Legacy of Joy Society Member Stories
Sometimes people ask what it is that I love about CDSS. That’s easy: it has given me decades of joy. I was introduced to English country dance by accident 30 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. My participation in everything from English country, contra, morris and rapper, to the exhilarating community singing of Sacred Harp, all lead back to CDSS.
Ruth Sylvester, who died February 26, 2020, was a lifelong country dancer, a beloved member of the Vermont / New Hampshire Upper Valley community, and a cherished friend for many decades.
Ruth’s love of music and dance was, if not inevitable, certainly the joyful consequence of being the child of dancers Betsy Ross Bankart and Mike Sylvester. After graduation from Smith College, Betsy spent a year on a working scholarship in the southern Appalachians. She traveled with an itinerant recreation worker, visiting schools for brief residencies. Betsy taught folk dancing, though in some locales only play party games—no dancing!—were permitted. After meeting her future spouse, Mike Sylvester, at Pinewoods, Betsy moved to Manhattan, where she worked in administration and taught elementary school science at the Brearly School. In the late 1940s, she served with Mary Judson, May Gadd, and others on the editorial board of The Country Dancer, the predecessor to the CDSS News.
Thanks to that Pinewoods friendship, Betsy’s daughter, Ruth Sylvester, owed her very existence to country dancing. Ruth was born in 1952, graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a major in Greek and Latin, and worked on a vegetable farm in northern New Hampshire for several years. After moving to the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont, she tried numerous jobs before settling in as a freelance writer and editor for local publications.
As the child of dancers, folk dance and music became a feature of Ruth’s life. In her twenties, she found herself at a dance that lacked a caller and volunteered to give calling a try. Starting in the early 1980s, she became a regular caller at local contra dances. Her first band, The Last Call, was joined on several occasions by pianist Bob McQuillen, who composed “Miss Sylvester’s Reel” for her. Fiddler Tracey Sherry, a close friend for nearly 40 years, recalled, “Ruth loved teaching people to dance. She poured herself into becoming a continually better caller, and she practiced a lot.”
From 1987 through 2015, she appeared at a monthly dance as Dr. Ruth and the Pleasure Seekers, and then with the band Cuckoo’s Nest. Boston caller Laura Johannes remembered a Jamaica Plain dance when Ruth called The Merry-Go-Round: “Her entire face lit up with a mischievous smile. That was one of her favorite dances ever.” Ruth remained an avid dancer—even during bouts with cancer—enjoying contras, squares, and English country dance, brightening halls with a friendly attitude and one of her many sequined skirts.
Ruth met her future spouse, Elfie Forbes, at a reading group in 2001. At their joyful wedding in 2009, they processed to the tune “Trip to the Jubilee.” Lisa Greenleaf led everyone in a large spiral to the tune “Fandango” at the ensuing dance party.
Ruth and Elfie hosted an annual midwinter potluck supper where the dishes had to include at least one of the “Three Essentials”: butter, garlic, and chocolate. They hosted a similar event every June to celebrate strawberry season. Elfie commented, “Ruth delighted in bringing people together to have fun. Her gift for being fully involved in the present moment made her wonderful company, although it also occasionally made her late for appointments.”
In her fifties, Ruth started playing cello again. Playing music became a joyful passion for the rest of her life; she joined a string quartet, an informal dance band, a Bach study group, and a chamber orchestra. She served on the board of the Upper Valley Music Center, devoting many hours as a volunteer. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her.
Legacy Gift to CDSS
This year, CDSS was one of several beneficiaries of both Ruth’s and Betsy’s estates. In a year with so many disappointments and challenges, we found reason to be deeply grateful for these bequests whose abundance means we will likely not have to dip into our reserves in 2020 after all. When I told Elfie of this extraordinary impact and our gratitude, she replied that that was a fitting fulfillment of Ruth’s wish that her gift sustain dance, music, and song for many years beyond her own passing.
What will your legacy be? For most people, their final gift is their only opportunity to make a really big financial gift to an organization they trust and believe in. Thanks to all of you who have already included CDSS in your estate plans. If you are among them, we would love to know.
Sam & Sandy Rotenberg
In writing our will, it was clear that supporting CDSS was important to both of us. Watching the response of the Country Dance & Song Society to the COVID-19 crisis on our continent confirms all that we admire about our national organization.
