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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!

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Keith Blackmon Memorial Dance Weekend and Book Release Party

blackmonflyerI am excited to share that I will be attending the 2nd Annual Keith Blackmon Memorial Dance Weekend and Book Release Party this Saturday, Oct. 25th, in Pennsylvania. Click on the flyer on the right to download a PDF version.

For information on New River Train visit: and see Nils Fredland’s blog on documenting Keith Blackmon’s work:

I look forward to a fun evening of dance and song! Hope to see some of you there.

Cheers, Rima

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Legislative Testimony

by Rima Dael, CDSS Executive Director

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Rima and Sen. Connor Ives

This past Friday, Pat McPherson, Director of the CDSS Education Department, and I provided testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. State Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord) and Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives (D-Newburyport), Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee, are traveling around the state with fellow committee members to solicit ideas from the arts, cultural and tourism communities, and the general public, to help the Committee develop policies that strengthen arts, culture and tourism in Massachusetts.

Tourism is recognized as the third largest revenue producing industry in Massachusetts with a $3.6 billion payroll across 124,700 jobs. In 2011, 21.3 million people visited the state and spent $16.9 billion, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Tourist surveys consistently indicate that arts, culture and history are among the top reasons for choosing to visit our state. Nonprofit cultural organizations employ nearly 18,000 Massachusetts residents, generating $28 million in payroll taxes and $1.2 billion in annual in-state spending.

“Tourism and the arts bring Massachusetts to life,” said Atkins. “People come from all over the world to visit Walden Pond, Tanglewood, the Freedom Trail and our other internationally renowned destinations. Our artists, dancers, and musicians produce captivating works that produce jobs and showcase the creativity of our Commonwealth. On this tour, our Committee will explore the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Massachusetts, its impact on our economy and our communities, and ways the Legislature can help sustain it for future generations.”

Our primary goal of providing testimony was to raise the visibility of traditional dance, music and song in Massachusetts and showcase the good work of the Country Dance and Song Society over the past 98 years.

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Rima and Rep. Andrews

“I look forward to visiting different parts of the state and working with the Regional Tourist Councils to promote these areas and the attractions that they offer in an effort to encourage economic growth throughout the Commonwealth,” said Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives.

Senator O’Connor Ives and I shared a fun moment as fellow alums of Mt. Holyoke College. Rep. Andrews, a member of the committee, came up to ask advice from CDSS on thoughts and resources for bringing dance to a community in her district and engaging children and their families in participatory dance. Also in attendance were Linda Henry, CDSS Outreach & Grants Manager; Lynn Nichols, CDSS Webmaster; and CDSS member Alex Krogh-Grabbe of Amherst.

CDSS is working on creating toolkits to provide to members with best practices to engage local elected leaders to increase the visibility of traditional dance, music and song, and provide testimony on the value of our participatory arts in our communities. We thank the Massachusetts Cultural Council for their on-going support of our work and thanks to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development for their time visiting towns around Massachusetts.


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Categories: American Dance, Arts & Tourism, Arts Advocacy, Dance Callers, English Dance, Features & Fun, Ideas & Resources, Morris Dance, Musicians, Traditional Dance, Updates from the Office | + Leave a comment »

BVD Tour—The Last Week

BVD—Barbara Seppeler, Val Medve and Dan Seppeler, accompanied by Tom Medve (and in part, Tom Grande)—toured New England this summer. Val and Barb shared the daily diary writing; see their earlier blogs, Intro, The First Week, The Second Week and The Third Week.

Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Sunday, July 21

The home stretch!!

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Barb leading her “The Band’s the Thing” workshop, Norwich, VT (Val Medve)

Today, I am playing solo for our dance in Norwich, VT. But before that, I’ll lead my second English Country Dance Musicians’ Workshop, which I’ve titled The Band’s the Thing. Today’s workshop was a bit more difficult for me, because there was a vastly wider range of ages (from about 10 to adult), and more diverse instrumentation: flute, violin, mandolin, concertina. I tried to bring up points that would be helpful to all of us. I was disappointed that I did not get us playing together sooner, to better assess skill levels, and to help set the mood of loving English dance as a prerequisite. Next time, I definitely will do that. I was pleased and excited when my workshop musicians agreed to play two tunes with me after the refreshment break: a partner waltz and an English country dance. I hope one of the unspoken lessons was that bandmates can save you when you are in trouble. It is true!

