Monthly Archives: December 2013

Travels + Partnerships = CDSS Community

by Rima Dael, CDSS Executive Director

1472955_10153521689310113_316745647_n CDSS started the year in Tokyo and we’ll end the year a little quieter, with many of us staying close to home, but we’ll be singing, dancing and playing music as we say goodbye to 2013 and welcome in 2014.

An important part of building community through dance, music and song is visiting the communities where it happens. This year, as CDSS’s director, I went to meet, listen and learn from the following communities and events:

  • International folk dance community & CDSS members, Tokyo, Japan
  • Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, Durham, NH
  • Sacramento CDS, Sacramento, CA (Exec meeting)
  • New England Folk Festival, Mansfield, MA
  • The Dance Flurry, Saratoga Springs, NY
  • Elixir Cape Dance Weekend, Cape Cod, MA
  • Massachusetts Nonprofit Network Conference, Boston, MA area
  • Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire Creativity Conference, Freedom, NH
  • Boston Early Music Festival, Boston, MA
  • Keith Blackmon Memorial Dance Weekend & River Train book release party, Great Valley, NY
  • Lenox Assembly, Lenox, MA
  • CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award Ceremony, Lansing, MI
  • Ann Arbor, MI dance communities
  • Contra-Indications, Des Moines, IA
  • Central Iowa Barn Dance, Ames, IA (Exec meeting)
  • Childgrove Country Dancers & Dance Discovery, St. Louis, MO
  • Phoenix Traditional Music and Dance, Phoenix, AZ
  • Turners Falls, MA (testimony to the Massachusetts State Joint-Committee Arts, Culture and Tourism)

575205_10201002881497318_1815970005_nSome of the staff traveled as well or danced or sang locally. We even taught a dance last weekend at the annual Eastworks Building’s Holiday Party (Eastworks is where our office is). We also spent time meeting, listening and learning while dancing, singing and playing music at our summer camp programs in Plymouth, MA; High View, WV; and Lyman, NH. We’ve had members drop by the office en route to festivals, dances and camps, or just to say hello and to shop at the CDSS Store or to tell us about their communities. We love hearing about your communities, and to see you!

A thank you to those who gave on, and spread the word about, Valley Gives Day, 12-12-13. (Special thanks to Joe K. from Fredonia, NY whose donation won us a Valley Gives golden ticket prize of $1,200.) Valley Gives is a part of our year-end Annual Appeal, allowing us to highlight our Education priorities. Beyond the fundraising, the true value for our part in it is training and experience for us—participating in social media, getting the word out about CDSS to our local community, and communication and connection with funders and area nonprofits that are now interested in our work. In my travels this year, I’ve heard from our dance and music communities that a big challenge for them is connecting with the mainstream community and with other organizations of similar interests in their area. So CDSS is  tackling this issue head-on. Using our backyard as our personal laboratory, we are forging ahead by developing relationships with like-minded organizations too. We’ll share our experiences and tips on how to do this in the coming year.

Speaking of the new year and new partnerships, we’re starting 2014 by sponsoring the dancing of a CDSS affiliate, Vintage Dance Society (VDS), at WGBY’s Masterpiece Ball, which has a “Downton Abbey” theme. In conjunction with the Ball, WGBY will host an advance screening of the opening episode of the series’ fourth season. I’m a fan, like many of you, and hope to attend the screening!

So 2014 will see CDSS building strategic partnerships with arts and nonprofit organizations that share interests within our folk communities and other arts and education sectors. We know the proverb of it taking a village to raise a child. The same works for programs and organizations. Strong programs need strong organizations to build and sustain them. Strong organizations depend on a network of partners and a strong community from which to draw upon to sustain itself. CDSS is working to strengthen its partnerships and build a community to sustain itself in its next 100 years. It is also one of the reasons we travel to meet and learn from you!

It was a delight to meet so many of you this year. Thank you for sharing your communities with us.  Thank you for helping strengthen the community around CDSS.

On behalf of the CDSS staff, Board and volunteers, may I wish you all the very best of the holiday season!

CDSS Contra Task Group surveys 480 contra dance callers!

CDSS Contra Task Group surveys 480 contra dance callers!

Do you know 500 people who call contra dances? We do! Last spring the CDSS Contra Dance Task Group sent a survey to all the contra dance callers we could find. 480 completed the whole long survey. The results are fascinating and a summary of findings is available here on our website.

