Category Archives: Display Dance

Youth Traditional Song: The New Kid’s Tale

by Zoë Madonna

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I was the Doctor in the mummer’s play. My role was a) to use the tiny flask and revive the Soldier and the Sailor after they had fought and killed each other, and b) make a glaringly obvious Doctor Who joke. (Photo by Suzanne Mrozak)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “youth” as “the time of life when someone is young” or “the early period of existence, growth, or development.” Something or someone is “youthful” when it “[has] or [shows] the freshness or energy of someone who is young,” or is “in an early stage of development.” With that in mind, was Youth Trad Song, which took place during the first weekend of January, a “youth” event? To encourage young people to attend Youth Trad Song, admission was balanced 80% “young” (under 50) and 20%  “young at heart” (over 50). Still, 40 or 45 years old is not considered a “youth” under most definitions; what, then, makes Youth Trad Song a youth event?

The answer to that question is involvement and openness. Before the weekend, a schedule of staff-led workshops was posted on the website, but the directing committee also actively sought submissions for camper-led workshops, with the reminder that anyone could schedule one at the last minute at the weekend; all that a would-be workshop leader had to do was write the location and the theme of the workshop on the giant schedule on the dining room wall. The result was a delightful, spontaneous hodgepodge of song (“Around the World in 80 Songs,” “the anti-pub sing,” “Georgian and Ukrainian harmony singing,” “camp songs with Jillian and Eevy!”) filling up every corner of the handful of buildings YTS occupied. There was room to create, and share creations and ideas; the only thing that everyone was asked to do for the weekend was learn “West Indies Blues” to sing together at the first dinner. The crowd didn’t even make it ten feet before breaking into “Bringing in the Sheaves,” kicking off a song circle that lasted till three AM.

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Sam Kleinman leads a song from the new shapenote tune book, The Shenandoah Harmony. (Photo by Zoë Madonna)

A perfect example of the kind of organic creativity YTS’s environment cultivates:  I participated in a mummer’s play during the open mic on Saturday night, in honor of Twelfth Night. The idea of doing the play had been brought up just that morning at breakfast by Marvin Warren, who had seen a good number of Twelfth Night plays but had yet to take part. After a bit of tossing ideas around at lunch (St. George? Sarcastic dragon?), we gathered enough people (Soldier, Sailor, Doctor, Chimney Sweep) to perform the stock play in the song “Rise Up, Jock.” We picked parts, added parts where they were needed (Old Father Christmas made an appearance in the guise of Brad from the Foggy Bottom Morris Men), we gathered and made props (most out of paper bags and duct tape, in keeping with the Paper Bag Mummers of Waltham’s tradition), learned the chorus to the song, found stock lines and insults thanks to Lynn Noel’s iPad, and found a willing stooge whose open mic performance Marvin (playing the fool) could interrupt by shouting “Room! Room!” and banging on a pan, announcing the arrival of the mummers. Five minutes before we went on, a woman named Rose volunteered to be Beelzebub and pass the hat at the end of the play, and we ended up raising some money for next year’s Youth Trad Song scholarship fund.

What does it take to be young at heart, or youthful? Some of the attendees, like myself, were at very early stages of our lives as folk singers. But then there were people at the event who have been singing for 50+ years, who have well established identities as performers and singers and leaders in folk and traditional music communities.  I wouldn’t have been too surprised if the veterans had cliqued up and did their thing while us kids did our thing, as I sometimes see at contra dance events. Instead, everyone sang like they were new and youthful and open to everything they heard, celebrating each contribution alike.

A singer, dancer, musician—and Oberlin junior―Zoë Madonna is interning with CDSS this month.

Exceedingly Good Song Night

by Zoë Madonna

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“And I bid you good night” (Zoë Madonna)

What do you get when you take a back room of a New York bar, fill it with singers coming out of varied folk traditions, sell them some food and beer, and then give them five hours to sing what they will? That’s Exceedingly Good Song Night, a monthly event in New York’s East Village run by acting coach Ken Schatz. Professional musicians and amateurs, experienced singers and first timers: generations mix and join in on the choruses at Exceedingly Good Song Night in a way I rarely see at any other traditional song event.

