Monthly Archives: December 2010

New Year’s Deadlines: Grants and Gift Memberships

“Happy Almost 2011” from the CDSS office! A few timely notes….


Just a quick reminder that the next CDSS grant deadline is January 1st, so finish up those applications and get them in.

If you are interested in applying for a grant in the future, here’s what you need to know:

  • Deadlines are quarterly, so the next deadline is coming up April 1st. (All the dates: January 1st, April 1st, July 1st and October 1st.)
  • CDSS provides grants, loans, and financial backing.
  • Kinds of projects we have assisted: dance weekends, mentorships and training, conferences, and more.
  • Our goal is to assist projects that will benefit the dance and song community. If you are in doubt about whether you qualify for CDSS assistance, please just get in touch.

If you’d like to find more, read the full guidelines, see a selection of projects we’ve assisted, or download the application (pdf).

Gift Memberships

Just a reminder that New Year’s eve is the last day our gift memberships are available with our holiday discount. A great gift for students, young families, new dancers, the musicians or organizers in your community — the possibilities are endless! Support CDSS and the work we do.

Morris Dancing Is Cool

The holidays deserve a bit of fun, so here’s a video from across the pond. It’s a selection from the BBC show Argumental where teams comedically debate a proposition, in this case: Morris dancing is cool. Special guests are London’s Greensleeves Morris Men. Please note the content is slightly PG-13 rated, and not just because of the morris dancing.

The proposition doesn’t quite win out, but it’s clearly close. Compelling arguments are made on both sides; I’ll admit it’s hard to argue with the point that morris dancing is indeed “the least stealthy of the martial arts”.

More reflectively, it’s revealing to see something folky through the vantage point of mainstream coverage, particularly when that coverage is neither entirely reverent nor mocking. This clip gives us that unusual vantage, with good fun being poked against the background of a fair amount of respect, from both sides, for morris and morris dancers. And after all, who can disagree with the ultimate conclusion that if morris dancers are not cool, they certainly are hot?

Are there other interesting examples of mainstream media attention to traditional dance/music/song that come to mind? What do see in the relationship between the traditional and mainstream? Is morris the least stealthy of the martial arts? Your comments welcome.

– Max

George Pickow, 1922-2010

Photo by Steve Guglielmo. (From

George Pickow, photographer and husband to singer Jean Ritchie, passed away earlier this month.

An excerpt from the New York Times obituary:

Working quietly behind the scenes, Mr. Pickow documented the bubbling cultural ferment of New York City, and in particular Greenwich Village, where he and Ms. Ritchie lived after their marriage in 1950. For Elektra Records and other labels, he photographed folk singers like Josh White, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins and, of course, Ms. Ritchie, as well as jazz and pop artists like Little Richard, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Nina Simone and Louis Jordan.

As the Times relates, George met his wife at a square dance in 1948 and became an important photographer of folk singers. He also manufactured dulcimers for a decade. He collaborated with his wife on a number of books, including providing the wonderful photographs in Jean Ritchie’s Swapping Song Book.

Thistle and Shamrock’s December 16th broadcast is about Jean Ritchie and dedicated to Mr. Pickow’s memory. The New York Times also published an article in 1999 about Mr. Pickow, entitled “Stepping Out from the Camera”.

You can view some of his photography from Getty Images. The James Hardiman Library in Galway hosts a collection of photographs from Ireland 1952-3, which includes some fine portraits of familiar musicians among other subjects:

Photo by George Pickow: Tommy Makem on accordion, Jack Makem on piccolo, and John Conway on fiddle. (From the James Hardiman Library.)

People have been sharing their stories and expressing condolences at The Mudcat Cafe and Ms. Ritchie’s Facebook page.

Seven Questions for Larry Unger

Larry UngerLarry Unger has more miles under his belt than just about any other contra musician. For more than 25 years, he’s been on the road playing countless dances and composing hundreds of tunes. Recently his band Notorious — with Eden MacAdam-Somer (fiddle), Sam Bartlett (mandolin), Mark Hellenberg (percussion), and Mark Murphy (bass) — released their third album, The Road to Damascus. I sat down with Larry recently and asked him a few quick questions….

1. What music are you listening to at the moment?

  • Ozarks Fiddle Music. I bought this great book and CD, It’s fantastic! There are a lot of tune books in the world, but this is well-done, I think.
  • Etta Baker: Banjo. I’ve been listening to it over and over again, recently. She was a blues guitarist that I knew and I used to visit her. She was known for her guitar playing, but I knew she played the banjo and thankfully there are enough recordings of it.

2. What are a few of your all-time favorite albums?

3. What’s one of your all-time favorite tunes?

Tour of Scotland by Randy Miller. When I used to play with Rodney [Miller], I used to always ask him for that because I knew he played it. Of course, depending on the fiddler, I always ask for the Opera Reel. And of course Money Musk when the opportunity presents itself.

4. What’s one of the all-time favorite tunes you’ve written?

Two Rivers. It’s an old one. It’s 25 years old. I still like it though.

5. What’s an instrument that you don’t play but wish you could?

Well I don’t play the fiddle all the time! [Laughs.] I hold it in my hands and scratch away. As far as something that I really wish I could play that I don’t play at all, that would be Tejano music, Tex-Mex accordion like Flaco and Santiago Jiménez play. I just love that kind of music. That and the Cajun accordion.