Among the highlights:

  • Callers responded from 45 states in the US, plus 6 provinces in Canada and 9 other countries (with Denmark, Australia and England being most frequent).
  • 75% of respondents were over the age of 50 while 8% of the respondents were under 30. Men and women were represented pretty equally among respondents.
  • There is tremendous diversity in the dances people call for – in size, level of experience and frequency of dancing.
  • A number of callers don’t think of themselves as just contra callers since they call a wide variety of kinds of dances (e.g., squares, mixers, big circle) depending on the situation.
  • A great many callers (40%) are calling less than they would like. Only 20% are calling more than 10 times a year.
  • Challenges callers face include limited opportunity to call, calling for groups with very mixed experience, marketing oneself as a caller, dealing with issues in the dance community, working with the band, and feeling burned out by trying to do too much.
  • Asked how they learned to call, callers listed dozens of websites, books and other sources. Many of these are in the process of being added to the existing CDSS contra dance resources page. Watch this space for an announcement when this goes live!
  • Most callers learned by observing other callers but they also learned in other ways such as being mentored (usually informally) and attending callers’ workshops.
  • Those who had experience with callers collectives found them to be an excellent way to get feedback and improve one’s skills – as well as to try out new dances.
  • There is quite a bit of interest in having an online database of dances as well as there being identified challenges around setting something like this up. We are going to explore some possibilities.
  • Many other needs were identified and there were also many suggestions for new resources.  See the full report for more details!

We hope you find the report interesting and useful. Doing the survey has been a lot of fun for us. We’ll be pursuing a number of areas identified in the survey to increase the resources available to callers and would welcome your help.

If you are interested in helping, look at our list of priorities (last slide in the PDF).  Then email  Please put “Contra Dance Task Group” in the subject of the email.  Also, state which item you are interested in and how you think you may be able to contribute.  Watch our blog for more news about next steps in moving some of these ideas forward.


CDSS Contra Dance Task Group

Lynn Ackerson (El Cerrito, CA)
Emily Addison (Ottawa, ONT)
David Chandler (Metuchen, NJ)
Martha Edwards (St. Louis, MO)
Lisa Greenleaf (Bolton, MA)
Chris Page (San Diego, CA)
Louise Siddons (Stillwater, OK)
Mary Wesley (Lincoln, VT)

Dancing Well Is Proud to Announce Next Dance Series with Veterans and Families Affected by PTSD

by Deborah Denenfeld

The soldier froze at the door to the conference room. His breathing was shallow. His eyes darted around the room. 

He had danced with us before, in a different location, so I was surprised by his reaction. 

“Are you okay?” I asked. 

“It’s this room …,” he said. “But I think it’ll be okay. There’s only this one door, but I can throw one of those chairs through the window to get out if I have to.”

soldier 2a

Photo by Deborah Denenfeld

This is the world tens of thousands of soldiers and veterans live in. Acute awareness of their environment and their own personal safety keeps them alive in extremely dangerous situations. Now back home, their PTSD puts them on high alert at a moment’s notice.

As I’ve worked to create a dance program to benefit these individuals, this scene has stuck in my mind.  This soldier, who participated in the dance series I led at Fort Knox in 2010, is part of a phenomenon that concerns me deeply—the proliferation of PTSD among combat veterans.

Veterans with PTSD face higher unemployment, divorce, and suicide rates, as well as serious health problems related to ongoing stress and anxiety.  These individuals need to be integrated back into a supportive community. They need a safe place to heal and re-acclimate, together with their loved ones. This is where Dancing Well: The Soldier Project comes in.

Community dance helps these individuals in myriad ways. Soldiers have reported improved mood and memory, decreased anxiety, greater ease in groups, better relationships with family members, and an improved outlook on the future.

I’m happy to report that the soldier did decide to enter the room, and, once he did, the live music and dancing brought him back to the present moment. Before he knew it, he was smiling and enjoying himself. And when the series was over, he reported all the positive outcomes listed above. I cannot fully describe to you how gratifying it is to see this kind of transformation.

And now, through your generous support, this same kind of experience, these same benefits, will be available to many more veterans and families touched by PTSD and debilitating brain injury. In the midst of writing a blog post about our participation in the Celebration of Life, a local suicide prevention fair for veterans, I received word that Dancing Well had raised the funds for its first dance series.

soldier 2b

Dancing at the Celebration of Life suicide prevention fair for veterans; photo by Deborah Denenfeld

As I received the incredible news, I thought of the solders and families I danced with at Fort Knox and of the many families who will now benefit from this unique and powerful program. I’ve already spoken to three veterans who hope to participate, and we expect to be dancing together in the first quarter of 2014.

