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by Nathaniel Smith

maplemorris1_t_by sarah pilzer

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.

offspring_photo1_t_by alan cole

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:, 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

For more information, visit our website:

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,


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The BVD Tour—July 11-25, 2013–an Intro

by Val Medve for BVD

BVD–Barb, Val and Dan; photo by Tom Medve

Gotta dance? We’ve got you covered! The BVD Tour is bringing English country dance to a community near you this summer. Join Barb Seppeler (pianist), Val Medve (caller), and Dan Seppeler (caller) for joyous dancing (and perhaps a CDSS gift item giveaway) in these communities: New Haven, CT; North Kingston, RI; Burlington,VT area; Nelson, NH; Norwich, VT; Whately, MA; Newton, MA. (A BVD tour Facebook page, with the complete dance schedule and details, will be coming soon. For now, see the current flyer below, or go to The Dance Gypsy, click search by “performer,” check the “all performers” option, and type Val Medve in the box.)

Barb and Dan Seppeler are from Newark, New York (outside of Rochester). Barb is a music teacher, choral director, composer and pianist. She plays English country dance at every opportunity, here in the northeast and in Canada. She has taken classes with Jacqueline Schwab (pianist for Bare Necessities) and is a member (and driving force) of several ECD bands, including Serendipity (playing for this year’s Jane Austen Ball in Rochester), Noteworthy, and Good Fortune. Dan, who in his “real life” is a programmer, has a love of logic and a playful personality that make him a fun and easy-to-understand English country dance teacher. In 2012, Barb and Dan started a popular weekly English country dance club for students at Hobart College.

jpg of flyer_rev

Current flyer; by Val Medve.

Val Medve’s interest in folk dance began in elementary school, when she was introduced to traditional Polish dance. After college, she danced recreationally in the Hartford and New Haven, CT, and Amherst, MA areas, enjoying New England contra dancing, English country dancing, and international folk dancing. That led to performing with two Hartford-based groups: Reel Nutmeg (English country dance) and Gwiazda (Polish dance). In 1985, she toured Eastern Europe with the Burlington, VT performing group, The Green Mountain Volunteers. After moving to Vermont in 1989, she danced with The Green Mountain Volunteers and Sleepy Hollow Morris. She is one of the teachers for the English country dance series at Elley-Long Music Center in Colchester and co-teaches an ECD class at the Wake Robin retirement community in Shelburne. In addition, she has taught ECD (and in some cases, international folk dance) at various festivals, including NOMAD, NEFFA, the Champlain Valley Folk Festival, and the Vermont International Festival. She has also taught at Jane Austen events sponsored by JASNA-VT and the Governor’s House in Hyde Park, VT. From 1990 to 2000, she and her husband Tom published The Dance Gypsy, a monthly hardcopy newsletter/calendar for 600 subscribers. During that time, she also compiled The Dance Gypsy’s Annual Summer Planner, a booklet with information about dance camps and dance festivals held all over the United States. Val and her husband Tom live in the Burlington, VT area and love to travel on dance adventures now that they are retired.

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Montreal Monsters: Making the “Pretty Boy” Video


Still photo from the music video “Pretty Boy” by Luke McCutcheon

Guest blog by Sean McCutcheon

A music video featuring contradancing—the first to do so, as far as I know—has just been released.

Music videos originated as clips shown on TV to promote a recording. Now, though still associated with songs, they have become an art form. As tools for producing them have grown cheaper, and web-based distribution channels such as YouTube and Pitchfork grown larger, they have become the means by which many young film makers hone their chops, reach wide audiences, win prizes, and launch careers.

After recording their fourth and latest album, Young Galaxy, the Montreal-based indie band, invited my son Luke to make the official video for the album’s lead song, the dance-pop anthem Pretty Boy.

According to Stephen Ramsay, co-founder of Young Galaxy, this song was inspired by reading Just Kids, the autobiography of Patti Smith (the godmother of punk), and her story of finding love with fellow misfit Robert Mapplethorpe (the iconic queer photographer).

