From a Program Director

Paper conversation houses. Photo by Anna Alter.Conversation-starter paper houses made by Anna Alter sit on dining tables at Pinewoods last summer. Photo by Anna Alter.

Emily Troll. Photo by Robyn Nicole TowleJoin Emily at American Week this year! Photo by Robyn Nicole Towle.

At the first dinner of American Dance & Music Week last week, a charming paper house about the size of a teacup appeared on each table like magic. When you lifted the lid, slips of paper invited you into conversation with questions, earnest or whimsical, take your pick. The dining hall and adjoining field were filled with laughter, and the sighs that follow. My face hurt from smiling by the time dinner was done.

These tiny houses were made by Anna Alter. All I had asked of her was to print up some conversation starters to ease us into camp. But she went way beyond what I imagined. She knew more was needed than a routine ice-breaker. We were entering camp masked, in the middle of the Delta surge, hoping to all test negative on Tuesday so we could finish the week at camp. Oh what a bucket of feelings!

Anna’s houses weren’t just a good distraction, they were a loving act. And this was how the whole week went. With nothing promised, everything counted. People gave with their whole heart. They made space for each other to be as COVID-cautious as they needed. Then they made space for each other to dance whatever role they wanted. People were not just nice, they were kind and generous, and camp frikkin glowed.

We still have room to grow this year (and forever). And we may not always have the urgency of a global health crisis to push us into this tender, changing space.

I’d like to see us connecting more proactively across generations and identities. I’d like to see us changing the way we do things in the interest of racial justice, even if this means giving up some things we love. Maybe the song you want to sing belongs too strongly to African-American tradition for you to feel right about it anymore, if you’re a white person. Maybe our program and staff structures need to flex to invite in more leaders of color. Maybe we can find a way to make amends to the Indigenous folks whose land we are on. There are so many possibilities, and I hope we won’t shy away from the big ones.

I think we can make changes together. Actually, I know we can. Because last year we made plenty of changes, with grace and collaboration (the CDSS staff worked their butts off). We moved the after-parties to the C# minor pavilion for better air-flow. People got bolder with partner communication, because we had to for dancing to be safe and fun. It was the most joyfully mixed up dance floor I’ve ever seen in terms of gender and roles. We got really good at eye smiling. We didn’t know what was coming, but we decided to be there together anyway.

Here’s the thing: we could have let desperation for the old days drive us—and we did not. We could have let our fears of change paralyze us—and we did not. We embraced our time together and squeezed the most fun and meaning out of it that we could. We made changes, and we can make more!

I hope we can leave COVID behind some day soon. But I also hope that we never leave behind this courageous way of being. Like Anna’s houses, some things will turn out beyond our wildest imaginations.

Emily Troll

Program Director,
American Dance & Music Week at Pinewoods

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