This first series is just the beginning, marking the official launch of the Dancing Well national project, which will include four dance series and the creation and implementation of a comprehensive curriculum to train others to lead dance with veterans suffering from PTSD and brain injury, and their loved ones.

In closing, I am incredibly grateful for the unflagging support of the dance community. We could not have reached this critical milestone without you—thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know 2014 is going to bring much health and healing, and I look forward to sharing the details with you as they unfold.  Wishing you joy for the holidays!

The Country Dance and Song Society continues to be the proud fiscal sponsor for the project. 




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!


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

The Lifetime Importance of the Arts

by Rima Dael, CDSS Executive Director

Erin Nolan_Karana and JuliaFWP2012

Photo by Erin Nolan

In my travels I get to meet communities across the country. Last month I was in Lansing and Ann Arbor, celebrating Judi and Glen Morningstar with the 2013 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award (LCA). The warmth and joy that exuded from that evening was a testimony to the Morningstars’ work and the community they helped build. Many thanks to the Ann Arbor Community of Traditional Music and Dance and all the participants for the wonderful celebration!

The following week, in St. Louis, I had the opportunity to dance and meet with dancers from Dance Discovery and I got to dance with Dr. John Ramsay, himself a LCA recipient (2010). Dance Discovery performed one of their dances and there were two wonderful morris performances at the break. Dancer/photographer Doug Plummer was visiting and took some wonderful photos; thanks, Doug! I also danced and met with callers and musicians associated with Childgrove Country Dancers. It was wonderful to dance with the St. Louis community, and to participate in their Calling Party—here’s a video of one of the dances we vetted:

DeniseSmith_ogontz family week 144

Photo by Denise Smith

A core focus of the work of the Morningstars and Dr. Ramsay is working with young people, students and homeschoolers. Teaching dance, music and song to young folks is important to CDSS and so is reaching out to teachers—classroom teachers, PE teachers and music teachers—to use traditional dance, music and song in the schools. In fact, this is an important programmatic priority for CDSS.

The arts can play a crucial role in improving students’ abilities to learn, because they draw on a range of intelligences and learning styles, not just the linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences upon which most schools are based. (See Eloquent Evidence: Arts at the Core of Learning, President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, talking about Howard Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1995.)

BarbaraDyskant_R6. Kids Out with Peter U3 IMG_2647

Photo by Barbara Dyskant

Recently, CDSS member David Wiley, president of the Historic Jonesborough Dance Society, and caller/CDSS staffer Nils Fredland, accompanied by Sassafras Stomp, visited Washington Elementary in Kingsport, TN to provide a contra dance workshop for teachers and students. They worked with 40 kindergarteners and first graders, along with their PE, music and classroom teachers. Read Nils’ blog post about the event.

We know adults care about arts in school. Not just parents! According to the Americans for the Arts national public opinion survey:

  • 95% of respondents believe the arts teach intangibles such as creativity, self-expression and individualism;
  • 91% of respondents believe the arts are vital to a well-rounded education;
  • 89% percent of respondents believe that arts education is important enough that schools should find the money to ensure inclusion in the curriculum;
  • BUT 67% of adults say they do not know how to get involved.

CDSS can help you get involved!!!

As we’ve shared last year, CDSS is working hard to provide resources for public schools to use traditional dance, music and song as tools to educate their students. We’re continuing our work. This is not a new priority for our community, but CDSS has recommitted our organization to the task. We have our Lifetime Contribution Awardees and so many others who’ve paved the way to thank for strengthening our efforts and allowing us to support their accomplishments.

Thank you, Dr. John Ramsay. Thank you, Glen and Judi Morningstar. We’re following your lead, passing on traditions to the next generation, training teachers, and, with the help of our members and donors, making sure we have tools for busy school teachers to use dance, music and song well. Help us help teachers on Valley Gives Day this Thursday, 12/12/13.

VG event-logoCDSS wants to create online toolkits to help more teachers, schools, kids and parents across the country enjoy dancing activities in their classrooms and communities. Your donation to CDSS on 12.12.13, Valley Gives Day, will support this project and CDSS outreach. (You can schedule your donation ahead of time by going to that same link.)