The chorus of Pretty Boy goes:

“And I know you feel isolated
And I feel what you won’t say
I don’t care if the disbelievers
Don’t understand, you’re my pretty boy, always.”

Luke decided to make a video exploring “the uncanny valley, that space where something looks human but is just slightly off.” The term ‘‘uncanny valley’’ was coined to describe a curious feature that appears when you chart our emotional response to robots. The more they become human in appearance the more we like them. When they look and act almost but not perfectly like us, we start to feel revulsion, and the chart dips into the so-called uncanny valley. Finally, as they become indistinguishable from us, our responses become positive once again.

In the video, shot during a hectic weekend in Montreal, two weird, lost characters (a wrinkled man and a blank beauty; the actors were wearing very tight, uncomfortable latex masks), meet in a bar, sadly shuffle around a dingy, snowy city, and end up dancing together at a contradance, all in slow motion.

For the final scene, a dozen or so dancers came colorfully dressed to a church basement rented for a Sunday night and there, as the camera changed angles and the two weary actors busted their moves, they cheerfully repeated a few dances over and over again.

Since being released this Spring the video has racked up more than 50,000 views on YouTube. The reviewers like what one called “the story of a winter friendship between a pair of ugly ducklings.” Several see it as a twist on Harold and Maude. A few detected the models Luke actually had in mind: the film Trash Humpers and the video for the song “Pass This On” by the Swedish electronic duo The Knife. All see the relationship that blossoms between the creepy monsters, and their happy integration into the contradance, as sweet and redemptive.

What’s surprising about this, to me, is that it was my son who made it. Once, when Luke came to the contradance we organize in Montreal, he declared, with glaring illogic, that clearly none of the dancers had ever had sex. And when he was a willful adolescent our most effective deterrent was the threat of waiting for him after school, dancing on the sidewalk with signs identifying us as his parents.

To the adult Luke, however, contradancers represent “a spirit as wholesome, provincial, and non-sexual as cookies.” And thanks to his dancing parents, he happened to have access to this welcoming dance community, the perfect antidote for urban monsterdom.

Sean McCutcheon lives in Montreal and his interests include music and dance.

Caroline says: My thanks to Sean for writing this article, and thanks as well to Nils Fredland who shared Sean’s email with me a short while ago, alerting me to the video. When I first watched it, I spent most of the time thinking “What is this about?”, and by the end I was thinking, “Absolutely.” Tell us your reaction.

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Preserving the Life’s Work of Keith Blackmon, Part II

Nils Fredland and I have been working on the book of Keith Blackmon’s singing squares for over two years, on and off, and we’ve just published it! Pretty darn exciting.

A funny thing happens when you’re working on a book – the words take over. The constant decisions you make are all about commas, hyphens, and semi-colons; typography and spelling. Or you are thinking, and making decisions, about vertical space, indents, and page dimensions. The list-making and checking things off the list does not stop until the book is in your hands.

So, when Nils and I drove to the Ralph Page Weekend in February 2013, a few months ago, I was very much in the midst of that mindset. I had danced during the Keith Blackmon Memorial Weekend, held March 2012 in Keith’s home community near Bradford, PA. I was excited then to see the Bradford and Crook Farm dancers, and to talk with them about their long dance lives. Many had grown up in families where community life was integrated with square dancing in schools, kitchens, and upstairs at community halls. Keith was the carrier and preserver of this tradition. But on our way to Ralph Page, almost a year later, I was out of touch with the dances as living things.

So, picture this: At Ralph Page, Nils is presenting a session on Keith’s dances. I’m in a square with seven others. And Nils starts to talk about meeting Keith; his experience of him as a man and caller. It’s moving. And then we start to dance Pony Boy.

I’ve studied the words of Pony Boy; can’t tell you how many times. I’ve proof-read the music; can’t tell you how many times. What I read is: “Giddy-ap, giddy-ap, giddy-ap, whoa,” and what I think is: “Really? Is it giddy-up or giddy-ap? Is there a hyphen between giddy and ap? What did Keith write?”

