Monthly Archives: November 2011

Puttin’ on the Dance conference a huge success

puttin' on the danceSeveral staff members have just returned from an AMAAZZZING weekend at Puttin’ on the Dance — A Conference for Northeast Dance Organizers! (See also Max’s field report about his experiences there.) The historic Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction, VT was full to the brim with nearly 80 dance organizers from New England, Ontario and beyond — NY, PA, MD, TN, MI and TX. The three-story building was abuzz with informative sessions, lively conversations and energizing activities throughout the weekend. This event, cosponsored by CDSS, DEFFA (DownEast Friends of the Folk Arts), NEFFA (New England Folk Festival Association, and Monadnock Folklore Society, was designed to bring much-needed resources and connections to these folks who work so hard to keep their dance communities alive and well. (Genres included contras, English country, squares, gender-role free and family/community dances.)

Another key element was rejuvenation! The whole crowd had great fun dancing together both evenings — at an all-conference dance Friday night (with multi-talented participants providing the calling and music) and at the 2nd Saturday contra dance in Norwich, VT.

Now picture this… All attendees bringing all these ideas back to their home communities throughout the continent and pouring this fresh energy into helping their dances thrive! Also many resources generated from the weekend will be posted on the Puttin’ on the Dance and CDSS websites.

The effects of a conference like this are far-reaching and long-lasting! CDSS will be actively supporting future regional conferences that will be happening throughout the continent. Next up is a Midwest conference for organizers and callers in Cincinnati, OH on Aug 10-12, 2012. For more info, contact Ryan Smith.

CDSS outreach work includes awarding grants to support events and projects that spread traditional music and dance. The next deadline is January 1, 2012. A grant application is online or contact Linda Henry, 413-203-5467 x 105 to share YOUR ideas for spreading music and dance in your area!

CDSS Is Listening

survey responses: dance

What areas of DANCE do you regularly participate in? (survey responses)

Thanks to all of you who took the time to provide feedback on our recent community survey. We heard from over 900 individuals representing 45 states, five Canadian provinces, and seven other countries. We also heard from a variety of local communities across North America who hosted meetings to talk about their hopes and dreams for CDSS. What an amazing response!

Eleven members of the CDSS Board, Staff, and Transition Task Group spent October 31 reviewing the data findings and suggestions from everyone. Despite a record snow storm, significant storm damage and power outages on the eve of the meeting, we were able to meet at the home of Steve Howe and Meg Ryan. Nancy Jackson, the transition consultant, facilitated our meeting.

What we learned from the data: Many people are not aware of the breadth of services and supports that CDSS is already providing.  Clearly, we need to communicate better! We also found overwhelming interest for CDSS to develop more ways for members and groups to connect with each other.

Following are some of the highlights of what we learned; stay tuned for a fuller report of survey findings.

This is a small sampling of the hundreds of ideas received from across the continent:

  • “Why can’t CDSS deliver workshops online or via skype technology?”
  • “Send callers/musicians to places that cannot afford the talent.”
  • “Partner with the National Dance Education Organization, made up of teachers of dance in schools.”
  • “Develop more technology communications (iPhone app, Google apps, dance locator and more) so we can use CDSS as a portal to link and connect with others.”
  • “Find a way to use members as volunteers to move the organization forward. Use the diverse talents of our members.”
  • “Expect more from member groups–provide us with tools (kits/posters/incentives/CDSS logo for our own website) so we can help talk about CDSS and all it has to offer.”
  • “Find ways to take resources, services and do more outreach outside of New England.”
survey responses: what should our broad goal be?

What should our BROAD goal be? (survey responses)

People also suggested the following six be our broad goal areas for the future:

  • Build wider awareness of, and participation in, our kinds of dance and music. (47%)
  • Become a central reference hub, online and offline. (36%)
  • Support local and regional initiatives to increase participation. (33%)
  • Produce great summer camps. (32%)
  • Encourage interaction among a wide network of dance and music communities. (28%)
  • Become a conversation hub for conversations and information sharing online and off. (20%)

We outlined the areas that we need to address first and began work on identifying priorities for the next three years. The day ended with an exciting discussion about desired skills, experience and style requirements for a new CDSS executive director; the job listing is now posted.

The Transition Task Group is grateful to all of you who took the time to share your thoughts. It was important to hear and respond to your ideas. We are optimistic about the future for CDSS that you are helping to shape.