The dance went well. At the break, I was introduced to David Millstone, the president of CDSS, who lives and calls in this area. He seemed to like my piano playing and gave me a nice compliment!

Val’s post

Organizer Tim O’Dell arrived early at the hall to find the entire floor covered with a blue tarp. In all the years (read: decades) that dancing has taken place at Tracy Hall in Norwich, no organizer has found the floor in this condition. Tim laboriously rolled up the four to five large sections of tarp. When Barbara DeFelice and her son Nacio arrived, they helped him.

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Tim’s work paid off–a group portrait of the dancers, Norwich, VT—Barb is front, 2nd from left; Val front, 3rd from right; Dan 2nd row, far right (Tom Medve)

Tim also provided chilled drinks and tasty snacks at the break, which everyone enjoyed outside the hall, gathering around a picnic table. The heat of the last week had finally broken, so the temperature was very conducive to milling around and chatting. Like all the dance organizers we encountered on the BVD Tour, Tim is a fine example of the classic dance organizer, who works tirelessly in the background for the love of the dance and his dance community.

A highlight for me was calling “Mr. John Bremer’s Return to Pinewoods,” with John Bremer on the dance floor. I must thank Bruce Hamilton for the dance instructions and Michael Siemon for the sheet music. The dance and tune were written by Shag Graetz in 1984. John, who lives in the Norwich area, is a lovely dancer and charming gentleman—AND he taught ritual dance at Pinewoods in the 1950s/1960s. For a glimpse into his rich dance history, you can read his essay at

My husband Tom had asked for feedback from David Millstone, who was at the dance. Here are some of David’s comments:

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David (far right) and fellow dancers, Norwich, VT (Val Medve)

“First of all, and above all else, THANK YOU for organizing this tour! I have an appreciation for just how much legwork was involved in pulling this together, and that truly is devotion above and beyond…you brought dances to folks at a time of year when many of us are hungry for an opportunity to dance. And it wasn’t just a dance, either—Barb’s music workshop gave participants a fresh perspective.

“I enjoyed Barb’s playing. As I told her at the break, she kept a steady beat and was able to improvise at the same time. The tune was always audible—no extended noodling around on the keyboard that left dancers wondering where we were—and this was especially helpful on dances that were less familiar …”

“The program was largely modern compositions, though there were a few older dances (Midnight Ramble, Jovial Beggars, maybe a few others) mixed in. The program started with mostly simpler dances, including two with very similar figures. This let the less skilled dancers feel comfortable with basics and gave us a chance to adjust to just one instrument.

“Thank you all, yet again, for bringing the joy of music and dance to so many venues this midsummer.”


Val’s post, Monday, July 22

Our friend Sue loaned us her country home in the Pioneer Valley (in western MA); we spent three nights there. Tom and I have been lucky to stay with her on other dance-related occasions, so we knew how peaceful her place can be. Little did I know just how restorative it was, to be on our own at Sue’s for this long of a period. It was an amazing gift. We could sleep at odd times of day, take walks along the country roads, read and relax, set up Barb’s electric keyboard inside the house, move the dining room furniture so we could practice calling, dancing and playing for our next two gigs (Whately, MA tonight and West Newton, MA on Wednesday). We could also take excursions during our free time—so we visited downtown Northampton (lunching at the brewpub, having ice cream for dessert at Herrell’s—little known fact: owner Steve Herrell was an avid contra dancer in the 1980s)—and the Botanical Gardens at Smith College. We also went grocery shopping and stopped at one of my Tom’s favorite breweries for a tasting (as well as some purchases): Element Brewing Company in Millers Falls.

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Peter, Mary & Barb, Whately, MA (Val Medve)

Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!

Tonight is the dance at Whately Barn!! I’m playing with Bare Necessities musicians Peter Barnes and Mary Lea! This is what we have all been practicing for, a fine performance tonight! We spent all day going over music, teaching, calling—and then doing it over again. First Dan’s dances, then Val’s, and always me practicing with both of them. We recorded dances in the keyboard so that four of us could dance, and the caller could concentrate on perfecting his/her teaching and calling.