6. In five words, describe your musical style.

“Can’t. Be. Done. Not. Today.” [Laughs.] “A. Little. Bit. Of. Everything.” Someone once said something about me, in a newspaper article or something, and I think it’s pretty good. As far as contra dance playing, they said, I had “the right hand of an old time player, but the left hand of a Celtic player.” I like that, but that’s too many words.

7. Any cool plans coming up?

In January, [Eden and I] will be in London at the Cecil Sharp House and then the next morning we fly to Afghanistan, teaching kids at a school there. It’s going to be a big challenge. We feel like this is something that we’ll be doing that is good for the world. Playing for dancing is fun and does make people’s lives better, but this is important in a different way.

Larry Unger and Eden MacAdam-Somer will be leading our American Dance Musicians course at Pinewoods next summer.

To purchase The Road to Damascus and other Larry Unger CDs and book, visit the CDSS store. -Max

Jane Austen’s 235th Birthday

Happy Birthday Jane!

Jane Austen was born 235 years ago today. Given the emphasis of “the felicities of rapid motion” in her work, it’s an opportunity to introduce folks to English country dance, as they are doing in Frankfort, Kentucky, among other places. Or maybe just indulge in a little Colin Firth:

… and then learn it. Or analyze it.

Though you might be concerned about your health if there’s no dancing tonight, rest assured. It was Jane Austen, herself, who observed in Emma:

Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind….

Perhaps you could spend the day making arrangements for the Jane Austen Festival, which should have some nice dancing. Or reading a Jane Austen blog or two, where the dancing gets more than the passing mention.

Am I missing something? Share it in the comments.


Thanks to Allison Thompson for some fun and informational links. Read her enjoyable new paper, “The Rules of the Assembly: Dancing at Bath and Other Spas in the Eighteenth Century” which was just posted online. She also shared the very funny Jane Austen’s Fight Club youtube video.

EFDSS: Teaching Traditional Song

Fun With Folk

While checking out the other day, I found a cool resource for teachers who are interested in incorporating traditional English song and singing games into their curriculum. Fun with Folk was created as part of the Take 6 Project, funded in England by the Heritage Lottery Fund and delivered to EFDSS in 2008-9.

Fun with Folk features 15 songs from Lancashire, Hampshire, and London with words and audio. And most importantly, there are extensive Teacher’s Notes with objectives, activities, local study suggestions, and websites for each region’s songs in the categories of: history, literacy, music, dance, physical education, art and design, and math.

These are fun, easy-to-use, colorful and kid-friendly resources. My favorite part was the staff room which addresses that age-old concern: I can’t sing!! You DO want to get over that, and it helps you learn how.


Tradition and Change

by Brad Foster, Executive & Artistic Director

I gave a keynote address to the Southeast Dance Leadership Conference in North Carolina in October of this year. I wanted to show the lively and innovative state of change of contemporary life, and to contrast that to similar change in the past. I chose three videos to make the point.

First, the Demon Barbers Roadshow, a performing group in England combining superb English clog, morris and sword with hip-hop:

The concept, as they say in the video, is “to try to see the similarity between traditional dance and modern dance, especially street dance and clog. Quite soon we realized that a lot of footwork was very, very similar.” This collaboration between traditions of dance — and, you’ll notice, music — yields a discovery that they aren’t so different. In a sense, of course, morris is street dance, too.

On our side of the pond, another kind of fusion is going on with contra dancing right now, as in this video from Seattle:

Techno contra: hard, driving beat, sampled music, glow sticks, hot and sweaty dancing, and new moves. In addition to great camera work from Doug Plummer, there’s another reason I highlight this video in particular. Techno contras emerged, as much as you can pinpoint these things, in the Asheville, NC area only a couple of years ago. Amazing how widely it has spread in that short time!

Techno contra is one current manifestation of taking tradition and playing with it, but here’s the 1964 version:

Nelson, NH with Dudley Laufman calling. It’s an encounter between generations of dancers: there are the old-timers and then there are the newer, mostly younger dancers. How joyful and familiar it is to watch their interactions, all contained within a single community. It’s essentially the same experience we have still. In the Nelson video, you can see some of the traditions that were changing back then, but you’re also seeing what’s happening now. I love how we now take for granted things I remember as radical to us 30 or even 20 years ago. Twirls of all kinds. The twos joining in Petronella!

The fact that we have fusion is nothing new. Often you are in the middle of it and you don’t notice it until something unexpected happens. But in truth, the unexpected keeps happening. Traditions will adapt. The forms will change.

Are techno contra and hip-hop morris part of our future? In both cases I’m sure the answer is “definitively maybe” or “sort of”. It’s likely some elements will make their way into the run-of-the-mill, as happened with swing moves in contra dancing. Both will influence our traditional arts but won’t become those arts. Even techno contra is morphing, with people saying, “That’s nice, but I want to try taking it in yet a different direction.”

I find all of this fascinating and exciting. The chaos that comes from all this change is a very good sign. It’s a sign our traditions are alive.

So, how does all this speak to your experiences? What changes and innovations have you seen? Which are on the horizon? And, of course, what aspects of our traditions remain unchanged?

– Brad