Update 1/19/12: Detailed data

Download the PDF report (30pp).

Puttin’ on the Dance: Field Report

I’m pleased to bring you a report from the recent Northeast Organizers Conference, Puttin’ on the Dance.

Why a Conference?

This conference is the latest of a series of conferences for organizers that CDSS has helped sponsor in the last few years. I was privileged to attend the Southeast Dance Leadership Conference last year. These conferences have provided an opportunity for organizers of contra, English, and community/family dances to get together and create a shared discourse. Why might dance organizers want and need a conference like this? The Puttin’ on the Dance mission statement gives  a concise explanation:

[I]t is absolutely crucial to support those dance organizers, whose commitment of personal resources (time, energy, spirit, and sometimes money) manifests in such positive ways. We are thrilled that the Puttin’ On the Dance conference can be a vehicle for nourishing many of the people who are dedicated to “puttin’ on the dance” in their own home communities.

Attendees collaborate on volunteer ideas, in this case "How do you train your volunteers?"

That is to say, under the veneer of a volunteer effort, organizing a dance is a lot of demanding, complicated work, usually orchestrated by those caller/organizer Ralph Sweet has been quoted as calling “the overactive 10%”. It’s also fairly isolated. Dance organizers don’t get much of a chance to talk shop.

There are so many details that go into making a dance happen and it is essential to find ways to share the burden. David Millstone shared an amusing anecdote about the Nelson, NH dance, where every week they make the announcement “Who’s bringing cookies next week?” Often a volunteer emerges, but if silence ensues, the announcement is made, “Ok. No cookies, no dance.” Invariably someone volunteers for cookies and the Nelson dance continues.

After seeing two conferences, I can say they are a vital idea — a time and place to give and receive support, share ideas, make helpful contacts, and elevate the level of the discussion. Conference organizer Linda Henry described how attending the 2009 conference in Virginia helped her go from being about ready to give up on her dance to figuring out new and better ways to make it happen.

Here’s what it was like for me….

Getting There

I arrived at Puttin’ on the Dance, pulling up to the Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction, the lovely building the conference was taking over for the weekend. I had been asked to lead presentations on promoting youth participation and intergenerationality, based on my experience being the Youth Projects Intern at CDSS, so I sat in the lobby putting the finishing touches on my notes. This gave me the opportunity to watch as 78 dance organizers from throughout the Northeast United States and Canada (plus a few ringers from farther afield) converged. These were organizers of small dances, big dances, contra dances, English dances, family dances, gender-free dances, college dances, and dance weekends. As a musician who has visited a lot of the Northeast, it felt to me like we had a quorum of the Northeast here.

Emily Addison (of Ottowa) and Alex Krogh-Grabbe (of MA) give their joint presentation "To Facebook and Beyond: Online Marketing for Dance Series".

There was a lot to discuss over the next few days and the anticipation of jumping into discussion was palpable. Organizing dances is usually a volunteer affair, but it’s almost a job, with a lot of things to keep track of. There are a host of questions from the mundane to the philosophical. (How do you organize a committee? How do you keep up attendance? What do you do when an emergency arises? What is your vision?)

Dinner conversation was animated and energized, which continued to be the case at meals throughout the conference. And the plentiful amounts of tea and coffee became most welcome as the weekend wore on.

After dinner, we carpooled out to — what else? — put on a dance in local high school gym. Keeping the point of event close to our hearts, we’d also go out and dance the next night in Norwich, VT, where besides having a lot of fun in an amazingly packed hall (thanks to a huge group of high school and college students), we all got our picture taken. (See below.)

The Conference Gets Under Way

Vision. That was the topic we focused on as a group when Saturday morning began. The best organizers I know have clear (and usually written) visions and mission statements, so I was happy to see such an emphasis placed on the value of articulating a dances’ vision, as well as taking some time to workshop our visions with each other.

The late Larry Jennings’ wonderful and provocative writings — as in Zesty Contras, Give-and-Take, and The Contra Connection — have been an influence to me and others on the “vision” topic. His influence was particularly evident in this session. Session leader Bob Henshaw paraphrased the “Larry Jennings Principle”:

  • The dance belongs to the organizers, but remember that the dances are given for others. Make it what you want, if the dancers will come.
  • The dance may be for others, but do it only if it gives you joy and satisfaction, or it will burn you out.