But now I’m dancing it and singing along. My partner’s arms are around my waist in a star promenade. I love this figure. We pivot counterclockwise as a pair. That’s fun to do. Right into a ladies right hand star. Nice smooth transition. And then we swing. I’m smiling. I’m in the dance and Pony Boy takes life. And this is what I have been missing.

Nils and I drive home from Ralph Page. We are enthused by the dancing, the wonderful people, and the opportunity to share Keith’s dances. I am ready to go to work again. I understand the words and now, I understand the dances.

New River Train, the just published book of Keith Blackmon’s singing calls, is available from CDSS here.

~ Pat MacPherson

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Using Technology for Board Work

by Brian Gallagher

briangallagher-8fea1617As I start my final year as a member of the Country Dance and Song Society governing board, I reflect upon some of the things that have happened in my time serving, beyond big policy issues. One of the items I’m proudest about has been my involvement in the efforts to utilize technology better in the work that we do.

The board meets in person once a year. Various committees, including the executive committee, meet in person several times per year, but the vast majority of the board’s work is conducted outside of these in person meetings. When I started on the board, a lot of that work was conducted via email and teleconference using a free teleconference service.

There have been several people who have pushed us into the technology age, so this is not about giving credit. This is about the neat things we use.

First, we have a great webpage that hosts all of our board-related documents and resources. This site is great—it allows the office staff and board to store documents. When it comes time for the annual meeting, we post all of the board reports on the site. It is also an easy place to upload the most recent copy of the agenda.

Next comes the video conferencing. We do use Skype sometimes. We have found this is an effective tool if you want to do a video conference between two people. I have been known to have a quick video chat with fellow board members. It also functions as a great way for me to connect with other board members and really talk through a question or concern.

The bigger conferencing tool we are using is called Go to Meeting (G2M). (This is not meant to be an advertisement for the company at all.) While working to figure out what software works best for our needs, Jill Allen (and a few others) and myself sampled 6-8 different video and audio conferencing software. We settled on G2M for a variety of reasons.

There are moments when it is pretty fun to be in a meeting spanning multiple time zones. Favorite memories: one board member in Greece or a committee member in Ireland, with the rest of us all over North America. It gives a whole new meaning to “how are things by you?”

I’m glad that I have been part of this small change in how the CDSS board operates.

Brian Gallagher joined the CDSS governing board in 2008; he lives in Carbondale, IL.


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Mondays in Nelson

Happy Friday CDSS friends!  On this first day of summer I’m happy to share with you my final school project, completed during my recent semester at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.  While there I learned both radio and video production as well as some photography.  It was wonderful to develop these skills while working with a community near and dear to my heart: the Monday night contra dance in Nelson, NH.   Please enjoy this six minute video portrait of this gem of a community dance.

I also wish to extend my warmest thanks to the many people who helped make the project possible including: Lisa Sieverts, Gordon Peery, Don Primrose, Kelly Strauss, Val Van Meier, Al Stoops, Jenny Maxwell, Rachel Fouchet and all the Nelson dancers, callers and musicians.


~ Mary

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Preserving the Life’s Work of Keith Blackmon

blackmonpromocardFrom the Introduction of New River Train: Singing Squares from the Collection of Keith Blackmon:

Since my first meeting with him, Keith’s spirit has been with me as I have worked to bring his unique singing square dance repertoire to a wider audience of square dance enthusiasts.

I came into Keith’s life with a sole purpose — to create a polished book, published by CDSS, of singing squares from his collection amassed over 70 years as a dance caller. While many of the squares in Keith’s collection are well-known and frequently called in the region where Keith lived, a CDSS publication would put the squares in front of a much broader audience of dancers and callers, ensuring a long and well-traveled life for the dances themselves, and preserving Keith’s legacy and life’s work as a collector of dances. There were lots of things that Keith and I talked about in our initial meetings, but everything in our conversations eventually led back to the square dances. I came to understand, and really feel, how important it was to him that these dances survive as a vital, growing, and changing participatory art form. Faced with the end of his own life, Keith handed me this piece of himself and trusted me to do something big with it.