I went to my third EGSN last Sunday as part of a trip to New York which I wasn’t sure was going to happen until about a half hour before it did. There’s a loose theme every month; this month, the theme was “noise.” Ken serves as unofficial master of ceremonies, constantly looking around the room to make sure everyone who wants to sing gets a chance to sing, calling on people who might be shuffled into a corner of the small stage or otherwise not in the center of the room. One of Ken’s songs of choice for the night was “The Fox,” not to be confused with “What Does the Fox Say.” Most of my generation knows the story in that song through Peter, Paul and Mary’s kid’s album, but Ken’s version was set to a different melody with the relevant line “up jumped John, ringing on his bell.”

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Spontaneous blues dancing (Zoë Madonna)

Hunting songs were plentiful that night, probably because of all the hunting horns that usually appear therein; someone sang “Dido Bendigo,” and then Heather Wood, formerly of the Young Tradition, followed it with a parody version, as she sometimes does. Charlie, from Maine but visiting family in Brooklyn, sang “West Indies Blues.” There was a whole contingent down from Massachusetts at this Song Night; Nicole from Amherst sang a bluegrassy murder song (“ain’t nobody knocking at the door”), Mel from Boston sang “The Heavenly Aeroplane” (“this old world’s going to reel and rock”) and Laura from Williamsburg sang a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with a chorus borrowed from the Civil War (“shouting the battle cry of freedom”) and some decidedly not kindergarten-safe verses.

Most of the songs at Song Night have choruses or opportunities for harmonies, but most people are glad to take a little break from singing when someone wants to sing a story song or a ballad without a chorus. After Ken announced the next month’s theme, “Romance Or Lack Thereof,” I asked if it would be apropos to lead one that fit both themes and sang “The Little Duke Arthur’s Nurse,” a rare ballad with a happy ending about a man who hears his sweetheart singing (fitting both themes) and then escapes would-be killers by…listen to Frankie Armstrong’s version and find out.

Other songs I heard that night included a bunch of mountain spirituals, a handful of shanties, and one “Cherokee deer song” which is apparently supposed to travel through the ground into the leg of the deer and make the deer come to you so you may eat them. No deer showed up; they must have been stuck in the traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

In addition to all the singers, there was a healthy contingent of people with instruments who could improvise, so most of the songs ended up having a few instrument notes behind them. There were guitars, a banjo, a concertina, and a Shruti box present; the latter only came out to accompany its owner as a haunting drone under a ballad. Some people got up and waltzed during a song in 3/4 time, and during a blues number a few people got up to blues dance. Most of the songs were traditional or have been folk processed enough that they could be, but near the end of the night Ken requested a decidedly modern song and Will, from Montague, sang the “Ballad of the Button Box.” (“If you can type, you can play the concertina…”) Though I had the longest journey home (three and a half hours) this time out of any of my visits to Exceedingly Good Song Night, I was able to stay till the end for the first time; when I was living with my family, I always had to catch a train home well before closing, but this month, I was present to sing the last song, and joined in for the choruses on “And I Bid You Good Night.” I bundled myself into Will’s car and slept most of the way back to Massachusetts, tired, happy, and full of new old melodies.

Zoë Madonna is interning with us this month; her blog last week, abouther first dance experience, is here.

Encouragement

by Zoë Madonna

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Zoe, in blue.

In come I, an Intern, welcome or welcome not, sheltering from the polar vortex in Western Massachusetts and helping out at the CDSS office for my winter term project this year. I’m Zoe, I’m a junior at Oberlin College, and I’ve been dancing and singing since shortly after I started school there.