We discussed how simply saying “I want a fun dance” is not specific enough. After all, what makes it fun to you? An articulated vision is also a key way of letting the callers, musicians, and especially dancers buy into making the dance together.

One of the "rules" of the un-conference session.

Afterwards, I headed off to lead my session, Promoting Youth Participation: Ideas and Practical Tips, where I presented a number of concepts I’d learned and developed as CDSS Youth Intern. Seventy minutes to present meant a brain-dump of information. I talked about NYC’s post-dance diner culture (which seems to have really helped attendance) and the hands on role organizers can (should?) take with fostering the next generation of calers and musicians. I also touched on pay-what-you-can sliding scale pricing structures that might better accommodate post-college youth (who might feel less rich than college students) and how Thursday is the “hidden weekend night” for college students (since they don’t really go to class on Fridays). I got through most of what I wanted to say, and those in the room also shared further great ideas.

The rest of the day proceeded with a variety of sessions. And the place was buzzing. Topics ranged from Dance Money Mechanics led by Rob Lindaur’s (CT) to Leading Effective Meetings from Lisa Sieverts (NH) to Booking and Working with the Talent from Lisa Greenleaf (MA). There was also a track for folks interested in learning about the often-overlooked topic of sound from Tony Hernandez (CT). (Read the full list of topics.) The session leaders were all experienced and respected individuals with a lot of information to share and presentations.

The conference was also built with a several creative, collaborative, and non-hierarchical periods designed to elicit the collective knowledge of this substantial group of organizers. Open space aka the “Unconference” was one such, with breakout sessions led by whoever had a topic they were interested in.

On Sunday, I co-led a discussion on intergenerationality, of which, perhaps 10% was spent saying that 9-syllable word. If my session yesterday had been about the practical questions of getting more “young” people, today was dealing with the more philosophical. The fact that the conference had a significant age range helped as we collectively encountered a number of interesting and (to me) tough questions, such as “What is it like to be judged because of your age?”

We wrote down a goal we wanted to be held accountable for and folded that into a paper airplane. We then became responsible for checking in on the person's airplane we picked up.

I then presented with David Millstone on “The Dancing We Do: Past, Present, and Future!” That last one was a lot of fun, reflecting on where we’ve come and where we may be going in the dance community. Plus playing Perpetual e-Motion to a room full of dance organizers (to demonstrate the use of technology in contra dance music) makes me smile.

The event ended with a session on “Bringing It All Home” led by the conference organizers — Chrissy Fowler (ME), Delia Clark (VT), Linda Henry (MA), and Mary Wesley (VT) – which focused on effectively utilizing the information from the event. There was also some paper airplane throwing (see photo).

As people left the hotel, they reported being exhausted and inspired. One challenge that was presented at the final session was to focus on one or two things. Speaking with attendees, it was clear to me that the conference had been of great value.

What did I get out of it? I learned a lot, not least about ways to make my own presentations more effective and informative. I also considered how the event I work with most closely, Youth Dance Weekend, has benefited from some of the creative ideas we used and discussed and how we might incorporate other ones next year. This year, for example, we had discussion topics on tables during meals. That was directly inspired by the Southeast Dance Leadership Conference. For the next YDW, I’m thinking… paper airplanes?

Conference attendees at the Norwich, VT dance.

So what’s next?

I’d been in touch with the organizers over the past year they had been putting together the conference and must say what they did (and what attendees brought) exceeded my expectations. But it’s not over. There are several ways in which the momentum continues.

  • Sharing the collective knowledge
    • Notes from the conference are being compiled and will be posted on the website. (I’ll let you know.)
  • More discussion
    • Shared Weight, a listserv co-designed by attendee Chris Weiler continues to be a resource.
  • Conferences
    • There are also conferences being planned elsewhere, including one in Ohio next August. (More on that later, too.)

It’s an exciting thing to continue to see resources built for organizers. Let’s see what happens next.

— Max

p.s. Sincere thanks to Quintin Aspin for allowing me to use his excellent photos.