I’m really proud of the book. It is polished, and it’s an excellent collection that showcases elements of the regional square dance tradition of the Twin Tiers, and lets readers experience a sense of Keith himself. I am deeply humbled that he allowed me into his life, and that he chose to provide me with the content to create an interesting and useful dance resource. I hope that the book succeeds in giving him the gift of a larger audience for the square dances that he loved so much.

Keith’s spirit has indeed been with me through this whole process, and I can imagine his pride and joy every time I share a dance from New River Train with an audience new to the Blackmon collection.

Buy, enjoy, and use the book! Get to know a very fine man by learning some of his favorite square dances.

New River Train is available from the CDSS store.

~ Nils

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Celebrating the Spirit and Legacy of Nat Hewitt

by Chrissy Fowler

Nat Hewitt

Nat Hewitt

The contradance diaspora mourns when an important person passes, especially when the death is untimely. When Nat Hewitt died of complications of cancer in November, the loss was keenly felt by dancers, musicians, and callers across the world, and particularly in Maine, where Nat was the much-loved house fiddler for the Falmouth dance series. Over many decades, he also appeared regularly at dances around the state, in places like North Yarmouth, North Whitefield, Belfast, Rockport, Trenton, Freeport, Kittery, and Eliot; was on staff at Maine Fiddle Camp; and several times was a featured performer the annual DownEast Country Dance Festival.

In November, Maureen Costello (an early Falmouth organizer) catalyzed the idea of a memorial dance event in Maine.  A quartet of us began to plan the event: Maureen, Nat’s bandmate Glen Loper, current Falmouth organizer Barry Magda, and myself.

I was motivated to be part of it because I’m grateful to Nat for our various connections over the years. He did innumerable gigs with me, starting early in my calling practice, he passed on useful nuggets re. calling and self-employment, his musicianship lent credibility to dances I organized, he provided memorable late night hilarity at Pinewoods and elsewhere, and he was such a damned talented dance fiddler.  Who else could pull off playing Wizard’s Walk for the dance Haste to the Wedding at a Bat Mitzvah?

We decided to run the June 1st Falmouth dance as a fundraiser for a CDSS scholarship in Nat’s memory, invited many callers and musicians to volunteer their time, and started spreading the word.  Musicians and callers in Maine jumped right on board, and a few folks from “away” committed to come (including NEFFA leaders Dan Pearl & Linda Leslie, fiddler Jaige Trudel, and another of Nat’s bandmates Adam Broome.)  One dancer volunteered to assemble a memory book and brought supplies, various photos, and some anecdotes and memories that people had shared online in the wake of Nat’s passing.  It all came together, coincidentally, just 2 days before Nat’s 55th birthday.

And it was amazing.

The day was hot. Really hot. We should have been on the water in a sailboat, not in a steamy hall. But there we were, having what Maine native and Oberlin student Ness Smith-Savedoff labeled “a mystic sweat lodge experience.”

The floor was full of longtime Maine dancers and new faces. Nat’s mother Elizabeth watched from the side of the hall, taking it all in. The musicians and callers exulted in each other’s contributions, whether listening onstage or whirling around the dance floor. As Linda Leslie succinctly stated, “the dance was very special.”

Each caller did 2 dances, and the bands played separately and then combined forces for a couple of sets. DEFFA president Pam Weeks observed that this format illustrated “the diversity of styles we have in our little community.”

Eric Weest Johnson at the sound board

Eric Weest Johnson at the sound board

Eric Weest Johnson was the superstar of the night. He brought his 24 channel board and a ton of gear – even pre-labeling a cable for every single musician. He did an initial sound check of each group during our pre-dance potluck, and this meant that the bands could just plug and play. When the whole group launched into their first mega-band set, the mood was jubilant.