Musicians play to calm our souls and camp weeks hold virtual gatherings that unite friends and families with joy and good cheer. CDSS web talks convey vital information concerning critical decisions by our local organizations about reopenings. CDSS also created a venue to support musicians and callers who depend upon events for their livelihood. This year’s virtual camp weeks provided an opportunity to enjoy sensitive and uplifting songs, stories, fun, and games. Viewing these moments helped us through yet another week or two of no dancing, no socializing, and no meals with family and friends.
We met at a folk dancing event and years later discovered contra and English dancing. When Tanya and Ben, then ages 13 and 12, asked to join us, they were welcomed by our community. What a pleasure it has been to continue this family tradition and attend CDSS family camps with them, their spouses, and our grandchildren. May our contributions help future families dance and sing together at camp.
Sandy was on the board of CDSS for 12 years, during the first years that the Executive Committee began traveling to our communities for meetings. It was amazing to meet so many talented and dedicated organizers around the country and to observe and participate with CDSS’s diverse affiliates. Our organization and activities bring joy to many, and we wish to support this endeavor for years to come.
-Sam & Sandy Rotenberg
Michal Warshow & Joel Bluestein
Many things make CDSS important to us. Dancing and music have had a huge impact on our lives, not the least of which was bringing us together. Joel grew up in a musical family and first attended Pinewoods in the early 1970s. Michal remembers her first time at Pinewoods in the 1980s, when she was curious to find out how everybody discovered dancing. She was impressed and hugely jealous that many people were introduced to it by their parents and had grown up with music and dance. We’ve done the same with our children. We started bringing them to CDSS family weeks when they were little; they’re now in their 20s, and dance and music are a central part of their lives.
So many of our close friends are people we have met through dancing, both locally and across the country. This has become even more obvious lately—as we all reach out to our communities for support, the dance community is there for us. On a CDSS Web Chat in April, we were impressed to hear what music and dance communities across the country are doing to keep supporting each other during these difficult times.
There is so much more to this community than “just” singing and dancing. As dance organizers, we are very aware of how CDSS supports our communities and how critical our support is to enabling CDSS to continue its work. It was an easy decision for us to commit to support the Legacy of Joy project, but honestly, we hadn’t gotten around to making the arrangements. But we’ve learned two important things recently: one, you never know when CDSS is going to need extra support; and two, you can’t put off getting your life in order because you think you have lots of time. We made the decision, and we’re putting it in place now. It’s important and it can’t wait.
-Michal Warshow & Joel Bluestein
Craig Meltzner & Elaine Walter
L’dor v’dor (from generation to generation) is a Jewish phrase which refers to continuity, the responsibility of passing on knowledge and traditions to sustain them for the future. This concept informs our plans to leave a bequest to CDSS.
We met folk dancing, and our marriage and family life has been enriched by community dance and song, largely from our home base in Northern California. We’ve danced throughout the U.S. and even in Jerusalem, courtesy of an American expatriate dancer. As toddlers, our daughters fell asleep on the sidelines of contra dances, and as they grew, joined us on the dance floor and at summer camps. This summer we look forward to CDSS Family Week at Ogontz with our daughter and 2-year-old granddaughter—the next generation to share the tradition with us.
As local dance organizers, we appreciate the volunteer energy and resources that sustain our communities. We are inspired by the musicians, callers, song leaders, composers, choreographers, and instructors who preserve and extend these traditions.
For over 100 years, CDSS has supported and connected us as individuals and communities who love participatory dance, music, and song. As a former CDSS Board member and Treasurer, I know that developing a sustainable financial base is essential to CDSS’s future. I was proud to help implement CDSS’s “robust reserves” plan. We are pleased to include CDSS in our estate plan to help ensure CDSS will be here for decades to come, to help spread the joy to future generations—l’dor v’dor.
-Craig Meltzner & Elaine Walter
David Millstone & Sheila Moran
We each started country dancing in the early 1970s with Dudley Laufman, Sheila in Maine and David in New Hampshire. Music, song, and dance have been central to our lives for most of our adult lives.
Over the decades, our involvement in these activities has included playing in a dance band, singing with Village Harmony, joining a longsword team, performing in the Hanover Christmas Revels, singing in a hospice chorus, and calling dances. David’s calling and our travels were, in roughly equal parts, devoted to English country, contra and squares, and community/children/family dancing.