Approaching Whately Barn, I suddenly got hit with nerves. Peter and Mary were both so calm and reassuring, but I literally shook through the first three dances, and finally started to settle down to business. It was so wonderful to look out at the dancers and see so many friends, and dancers who came out to support us! Whately Barn is a beautiful dance venue! What a privilege to perform there. I had fallen in love with the dance (“Whately Barn” by Gary Roodman, to the tune “Richard’s Reminder” by Debbie Jackson) when my Barnes’ books were brand new and I was reading through them every night, discovering this beautiful music. And now to be playing in the place that inspired such a lovely dance was very inspiring!

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Group portrait, Whatley, MA (Val Medve)

When we finished the dance, I got smiles from both Peter and Mary, but the best part was a hug from Mary on the way out the door. Now I really can’t wait to play with them again on Wednesday! No fears anymore!!!

[Val’s note: What a treat it was to see this Facebook post from Whately/Amherst organizer Robin Hayden: “Just a great dance tonight! Val Medve and Dan Seppeler led a fun program, and the music from Barb Seppeler, Mary and Peter was terrific. Fifty-five is a bit crowded for the Whately Barn, but undeniably festive! Thanks to all you wonderful people for making the trip—loved seeing you and dancing with you all!”]


Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Wednesday, July 24

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Group portrait, West Newton, MA (Tom Medve)

These two dances (in Whately, and tonight in West Newton) with Peter and Mary are the tour highlights for me. They are just such fabulous musicians, which of course everyone knows, but they also were so supportive and helpful, that I was able to relax and play my best. This dance in West Newton is also extremely important. Dan set up my electric piano (so I could actually face Peter and Mary) and we pushed the lovely (but cumbersome) grand piano to the side. Now I am ready! Mary easily nodded at me when she wanted me to take my turn at the melody, or I just called out, “I’ve got this!” What unbelievable fun! One moment that shines out was during “Lambs of Green Hill.” The melody is traditional Scottish (“Ned of the Hill”) and Dan composed the B section. Well, Peter took out a whistle, and it was so plaintive and lonely, and with Mary on the melody, I don’t know how the dancers could keep on dancing. It was everything for me just to keep to my business, and not get lost in the sounds around me. I have Robin Hayden (Whately music organizer) and Jacqueline Schwab (West Newton music organizer) to thank for setting up these dances for me, and of course, Peter and Mary for actually doing it. I will never forget the music those nights!

Val’s post

After a quick meal of pizza and salad at a within-walking-distance-of-the-dance-hall restaurant recommended by organizer Deb Karl, we entered the lovely dance venue at the First Unitarian Society of Newton. Roger Cleghorn, who would provide overnight accommodations for Barb, Dan and Tom Grande (who rejoined us the evening of July 22), worked with Dan and my Tom to provide sound. My beginners’ workshop began long before the 7:10 pm start time, since I was there and a new dancer was there. More newcomers and regular dancers joined us at the official workshop start time and we had quite the contingent.

The Newton group was one of the most polite and respectful (to callers) on our tour, listening quietly and carefully to the callers’ dance instructions as well as toning down the chatter when they were ready (and they were always ready sooner rather than later!) to hear the instructions. For Dan and me, it was a treat.

Many thanks to dance organizer Christine Robb for booking us—and to Deb Karl for providing overnight hospitality to Tom and me (as well as giving me some valuable caller/teacher feedback).

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Richmond, VT dancers (Tom Medve)

To me, the music that night was magical (as it was in Whately). It was difficult to stand still while Mary, Peter and Barb played, so I stopped trying and happily moved to the music while I called at the podium, watching and thoroughly enjoying the dancers and musicians!


Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Thursday, July 25

Back to Vermont for the last time. Oh dear, I am beginning to feel sad about the end drawing near. Tonight’s dance in Richmond is the first one in the beginner’s series of classes, so back to the easier dances—and harder work for the callers. The dance was lovely, and I was surprised to see one of the people who attended my first ECD Musicians’ Workshop. I offered him the chance to play, and he did not hesitate. Wow! He did a great job! And I got to dance!

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Dance hosted by Sara Lawson, Iroquois, ON (Dan Seppeler)


Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Friday, July 26

We have to be on the road by 8 am, as Dan and I are not quite heading home yet. We have one last dance in Iroquois, Ontario, hosted by Sara Lawson. And as we were in Val and Tom’s driveway, Tom Grande’s car seems to be in the process of breaking down. Oh no, not now! [Val’s note: We brought Tom G and his car to our mechanic, who said the car was safe to drive at the moment, but would need work; alas, when Tom G got to the Albany, NY area later that day, the car gave out and he spent a couple of nights in Albany while the car was fixed.]