I don’t remember what or who exactly brought me to my first contra dance; someone had told me that it was a. fun, b. possibly relevant to my interests (I had started playing piano accordion a few months pre-college), and c. happening at the school gym on Friday night. I was only there for the last half of the dance, following a production of Waiting for Godot. I missed the beginner lesson and was therefore adrift on the floor; some people I knew from various other activities were there and asked me to dance. Initially I was terrified of messing up, of causing a traffic accident with another dancer, of being not fun to dance with. Unlike lindy hop, which I had begun to learn two months prior, my partners wouldn’t be stuck with clueless me for just three or four minutes, and the amount of damage I could do was significantly multiplied by the fact that contra required me to interact with everyone on the floor.

When I stopped looking at my feet after a few dances, I was pleasantly shocked by what I noticed passing in front of my eyes as I danced down the hall, allemanded my neighbor, and stumbled my way through my first attempts at a hey for four. These experienced dancers weren’t only tolerating the other newbies and me; they were smiling at us, helping us by way of a guiding hand or a point at what shoulder to pass. They were asking us to dance.

Like many of my generation, I’m quite wired into social media, and I once searched the “contra dance” tag on Tumblr to see if anyone else had posted stories or just snippets of their dancing lives. The most re-shared post on the tag was not wholly about dancing, but included a few sentences about the author’s negative experience wherein “barefoot dancers of all ages gave [the author and his friends] fierce stares and shouted directions at us when we failed to do what the dance dictated.” I have seen those same fierce stares directed at new dancers on multiple occasions in various scenes, when veteran dancers meet a newbie and see an obstacle to their enjoyment of the dance, rather than a future dance partner and community member. It takes courage to step onto a dance floor for the first time and meet the eyes of complete strangers, and when those first attempts are scoffed at or refused, one cannot expect that the new dancers will have any desire to return.

I left the gym that night riding on a cloud of endorphins kicked up by fiery fiddle notes, feet stamping the floor in unison, and the almost constant smiles of my partners and neighbors. If I had been met with the same reception as the discontented Tumblr author was, I cannot say whether or not I would have returned for the next dance (and the next, and the next, and…). Experienced dancers actively welcoming in new ones with a smile and a request to dance is the only way how the tradition will stay alive and evolve through my generation and all who will come later.

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!

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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

DART is coming to Amherst, MA, this weekend!

DART 2013Inspired by the Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT), the Dancing America Rapper Tournament (DART) is a weekend-long opportunity for rapper teams to compete, show off, and learn from each other. Judges, stationed in pubs, award ranks, prizes, and constructive critiques based on teams’ performances.

We are very excited to have this tournament in our area…check out the DART website for more information. And visit their Facebook page.

We wish all the teams participating — Flesh Wound, Northampton, MA (Host team); A Sworded Affair, Burlington, VT; Half Moon Sword, New York City, NY; Charles River Rapper, greater Boston, MA; Candyrapper, Sudbury, MA; Charm City Rapper, Baltimore, MD; Bubble Rapper, Carlisle, MA; Pocket Flyers, Sudbury, MA; Rust Belt, Oberlin, OH; No Apologies, Boston area, MA — the best of luck!

Walking Into My Past

by Lily Kruskal Leahy

Morris dancing is something I grew up with. To me, it was as normal as fireworks on the 4th of July—it just came to me, like walking. I was, of course, “formally” taught by my dad, Tom Kruskal, who started a children’s morris team when I was 12 because I wanted to dance. And just as morris dance has been a constant in my life, the dance form itself has always been constant. It is a tradition that hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years.

However, in 2006, I watched something that made me more excited than I’d ever been about morris dancing. A long time dance friend, Jan Elliot, shared with my family a video of a morris dance show performed in England by a group called Morris Offspring. This group, led by Laurel Swift, was mostly made up of second generation morris dancers who had grown up just as I had, surrounded by morris dancing, and were continuing the tradition. However, they had done something completely new to this old tradition and had written new dances for far more people than the usual six. They used different tunes, figures and costumes and even omitted the traditional bells. I became transfixed and amazed. I wanted to be a part of something so innovative, but it didn’t happen. Life got in the way.