Much appreciation to Glen Loper, Maureen Costello, Barry Magda, Maggie Robinson, Bill Olson, Kim Roberts, Linda Leslie, Dan Pearl, Jessie & Greg Boardman, Frigate (Steve Muise, Glen Loper, Fred White), Adam Broome, Jaige Trudel, Jeff Raymond, Henry Road Band (John Pranio, Jamie Oshima, Glen Loper, Toki Oshima), T-Acadie (Pam Weeks, Bill Olson, Jim Joseph, Jay Young), Edward Howe, and Eric Weest Johnson on sound, but special thanks to all of the dancers and the folks who tossed in extra money above and beyond admission.

We netted nearly $1,400 given generous contributions of time and money from the dancers, performers, and organizers. Wow!

But, more importantly for all of us, it was what Pam Weeks described as a “celebration and amplification of Nat’s spirit and legacy in dance music.” And the bonus was the way our community pulled together to make it happen. I think every one of us was seeing Nat’s impish smile and devilishly sparkling eye, and hearing his fiddle in the mix of the traditional music and dance that we all cherish.” Being together and remembering together our old friend Nat, through celebration, was uplifting and cathartic and brought its own richness,” reflected Adam Broome. Such richness is at the core of our traditions. We celebrate them as we celebrated Nat.

~ Chrissy Fowler

More photos and a short video are on Dropbox

Folks may still donate to CDSS online, noting that it’s in memory of Nat Hewitt.

Chrissy Fowler is a dance leader and a board member of the Belfast Flying Shoes Dance Series and DownEast Friends of the Folk Arts (DEFFA) – both of which are CDSS affiliates.

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Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood? a.k.a. Assets Mapping!

by Rima Dael, CDSS Executive Director

164241_587575261277109_1894853949_n_Rima & locals in Phoenix

Rima and friends in Phoenix

Hello CDSS Community,

While in Phoenix recently, I danced and chatted with members of Phoenix Traditional Music and Dance (PHXTMD). Many thanks to Ron and Linda Nieman for the generous hospitality! I also met with Deb Comly for coffee in Flagstaff and we talked about the success of May Madness in Clarkdale, AZ and the dances in Flagstaff and Cottonwood.

My takeaway from my conversations in Arizona that I want to share with you is connecting with resources in your communities. This came from answering questions of how best to continue to ensure the sustainability of a group, where to find good people to help with the group’s work, and where can CDSS help. In answering the first two questions, I shall continue by framing this as Asset Mapping. Yikes! That’s management jargon. Okay, in Sesame Street parlance this is also known as  “Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood?”

So, who are the people and organizations in your neighborhood that can help solve the challenges your group faces? The first part of our conversation was to frame the work that we do as part of the arts and nonprofit communities. When defining dance, music and song groups in this manner, it opens you up to see there are organizations or people you know in the fields of the arts, arts management, academics, and nonprofit organizations that could help with challenges you face.  In Phoenix specifically, we identified the Arizona State University’s nonprofit academic program/center, the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. PHXTMD members also identified people they knew at other arts organizations and that they’d like to reach out to, such as the Musical Instrument Museum and the local fiddle teacher.

In our discussion, it was clear that PHXTMD had accomplished a lot of great work in their 30 year history, and that should be celebrated and recognized. It is important to take stock of the good things and celebrate big or small wins on occasion, to help contextualize challenges a group may face or to frame future direction of where a group wants to go. I find it useful to problem-solve from a strength-based perspective. Sure, some feel that this is simply just reframing a problem by minimizing weaknesses, but a positive approach and spin is a much better way to help achieve success. As the saying goes “No one has ever succeeded while being convinced they will fail.”

Don’t forget that CDSS can also help your group! We provide grants, scholarships and financial backing and we have our resource kits. We are working hard to be a better hub and resource for our members, groups and others. We can help by pointing you in the right direction to get help in your local communities and we can help you think through how to do your own asset mapping.