Our last dance in Canada was a great wrap-up for us. These dancers expect a lot from us, as we did this last year, and they remembered and requested those dances, which included “White Wheat” and Dan’s new dance “Night Whispers.” We set the piano up on the front porch this time, and had the St. Lawrence River as a backdrop on a perfect, sunny day, with a gentle breeze.


Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Saturday, July 27

We were in our front door by 3:00 pm, and so happy and exhausted! I hope many other groups try this, as we enjoyed this trip so very much. Traveling with the Medves and Tom Grande made the tour just delightful. Yes, it was close quarters for a long time; yes, we were extremely sleep deprived; but our over-riding love for sharing ECD with everyone we met made any inconvenience just disappear. Val did a tremendous amount of work organizing not only the dance venues, and hospitality, but also the planning and executing of meals. Dan was my hero, lugging that 80 pound beast of an electronic keyboard everywhere we went. Tom Medve did a fantastic job of keeping track of finances, numbers of dancers, mileage and other tour business. Tom Grande was our cheerleader and eager volunteer when we needed to spend hours practicing dancing, calling and playing for the “big” gigs! And I got to do what I love best, playing for English country dances! Thank you, BVD!!

Val’s post, Saturday, August 17

Now that more than a month has elapsed since we started this adventure, and I’ve caught up on sleep (!), I’d like to take a moment to thank all the people that made the BVD Tour a reality—and a pleasure. First, I’d like to thank my travel companions: my husband Tom, Dan and Barb Seppeler, Tom Grande. They each contributed to the success of the tour, as detailed in this and earlier posts. But it was their support, flexibility, patience, understanding, and good natures that I valued most.

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Time to relax. Tom Medve in CT earlier in the tour (Dan Seppeler)

To the CDSS staff, a very hearty thanks for your encouragement. Special thanks to CDSS Executive Director Rima Dael for meeting with us and suggesting the blog and giveaways, to CDSS Director of Communications Caroline Batson for the careful editing of our blog posts and her timely communications, to CDSS Sales and Services Manager Jeff Martel for choosing and gathering all the giveaways.

I’m indebted to the many dedicated organizers who agreed to host a BVD dance, which entailed more work on their part than just simply saying “yes.” To folks who hosted us and/or shared meals with us during the tour, a big thanks for making us feel so at ease and welcome. To those who gave us (and others who would like to give us) feedback re: the tour—be assured that your suggestions were taken to heart and were very much appreciated. Many thanks to the musicians who played so beautifully with Barb, at dances or her workshops. And of course, thanks to all of the dancers, especially those who braved the summer heat and humidity to do what we all love best—dance!

What next? My hope is to write one more post: a wrap-up that may also include some words from our other tour members (Tom Medve, Dan Seppeler, Tom Grande). Stay tuned!

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Memories to Last a Lifetime

by Lily Kruskal Leahy

young lily in morris class_family pw_cropped_by deborah kruskal

Young Lily Kruskal (center of back row), 10-12 year old morris class

The year was 1988 and I was very excited to be at CDSS’s Family Week at Pinewoods in Massschusetts, especially excited to be in the 8-9 year old longsword class, taught by Andy Horton. I had watched these “big kids” perform longsword for four years and finally it was my turn! I left Family Week that year as I always did—an exhausted bundle of emotions. I was brimming with excitement for all the new things I had learned and sad for leaving so much behind. But memories always came away with me.

Orion. Whitby, Eng. 2000

Lily dancing with Orion Sword in Whitby, England, 2000: “I always think it’s good to show where classes at Family camp can take you!” says Lily.