Kicking off Valley Gives at Eastworks

As we gear up for our local community giving event, Valley Gives, CDSS staff took an unusual lunch break today to pay a visit to neighboring friends and arts organizations in the Eastworks building where our offices are.  As requested by folks in the building who saw us last year, we once again took up antlers, sashes, fiddles and a triangle and performed the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.  The folk dance dates back to the middle ages, originating from the English village of the same name.  People’s reactions ranged from stares to gasps, from “Woahs” to “No one will believe me when I tell them about this”…and lots of smiles.  Many people took cell phones out and recorded us in their offices spaces, restaurants and dancing down the hall.

We love sharing our traditions and giving back to our community.  In this spirit, if you’re in the area please join us this Thursday, 12/12/13 at 4:00 pm as the Valley Gives bus makes a stop in the Big Y parking lot in Northhampton.  We’ll be singing songs together and spreading the word about Valley Gives, a 24-hour e-philanthropy event for local nonprofits in western MA. You can donate to any of the over 300 non-profits in the Pioneer Valley.  We hope that you will consider donating to CDSS. Your donation on 12/12/13 could help us become eligible for thousands of dollars in prizes!  You don’t have to live here to donate.

Valley Gives—The Need for Teacher Support

by Nils Fredland, CDSS Education Specialist

dyskant,b tr07 dsk1 1897

Photo by Barbara Dyskant

The Education team at CDSS is working on the creation of resources for school teachers who are interested in including participatory American folk dance in their classrooms. To that end, Pat MacPherson, CDSS Director of Education, and I are talking to teachers about what they need, and we are actively fundraising through Valley Gives again this year, on 12.12.13, to allow us to produce the best possible resources to meet those needs.

Last month, as part of this important and exciting initiative, I had the pleasure of going to Washington Elementary School, in Kingsport, TN, and meeting with Physical Education and Music teachers from that school district to discuss the role participatory American folk dance can play in their classrooms. Long story short, a PE teacher from the school, named John Luppe, came to one of the contra dances put on by the Historic Jonesborough Dance Society. Once John spoke to David Wiley, HJDS’s president, about his wish to bring contra dance to his school, it was a done deal that something would happen! John’s enthusiasm was the spark and David’s superb organizational skill and commitment to dance in Tennessee was the reason the meeting with the teachers happened. I got a call from David the week before Sassafras Stomp and I were scheduled to come to Tennessee to play, and the next thing we all knew we were scheduled for an arts residency at Washington Elementary the following week. Whew!

The teachers I met in Kingsport, while interested in the idea of bringing participatory folk dance into their classrooms, spoke about having an already jam-packed curriculum which included a broad overview of many kinds of dance, from Maori Stick-Dancing to Ballroom Dancing to the Electric Slide, and many things in between. Square dancing, while part of the survey, seemed in some cases to be pushed to the end, “if we have time,” presumably because the teachers feel less confident in their ability to teach the dances. As a result, they have a harder time engaging their students in a satisfying experience. Contra dancing was not mentioned, although the Virginia Reel was. It was clear that the teachers knew, and used, some Play Party games, but didn’t call them by that name. There was a general sense among the assembled group that, while American folk dance is a great thing to include in their dance program, students have no context and connection to the importance of that experience, and teachers, at least in the assembled group, lack appropriate repertoire and skills to become dance callers for a week.

After the informal lunch and discussion, we adjourned to the school’s auditorium for two 40-minute sessions, each with around 40 kindergarten and first grade students. Teachers, parents, administrators, and guests observed as I split the children into smaller groups of twenty, and led each group through the same 20 minute lesson. The lesson covered the skills necessary to a successful dance experience:

  • Appreciating the music and musicians
  • Listening and responding to the music
  • Moving in time to the music, individually and as a group
  • Holding hands respectfully
  • Listening and responding to the caller
  • Learning a song and associated dance

My lesson was as much for the teachers as for the children, showing a solid, basic, accessible lesson to begin the building of a culture of participatory dance in a classroom of young children. And the children—such sweet faces, and such openness to a new experience. My tour around the South was ten days, and the experience at Washington Elementary was, hands down, the most memorable and meaningful of my time on the road.

Please help support this important work through a generous donation to CDSS through Valley Gives on 12.12.13. Your gift will fund our outreach work in schools and our development of useful, accessible resources for teachers and schools.

VG event-logoCDSS wants to create online toolkits to help more teachers, schools, kids and parents across the country enjoy dancing activities in their classrooms and communities. Your donation to CDSS on 12.12.13, Valley Gives Day, will support this project and CDSS outreach. (You can schedule your donation ahead of time by going to that same link.)