer to the traditional music community.

Earl WhiteEarl White

Earl White (he/him) has been a prominent member of the music and dance community for more than 50 years. He is an original and founding member of the famed Green Grass Cloggers. He is one of few Black Americans perpetuating Appalachian music, which was once an important part of Black communities. Now retired from healthcare as a Registered Respiratory Therapist, he continues to play music as a semi-professional, and co-owns and runs the Big Indian Farm sourdough bakery in Floyd County, VA.

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