A few years later, on Monday night July 15th, 2013, I was lucky enough to be in the audience for “Rootbound,” a morris show performed by Maple Morris, a group of young, mostly second generation, morris dancers from the U.S. and Canada, and Morris Offspring who came over from England to participate. The show was the culmination of a cultural exchange between these two groups.

Maple Morris started as a group of young morris dancers who wanted to get together socially and to learn each other’s dances. They quickly became a large network of dancers putting together weekends of dancing, learning, and creating in many different locations. Around the same time, Laurel Swift, founder of Morris Offspring, was invited by Scott Higgs to teach morris at CDSS’s English & American Dance Week at Pinewoods. I had the great fortune to attend this week and was very excited to take her classes and meet the woman who had inspired me. I shared with Laurel my awe at her choreography and my vision of wanting to do something similar here. Two summers later, as the chair of CDS Boston’s 4th of July session, I invited her back to Pinewoods to teach. It was there that she met up with members of Maple Morris and started to brainstorm this cultural exchange.

While I never ended up becoming a part of this amazing show, I was honored to have had a small role in it. The story of “Rootbound” is that of how morris dance has been passed down through the generations. The characters of “the child” and “the fool” play vital roles in and amongst the dancers. The child sees morris dancing and after learning how, she becomes the teacher, and a new child takes her place. For those of us who grew up in the tradition, this is our story.

I will end with a Facebook post that I wrote the day after seeing “Rootbound.”

“Last night was like something out of a dream. When you move away from home, not only do you leave behind a place you love and family and friends, but you leave behind a community, a collective group of people that make up who you are, and you leave behind hobbies and passions. Last night all of those things came together for me in a way that doesn’t often happen anymore. As I walked into the Somerville Armory, excited to watch a much anticipated morris show, what I got was so much more. I walked into my past in which long lost faces swam before my eyes. Smiles greeted me at every turn, arms embraced me and I went through an almost waltz as I glided from hug to hug, greeting friend to friend. And as I scrambled to find my seat what unfolded before my eyes was truly awe inspiring, energizing, moving and riveting. It pained me not to be up there dancing and made me proud to know most of these young dancers–especially proud to watch my brother. And the story behind it all: my own story, all of our own stories, of the traditions passed down through the generations and embraced by this community–my community, although I may live far away. Thank you, Maple Morris, for the dream that was last night.”

Watch part of a dance, accompanied by Ian Robb’s singing (July 16, 2013).

Watch the full cast finale (July 16, 2013).

Lily Kruskal Leahy lives in Ireland with her husband and children and enjoys getting a chance to dance and going to CDSS Family Weeks when she comes home to the U.S.

CDSS’s English & American Dance Week = great contra and English country dancing!

And it starts THIS Saturday, August 10, at Pinewoods Camp, near Plymouth, MA. Join us!

Contra dance at E&A Week, Pinewoods Camp, MALook at the dance program—George Marshall calling contras, Gene Murrow leading English, and Scott Higgs calling English and American dances. Musicians? Oh, yeah! The amazing Jonathan Jensen, lydia ievins, Anna Patton, Richard Forest, and Night Watch (Naomi Morse, Elvie Miller, Owen Morrison).

Display dancing will definitely be on display, taught by Brits Tom Besford, Northwest morris, longsword and rapper sword dancing; Ian Robb, Cotswold morris; Stephanie Besford, English clog; and Alex Cumming, from the Southwest of England; and from Quebec, Yaëlle Azoulay is back to teach Quebecois Step Dance and a class in body percussion. Ian will lead singing classes, Elvie the dance band class. And if that’s not enough exhilaration, there will be several themed music and dance parties: English ceilidh, French Canadian soiree, pub night and Irish music/set dances. Plus the usual great food, wonderful community, beautiful location, musical jams, spontaneous singing, and lots of smiling.

CDSS English & American Week, Pinewoods Camp, MABring your instruments, singing voices and dancing shoes, and join program director Owen Morrison and his talented staff for a marvelous week! Whoo-hoo!!