We are a phone call, 413-203-5467, or email click away. Count CDSS as a part of your neighborhood too!



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Annie Fain Liden-Barralon Welcomed as Folk School’s Music and Dance Program Coordinator

by Cory Marie Podielski

originally published by the John C. Campbell Folk School
on May 3, 2013 in their blog Folk School Folks, Music! Dancing!
(reprinted by permission)

The Folk School is so happy to welcome Annie Fain Liden-Barralon to the position of Music and Dance Coordinator! I sat down with Annie Fain to find out about her experience growing up in the Folk School community and what it’s like to return as the Music and Dance Coordinator.


Annie Fain with her banjo

Cory Marie: What’s is like returning to the Folk School Community as a full time resident and employee?

Annie Fain: It feels good in a deep down way.  Many things are the same as they were when I was young, from the student name tags to the feel of the wooden dance floor in the Community room to the warmth of the community that surrounds the school.

Cory Marie: So, this isn’t the first time you’ve worked for the Folk School?

Annie Fain: In 2002, I came back from studying abroad at a folk school in Denmark and was awarded an upcoming craftsperson scholarship through the Southern Highland Craft Guild to take a class at Penland in Book Arts and Papermaking. I worked in the office at the Folk School as an Administrative Assistant to save for the class. It was during that time that Karen asked me to be the coordinator for Little/Middle Folk School.

I was 22 at the time and had participated in Little/Middle myself from the ages of 7-17.  I was honored and eager for the challenge. Folk School people have always been very supportive and have taught me much. Later, I developed an awareness of marketing through eight years of self-employment as an artist, musician, and dancer.  I took business and accounting classes, and realized the importance of being organized, marketing and networking.

Cory Marie: Are you going to stick with Bob’s plan or are you going to shake things up?

Annie Fain:  Maybe a little of both! Since classes are booked a year in advance, I have the luxury of observing how 2014 develops. It gives me time to get my feet on the ground, and  to get to know our audience.  I plan to introduce new things within the context of how things have traditionally been done at the Folk School.

I’ve taken many classes at the Folk School in the past such as Cape Breton step dancing. Enrollment for dance classes has been down these last few years. I want to reassess and think about, not only bringing classes like those back, but how to fill them. I would also like to start a Cajun music and dance weekend!

Cory Marie: When did you start teaching at the Folk School?

Annie Fain: In 2004, I taught my first Book Arts class and then Bob Dalsemer hired me to teach clawhammer banjo and then Appalachian Clogging with my sister, Emolyn Liden. My father, David Liden, also a local musician, was usually my assistant for the banjo classes and it was great fun. I taught at least one banjo and book arts class every year from that time on.

Martha, David and Annie Fain play Morningsong

Martha, David and Annie Fain play Morningsong

Cory Marie: I have been part of the Folk School community for only 2 years, so I’d like to hear about your story. Tell me about yourself.

Annie Fain: I was born in Charleston, West Virginia. Dad was there as part of a land study project for people who had sold their mineral rights to coal companies. The way my parents tell the story is that after my brother (Lindsey) was born, mom (Martha Owen) said “I’m going home to Murphy.” Dad said, “Well, she had the kids and she had the check book,” so he went with her!

Cory Marie: Did your family move to your current location?

Annie Fain: We moved into the Fain house in Murphy which was around 100 years old at the time. “Fain” is my grandmother’s maiden name, we (my brother, sister and I) are 7th generation in Murphy with that name.  This is where my first name comes from; Annie Fain. A lot of folks think “Fain” is my middle name, but my mother assures me that she intended Annie Fain to be my first name. The Fain house burnt down the day after my 13th birthday, but by then we had moved.

Cory Marie: Where else did your family live?

Annie Fain: My parents have always had sheep, so that made staying in Murphy city limits a problem. They got away with it as long as they could and eventually they rented some land out in Tusquitee from Garnette Nelson who also had sheep.  Soon after that we moved into the Garron Ghelly house on Harshaw Rd. near the Folk School. The house was designed in the same style as Rock House at the Folk School.  It was during that time that my father started working as the Development Manager at the Folk School.