I spent 14 years going to Family Week, from age 4 to 18, and it was by far the highlight of my year. It was only one week but it seemed to last much longer than seven days and it gave me memories and happiness to last a whole year. With enough of those years put together I was given an amazing gift of memories, traditions and values that have lasted a lifetime. The things I learned at Family Week and the friends I made have withstood the test of time. I attribute much of who I am today to how I was brought up into the dance community—Family Week playing a huge part of that. Even my professional interests involve teaching traditional folk song and dance to children.

lily and esme_photo by Erica Roderick

Lily with her daughter Esme Leahy; Family Week at Ogontz 2013 (Erica Roderick)

Knowing the impact it had on my life, after my first daughter was born I started wondering how early could I bring her to Family Week. I decided that four, the same year I started, was the right age. It was for this reason that I was so excited to return to Family Week at Pinewoods last summer for the first time in 14 years. Not only with my two children and husband but also with my parents. I was lucky enough to have been hired on staff to teach none other than longsword to the 8-9 year olds–one of my very favorite classes from when I was a child. We had a fantastic time and were excited when I got hired again to teach this summer—this time at CDSS’s Family Week at Ogontz in New Hampshire—a new experience for us.

I won’t lie that I wasn’t a bit nervous about going to a new place. In accepting the job it meant that we wouldn’t be heading to Pinewoods this summer, the first year in my entire life that I hadn’t been to this camp (the years I wasn’t at Family Week–both the years prior to turning 4 and the interim years between 18 and present–I had always gone to some session or other at Pinewoods). Of course the nerves were all for naught. What I realized is that although the place was not the same (and to be honest, I did miss Pinewoods the place), the sentiment was. The traditions, people, culture, material, was all the same. There are very few places in life where the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” hold true. But this summer at Ogontz I watched it unfold before my eyes. My children ran free. They were looked after by other parents, grandparents, and older children, and dear friends old and new. They sang and danced to their hearts content, being encouraged by everyone around them. In the first few days I had a hard time convincing my eldest to get out on the dance floor with me. By the end of the week she was do-si-doing with the best of them, mainly because the older girls, who she greatly looked up to, were her partners.

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Lily holding her younger daughter Maeve Leahy, with Lily’s brother, Peter Kruskal, and mom, Deborah Kruskal, Family Week at Ogontz 2013 (Erica Roderick)

My girls haven’t stopped talking about Ogontz since we left, and are already getting excited about next year. If I can somehow give them even a small piece of what my own parents gave me, in bringing me into a world of music and dance, then I will have achieved something very unique and special. If you have one place, and even just one week a year that gives you memories to last a lifetime then that is a great gift. I’d like to thank my Mom and Dad, for giving me that gift and it is my real hope, to be able to pass it along to my own children.

This is Lily’s second blog for CDSS; Walking Into My Past was published last month.

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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.

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BVD Tour—The Third Week

BVD—Barbara Seppeler, Val Medve and Dan Seppeler, accompanied by Tom Medve (and in part, Tom Grande)—toured New England last month. Val and Barb shared the daily diary writing; see their earlier blogs, Intro, The First Week, The Second Week.

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Tuesday, July 16

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Barb, Val and Dan at the Nelson (NH) Town Hall

No dance tonight, but I was busy reviewing my notes from Jacqueline Schwab’s English Country Dance Musicians’ Course at Pinewoods 2010 and 2011 (sponsored by CDSS). Both years, on the seven hour ride home, I sat in the passenger’s seat, listening to CDs by Bare Necessities as I wrote down everything Jacqueline had tried to teach us. During the interim years, I also took notes on my learning process, so that I’d be prepared to teach an ECD Musicians’ Workshop, should the opportunity arise. Well, ready or not, it was to be today—at Tom and Val’s house near Burlington, VT!

It was exhilarating, to say the least, to share my hard-won knowledge with two very receptive, musical and simply delightful people from northern Vermont. These musicians are as in love with ECD as I am. The ninety minutes were quickly over, and I am so hopeful that my insights were useful. [Val’s note: Before the workshop, Dan caught up on sleep with a nap; I picked up our CSA share and then cobbled together a simple supper. We held the workshop in our air-conditioned dining room (due to the 90 degree heat outside, even at 6 pm.]

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Wednesday, July 17

No dance or class! We are all in a state of collapse… but we are going to St. Michael’s Playhouse tonight to see Neil Simon’s Rumors, and what fun that turned out to be. I love to see plays and musicals, but hardly ever get to see anything professional, so this was really a special treat for me. [Val’s note: Having some free time during the day was a very welcome respite from our hectic schedule. Tom mowed the lawn as others napped. Supper was at a local Italian restaurant, for which I had a coupon — and the leftovers served as our lunch the next day. Today and the next day, Dan and I spent some time programming the final round of dance gigs.]