We have developed friendships throughout North America and Europe as a result of our dance-related travels. Indeed, our dozen trips to the Czech Republic and surrounding countries all started with a CDSS connection.
We’ve each served on non-profit boards and understand the financial needs of such organizations. Doing good work requires sustained funding. When we developed our estate plans, leaving a bequest to CDSS was a no-brainer. We’re excited about the directions in which CDSS is moving and expect the organization to bring people of all ages together for generations to come.
-David Millstone & Sheila Moran
Nancy Boyd & Arthur Munisteri
Arthur and I made our estate plans a few years back when I was serving on the CDSS Board and he was serving on both the Pinewoods Camp Board and our local dance board. Including CDSS as a beneficiary was a no-brainer for us. Art introduced me to dancing shortly after I met him and we had a ridiculously great time in the dance and song community our entire 30 years together. Dancing itself, the community, and the deep friendships we made had all been central to our life together—those connections continue to be central to my life. We wanted to help sustain that kind of community long into the future.
Planning early left me no doubt about Arthur’s wishes regarding CDSS, and I take comfort in knowing that all is in place to leave a legacy to something that was so deeply meaningful to him.
During Art’s illness and since his death, the dance community has surrounded me with truly amazing love and support. I cannot overstate how uplifting this care was and is, and how powerfully it affirms our shared belief in the value of community. May CDSS and the communities it nurtures continue to thrive.
My friends at CDSS asked me why I had chosen to participate in the Legacy of Joy Society by naming CDSS in my will. Well, just that. To leave a legacy of joy. The amount designated in my will is not nearly commensurate with the joy I receive from music, song, dance, and the personal connections with many friends in the CDSS community and beyond, but I hope it will help to ensure that CDSS initiatives to support and sustain these traditional activities, and the inclusive, caring communities they build, well into the future. And, perhaps, also, as one last motherly reminder to my children: don’t forget to do whatever you can to ensure that those things that have given you joy in your lifetime will endure for generations to come.
I can’t imagine what my life would be if it weren’t for the Country Dance and Song Society. I used to be a very shy person. Then I discovered I could perform clogging routines in front of people, which led to contra dance, English dance, and then with support from CDSS, I was able to get on stage in front of a room full of people to teach and share my love of dance! This has helped me in all areas of my life—I am comfortable being gregarious and have left that shyness behind. And I now have many friends from all over North America and Europe, a treasure I would never have thought possible.
Once I started calling, CDSS was instrumental in my developing skill as a caller. As a source of both resources, training, and advice, CDSS gave me the materials and skills to realize my initial goal of being hired at a dance weekend. I attended callers’ workshops at CDSS camps and received a grant to develop a west coast training series. From there I was able to expand my goals to calling at a week-long camp, then a CDSS camp at Pinewoods, and finally as a program director for CDSS and BACDS camps. Without our “mother ship”, CDSS, I could not have accomplished all this.
Since then I fulfilled another dream—touring in England and Denmark—and, after being on staff at a CDSS Family Week, started a country dance program at an elementary school in Portland, Oregon. This was a new area for me and, again, CDSS resource materials were critical to my success. What a joy it was to see those young dancers welcomed and enjoying themselves with skill at the Portland Ball.
It is so rewarding to enable people to have fun, learn to dance, and to dance better.
I have always felt it is important to give back. I served on the CDSS Board, including several years as president. Most recently I was chair of the Awards Committee and am very proud of the work we did to honor Lifetime Contributions in music, song, and dance from around North America.
CDSS has had such a profound impact on my life—I want others to have the same opportunities. And I want CDSS to be able to grow, expand, and change as needed to thrive into the future, so of course I have included CDSS in my estate plans—it’s one of the most important ways to give back!
When I first heard about planned giving it sounded like such a great idea! A way that people who loved our traditions of dance, music and song could give a final gift to help insure that CDSS would continue to thrive.
At first I couldn't see how I could participate in the planned giving program. I'm probably not going to need a trust or complicated estate plan as I move into the final decades of my life. What I do have are retirement accounts and those have named beneficiaries. I've recently changed those beneficiaries to be CDSS! This was a very easy thing to do and an easy decision to make. This isn't a set amount that CDSS will receive, I'm planning for it to be many decades before the gift is given and I'm really happy that I could take this step into planned giving.
Could you join me and take a step today?