J Roy Stalcup plays his banjo in Keith House.

J Roy Stalcup plays his banjo in Keith House.

The land where our house in Martin’s Creek is located was previously owned by J. Roy Stalcup who was a banjo player. He used to sit in the Living Room at the Folk School, play his banjo and visit with folks on the weekends. Stories about J. Roy and Horace Stalcup (who lived at the end of our driveway) are still special to me.

Cory Marie: What are you first memories of the Folk School?

Annie Fain: I remember being little and going to big parties in Orchard House where people played tunes. Mom and Dad played and performed a lot at the Folk School. As children, we were always there, just hanging around. It was a normal part of life growing up. We would get big speeches from mom: “You’re at the Folk School. We want to stay welcome here, and so you need to be on your best behavior. We want to be able to keep coming back.” We got used to just hanging out while our parents played, or mom told stories. People say to me all the time that they remember me sleeping under the piano during dances. The hosts at the Folk School were Danish when I was growing up. There was an international Folk School community and also a local community of country people. Both the influences were a big part of making me who I am today.


Folk School wedding procession. Child-sized Annie Fain in front with child-sized garland, Dad David and Mom Martha close behind playing music.

Cory Marie: When did you start to become involved in playing/dancing?

Annie Fain: I was four when I wanted to join the contra/square dances. I did not smile. I was super-serious. I didn’t want anyone to tell me what to do because I knew that I knew what to do.  They would want to pick me up and swing me. I was like “NO!” -  I am not a child! I just wanted to dance.

Cory Marie: When did you join a dance team?

Annie Fain: I joined the Rural Felicity Garland dancers when I was 8. My mother went regularly to dance practices. I clearly remember being 7 and her leaving to dance practice and me bawling my eyes out for an hour on the front doorstep. I just wanted to do it so bad.

This group of adult women let me join the team at 8 and I danced with them until I graduated high school. I got used to the community, the socializing, and the politics behind community-based dance teams. Later, when I lived in Asheville, NC, I joined Loafer’s Glory, a North West Morris team and eventually the Green Grass Cloggers.

When I was a teenager I wanted to be a Folk School Clogger, but I was already so busy with doing piano, gymnastics, and all these other things. I had really good friends who were cloggers, and they taught me all the routines. When they performed at Fall Festival, I would dance all the routines by the side of the stage on the ground next to them. How pitiful is that? I just wanted to dance.

I learned to clog by watching old timers do it. It is common around here, if a community member needs help, folks get together at their local community center to raise some money by selling hot dogs, having a cake walk, playing music and dancing. The old folks would usually only do the buck step, but always with their own personal flare.

Folk School folks let me participate in this stuff at such a young age and I am so thankful that they did because I knew I wanted to do it and when they let me, I did fine.

Cory Marie: When did you start to play music?

Annie Fain: When I was in 6th grade I wanted to learn fiddle and had some lessons from dad, but it was from dad. If you are learning from a parent, it seems so annoying. It is easy to get mad at parents, because you blame them because learning an instrument is hard. I have always played a few tunes and played those tunes for years, and then, I’d have waves of learning more. I still consider myself a closet fiddle player.

Cory Marie: When did you pick up the banjo?

Annie Fain: When I was 15, I learned my first banjo tune, Old Joe Clark, from mom.  We didn’t have actual lessons, but I slowly accumulated more and more tunes from her. When I went to college in Asheville, I tried to find people to play with, but I was shy about it. There was the jam at Jack of the Woods, but I wouldn’t play. Finally, I started to play with my friends Jamie Herrman and Jessica Johnson.  It was the first time that I felt really supported by my band mates – this is when I started to blossom as a player. It was around this time in my early to mid- 20s that I started to play the banjo uke. My friends and I would come and play Fall Festival every year. I still perform with Blue-Eyed Girl. Pearl Shirley, Ellie Grace and I all grew up in musical families.