Class descriptions, staff and schedule

Registration

Fees

Photos by Doug Plummer

 

Dance, Sing and Play in WV

dyskant,b tr07 dsk1 1877Not doing anything special next week? Then join us at CDSS’s Adult and Family Week at Timber Ridge, in the foothills of WV—it begins this Saturday, August 10, and it IS special!

N7. Couples Promenading Use One U IMG_1532We like to say that participation and involvement are contagious at the week. It’s a terrific program for adults, children, families and young adults, featuring a mix of English and American dance, border morris, clog, song, music, arts and crafts, nature walks and more. Adults participate in their classes while children enjoy age-appropriate dance and music options, and everyone joins together twice daily for the All-Camp Gatherings and at mealtimes. dyskant,b tr07 dsk1 2967Join program directors Gaye and Rachel Fifer, and their fantastic staff, for a relaxing and exhilarating week.

Class info and schedule

Staff

Register

Fees

Two special MINI-COURSES are at the week as well:

view 2 1353Contra Dance Callers Course, led by the excellent Rick Mohr, is an intensive calling course for advanced beginner through intermediate callers who have a knack for some skills, a commitment to work on the others, and are eager to take their calling to the next level. Learn a lot, share a lot, and have fun doing it!

Community & Classroom Dance Leaders Course, led by longtime camp favorite DeLaura Padovan, with musicians Steve Hickman and John Devine, will have abundant dancing, as well as discussion/processing time, to really integrate shared experiences and take them back to their home communities.

See you there!

Scenic photo courtesy Timber Ridge Camp; all other photos by Barbara Dyskant

“Rootbound”

by Nathaniel Smith

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Maple Morris; photo by Sarah Pilzer

Maple Morris & Morris Offspring present Rootbound:
Celebrating the life of English folk dance in North America

with music by Ian Robb, Amelia Mason, Eric McDonald and Emily Troll
original lyrics by Susan Cooper

July 15, The Armory Performance Hall, 191 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA
July 19, The Berkeley Church, 315 Queen St E., Toronto, Canada

 

 

 

Rootbound_thumbMaple Morris (North America) and Morris Offspring (United Kingdom) are thrilled to invite you to their collaborative theatrical Morris dance production, Rootbound. A blend of vigorous dancing, musical exploration, vibrant costumes, and creative storytelling, Rootbound will tell the story of a dancer’s journey in the North American Morris dance community.

Morris is a surviving English traditional folk dance that has been performed since the 1400s and has been associated with seasonal and harvest rituals. The dance is vigorous and athletic and the high leaps are accented by the use of white handkerchiefs and bells. Laurel Swift of Morris Offspring describes Morris dancing as “a complex and energetic art form demanding athleticism, coordination, and musicality from its performers, expected to display both discipline and individuality at any moment. It is rich in material, forms and movement, rarely tapped by the wider arts world yet offering a unique source of artistic possibilities.”

Maple Morris is a community of young dancers from across North America who are dedicated to promoting creativity, leadership, and continued excellence in future generations of the North American Morris Revival. In 2011, Maple traveled to the UK to collaborate with England’s foremost innovators, Morris Offspring. The result was the production Must Come Down, a stage performance showcasing Morris dancing at its most inventive.

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Morris Offspring; photo by Alan Cole

The return leg of this collaboration this summer will see Maple Morris joined by Morris Offspring in a brand new stage production in Boston and Toronto. Rootbound will feature music by the powerful singer Ian Robb (of the folk trio Finest Kind: www.ianrobb.com), Amelia Mason, Eric McDonald, and Emily Troll, words from acclaimed author Susan Cooper, and new Morris dance creations by Maple Morris and Morris Offspring.

Beer and wine will be available at both performances. Premium ($40) and general admission ($25) tickets are available at maplemorris.com/rootbound/.

For more information, visit our website: www.maplemorris.com

Rootbound is supported in part by the Country Dance and Song Society’s Outreach Funds.

Addendum: See the Boston Globe 7/11/13 online article about the event, http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater-art/2013/07/11/review-rootbound-maple-morris-and-morris-offspring/AVgLw9uZKjyldbKakqJeUI/story.html.