Executive Director position announced

contradanceCDSS seeks an Executive Director to lead the organization, headquartered in Easthampton, MA, into an era of heightened local connections and partnerships where recreational and professional dancers, singers, musicians, teachers, callers, and dance historians are actively engaged in the joys of traditional American and English country dance, music and song. As it approaches its centennial in 2015, CDSS hopes to harness the innovations, talents and enthusiasm of musicians, singers and dancers to energize and deepen participation throughout North America. CDSS plans to expand the availability of organizational assistance, dance instructions, music, local dance schedules, historical archives, and directory information through a robust online portal. It is excited about finding ways to connect people both locally and across the continent– individual dancers, singers and musicians, groups, other nonprofit partners, volunteers and vendors – so that communities thrive. And, CDSS will continue and expand its availability of and scholarship assistance for its popular camps and leadership conferences throughout the country where people of all ages come together to dance and sing, to learn and to share.

…Please check out the full job posting on our site, and share it widely with all your marvelously talented friends!

Meet Mary Wesley, our new Youth Intern!

Mary calling for a dance (photo by Roger Katz)

Mary calling for a dance (photo by Roger Katz)

We are very pleased to welcome Mary Wesley as our new Youth Intern. She’ll build on the excellent groundwork laid by her predecessors Ethan and Max, as she reaches out to our younger constituents and helps us better address their needs. See our Youth Desk pages for a wealth of resources geared toward young dancers, musicians, callers, singers, and organizers. And now, I’ll let Mary speak for herself.  ~lydia

Hello, neighbor!

As the new CDSS Youth Intern for 2011-2012, I hope you’ll consider me your personal connection to CDSS. I am here to listen to your ideas, answer your questions when I can, and connect you with people and resources to help support your goals. I am also here to learn from you! I rely on you to be my eyes on the world of song and dance that we all love and share. Please give me a shout with any questions, stories or ideas you think I should know about:

Here are some questions that intrigue me:

What connects us? Which questions and answers do we have in common and how can we discuss them together?

By “us” I mean our community: your singing group, the people you go dancing with, musicians at your weekly jam. This community is vast! I found my way into this world contra dancing and Morris dancing in northern Vermont, but there are so many portals. For a year after college I worked as an archaeologist, traveling great distances between projects. As I moved about the country I found I could connect with this community wherever I went. Landing in Bloomington, IN knowing nobody, I found friends at the Wednesday night contra dance. At the University of Chicago’s Folk Festival I was instantly at home listening to a room full of people singing Shape Note hymns. Dancing in Brentwood, CA I could compare notes on rag-coats with the local Border Morris team. In South Carolina I took some archaeologist friends to the Palmetto Bug Stomp. As we drove back from the dance they exclaimed, “It seemed like everyone knew you already!”

Mary dancing at YDW

Mary dancing at Youth Dance Weekend 2011 (photo by Ryan Carollo)

In a way it was true – traditional music and dancing brings people together in a way that provides instant familiarity. You may never have spoken with someone but you can harmonize a tune. However, the joy of these art forms lies in the diversity of their expression. There are a thousand different ways to sing a song. The experiences we share singing, playing and dancing together are crafted by a bouquet of individuals each with their own background and approach to the tradition. So I ask you this: what was your portal? What did you find at your first country dance or learning your first tune that left you wanting more? If you can answer this for yourself it may be your first step in opening the door for someone else. You can spread that joy and help our community grow and expand!

Mary talking with a bunch of young folks at a contra dance (photo by Sarah Babbitt Spaeth)

Mary talking with a bunch of young folks at a contra dance (photo by Sarah Babbitt Spaeth)

There is no formula for community growth. What works well in one vibrant community may have no bearing in other places. Fortunately, this modern world of connectivity makes it easy for us to observe and share thousands of examples of what’s happening in song and dance communities across the continent. There is so much we can learn from each other! If you’re wondering how to get more young people to come to your English Country Dance, someone else is too. If you’ve had wild success starting a pub sing at your college, your story could inspire someone to start a group at their own school.

So let’s start talking. How? The first move to make is simply to start a conversation with people in your local community. Celebrate what’s going well; discuss what you’d like to change or improve. Stay in touch with your neighborhood, but don’t forget, your CDSS neighborhood stretches coast to coast and it’s a resource. Leave a comment here on our blog, or submit a post yourself. Stop by my Youth Intern Facebook page to post stories or ask questions. You may also submit something to the CDSS newsletter. Make your voice heard – continue the conversation!

I look forward to hearing your stories. See you around the neighborhood!


Mary holding CDSS sign

Mary in CDSS outreach mode (photo by Daniel Friedman)