Cory Marie: What did you study at UNC Asheville?

Annie Fain: I created my own major in Appalachian Studies and Folklore in History. When I was doing senior research, the Danish Scholarship came up. During my time at UNCA, I also studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Annie Fain and Robert Forsyth dancing in the Community Room

Annie Fain and Robert Forsyth dancing in the Community Room

Cory Marie: Tell me about living at a Folk School in Denmark.

Annie Fain: When I was 22, I got a scholarship to a Folk School in Denmark. At the Danish Folk School, everyone sing songs before lunch and you even have your own little blue, hard cover songbook. Everything is about togetherness and coziness. The meals were family style. It was a sports and dance Folk School so classes were power sport, outdoor adventure, and rhythmic gymnastics. It was intense – I did things that I never would have imagined. I took my banjo with me and taught them Cripple Creek. They made up a table slap dance to it. They didn’t understand really what Appalachia was. They liked me, but I was strange to them.

Cory Marie: Besides hitting the floor as a 4 year old, what’s your experience with Contra and Community Dances?

Annie Fain: I was invited to be on the board at the Old Farmer’s Ball at Warren Wilson College. That was the beginning of learning more about the money, business, and politics that go into keeping a big dance going. I also learned how to deal with dance floor etiquette and concerns – everything from how to address inappropriate dancers (people who twirl you way too much and yank your arm off), to demonstrations to empower women to be defensive dancers. Board members would also take turns hosting the dance.

Cory Marie: What made you decide to go to France?

Annie Fain: I have always wanted to go to France to learn French.  It was New Year’s Eve 2009 at the Folk School, and I knew it was time to go. I gave myself a year to plan, to prepare, and to complete my teaching commitments. I wanted to go for 6 months to a year to really be able to learn French and experience traditional French music and dance.

Playing with Polo, Nadine and Geraud in France

Playing with Polo, Nadine and Geraud in France

When I was staying with old-time musicians Polo and Nadine, I had a list of music festivals I had heard about. They happened to be on staff at all of them. They didn’t have a banjo player, so I was invited to perform with them. Géraud was their bass player. They also invited me to teach clogging and call squares and contras in French! ah! They wanted American dance. Géraud and I fell in love, got married, and had baby, Jules! After 3 years of dealing with visas and such, we moved back to Brasstown in January 2013.

Cory Marie: How does it feel to return after being abroad?

Annie Fain: Karen talked to me about this position when I was 23 and I wasn’t sure – I didn’t feel ready to settle down. I was traveling and living in Asheville, but every time I came back to Brasstown I felt peaceful. Now, it feels right to come back after living in different places and starting a family, a full-circle feeling. I am not a child anymore. I’ve spent so much time at the school as a kid, I feel like it is a second home, I feel very comfortable here.

Cory Marie: What are your duties?

Annie Fain: Coordinating all things music and dance for the Folk School. Keeping in touch with teachers, scheduling the classes and the Friday night concert series, engineering sound, Tuesday night dances, coordinating Fall Festival performers, finding bands and callers for the Saturday night dances, marketing, and more. My husband, Géraud, is a trained sound technician, he is very committed to helping out.

Cory Marie: Do you have a favorite place on campus?

Annie Fain: I love hiding places and I can’t give those away. I remember throwing balloons down from the trapdoor high up in the ceiling of the community room when I was 8 on New Year’s Eve. I relish the sun room in Orchard House and the porch-views looking towards Magic Mountain.

I have only missed 2 or 3 Fall Festivals in my entire life – I love it and the Festival Barn for nostalgic reasons. Some things don’t change. You see the same folks every year.

Cory Marie: What is your favorite food?

Annie Fain: Cheese and wine from France! (Especially Comté and the Picidon goat cheese from Ardeche where we were living.  Sometimes they form the cheeses into little heart shapes.)

Cory Marie: Contra dance move?

Annie Fain: Definitely not a gypsy – too shy.
Balance and swing – I like the balance & making some noise.

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