Last updated September 29, 2022

The Cultural Equity Advisory Group met from March 2021 to March 2022 to critically analyze our programs, operations, and governance, and to provide recommendations for changes. In recognition of the importance of this work, members were paid an honorarium for their time, energy, and participation.

More about the Cultural Equity Advisory Group:

Cultural Equity Advisory Group Members

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.

Original Job Description

CDSS is convening a Cultural Equity Advisory Group to help us move forward in our commitment to cultural equity. We are asking ourselves: In a CDSS with a fully realized core value of cultural equity, how would things look/feel different? How would we know that we were successful in an ongoing way?

We recognize that our organization and leadership do not currently have the kind of representation—particularly of non-white people—needed for this work. We want to make decisions informed by the voices of the people most affected; however, we don’t want to tokenize anyone by placing the expectation of labor solely on them.

We are asking the Advisory Group to give guidance within the broad framework of our existing mission. We seek to support and promote the living traditions that are dear to us in ways that are actively anti-oppressive. We want to understand the ways that harm was done in the past and work to stop perpetuating that harm. We want to make sure that, in our work and play, we carry out our mission of strengthening and supporting communities in a way that builds more equitable relationships.

We are engaged in the process of analyzing how the ways that we operate – both historically and currently – contribute to inequity. We are re-evaluating our programming, research and scholarship, education, access, marketing, relationships with other organizations, organizational structure, and compensation. We are committed to investing labor and financial resources into this work.


The Cultural Equity Advisory Group will consist of a contracted facilitator and 6-10 people, drawn from our current communities as well as the larger participatory arts community and beyond. The group will prioritize the voices of those who have been marginalized and/or erased in the history and current practice of North American folkways. The group should also include a diversity of skill sets, including non-profit experience, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work, and historical scholarship.

Scope and Goals (what are we expecting the CEAG to have done by the end of their term)

  • The CEAG will be a primarily internally-focused group, evaluating the operations and programs of CDSS.
  • CEAG will provide CDSS with recommendations to improve cultural equity in these areas:
  • Help CDSS prioritize these recommendations and suggest action steps.
  • Reflect on our self-analysis and point us to areas and issues that we have overlooked.
  • CDSS will publish a report of the group’s recommendations as part of our accountability to the community.

CDSS commits to supporting the CEAG’s work, including in the following ways:

  • Conducting a critical internal analysis of current operations and programming
  • Sharing information with openness and transparency
  • Providing the CEAG with a critical summary of CDSS history
  • Providing access to staff and board leadership
  • Being accountable through public reporting and ongoing work informed by the CEAG’s recommendations
  • Providing opportunities to observe and participate in programs as well as office and board work.

Term of Service

We are asking that Advisors commit to 1 year of service, which will include attending monthly remote group meetings, and some research and preparation between meetings. The Facilitator will work with the Cultural Equity Task Group (staff and board) to create a timeline and benchmarks.


In recognition of the time and labor inherent in a working Advisory Group, CDSS is able to offer the Advisors an honorarium in the amount of $750. The Group Facilitator will receive a consulting fee of $3000.

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