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Thursday, July 18

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Dan calls a dance at the beginner-friendly English dance party in Richmond, VT (Tom Medve)

Back to work at English country dancing today and very happy about it!! Val and Dan called the dance for the beginner-friendly ECD series in Richmond, VT. I played the grand piano there, which is a really beautiful Steinway with a touch that is not too stiff. (I do work harder when I play there, but by the end of the night I am used to it!) [Val’s note: Our Richmond series has been happening for several years. It’s an inexpensive way for new dancers to try ECD, since we ask for a very small voluntary donation and usually have recorded music. This evening, our regular dancers from Montpelier arrived in TWO carloads, bringing one or two new dancers with them. It’s a joy to have such dedicated dancers in our community! Today’s highlight for my husband Tom? Sharing two micro-brewed beers with Dan when we got home!]

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Friday, July 19

We’re back on the road, this time to Nelson, NH! We’re very excited about this gig! This Monadnock region has a very active contra community, and a relatively new ECD series, so we were all so happy to bring our new dances—and especially our support!

hunt and allison

Impromptu post-breakfast concert by Hunt Smith and Allison Aldrich in their NH home (Tom Medve)

Before the dance, Allison Aldrich and Hunt Smith provided us with a tasty supper at their home. We were amazed and intrigued by Allison and Hunt. Hunt built their lovely home. It looks like a cabin, with all natural wood, and a kitchen with the pots hanging from the ceiling. Hunt’s exquisite artwork hung on the walls. He is a maritime artist and his work is astounding in its detail and beauty.

In a small hallway off the kitchen, I noticed an odd shelf of multiple heights. On closer inspection, I realized that the “shelves” were old wooden organ pipes! This discovery led to Hunt inviting us to visit his workshop, where he creates hand-made violins from blocks of wood. He handed me a violin-shaped form, and said, “Whatever you do, don’t drop this!” It was unexpectedly heavy, as it contained the outside of a violin plus a form on the inside…and no, I did not drop it. [Val’s note: And Bob Dalsemer—from John C. Campbell Folk School and the 2011 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award—will be happy to hear that, since this was the violin he commissioned Hunt to make!]

grp shot at nelson

Group photo at the Nelson (NH) English country dance (Tom Medve)

The Nelson Town Hall was our dance venue. It’s a quaint and interesting space. It seemed that we stepped back in time at least one hundred years. They said they could fit five (very cozy) contra lines in there, and there was a small stage, as well. I opted for my electric piano, instead of the on-site grand, as my smaller keyboard packs a nice sound, plus I can be closer to the dancers.

I was told I need to smile more, which I am sure is true. But in my defense, I was playing ECD solo, and for me that takes a ton of concentration! (No one can bail me out if I make a mistake!!) I am lucky to give callers a tight-lipped nod when they give me the number of times to play before ending, so usually I smile when it is done…like whew!! I will work on smiling more!!!! :-)

Dance highlights included Dan’s wonderful dance, Lambs on Green Hill, which he choreographed and also composed the B music. (The A section is a traditional Scottish tune called Ned of the Hill.)

At the end of the dance, Dan and I met Ramona and Jerry, our hosts for the evening. (Val and Tom stayed with Hunt and Allison). Ramona and Jerry were gracious hosts, chatting the late evening away with us. Their home was so pretty, and the air-conditioning was such a welcome relief from the heat of the dance. In the morning, we had a quick breakfast and after touring their luscious July gardens, we helped them with their ECD skills. Dan never misses an opportunity to teach dancers, so it was quite an effort to get him to stop…as Val and Tom were waiting for us!! But it was all fun!

Val’s post, Friday, July 19

dan & barb2

Barb and Dan Seppeler onstage at the Nelson dance (Val Medve)

It had been decades since I attended a contra dance in the Nelson Town Hall. Most likely it was in the early to mid-1980s when I had gotten “the contra bug” and traveled all over New England to dance. Since that time, quite a few wonderful improvements have been made to the hall. Lisa Sieverts, who calls contras at the hall and is one of several people instrumental in the contra series’ organization, told us about the renovations (which I believe are continuing). It’s a very sweet space in which to dance, call and play. We had a small but earnest and enthusiastic turnout. I later learned that this Monadnock ECD series draws dancers from some distance—but since our BVD Tour was visiting those other dance communities, it may have impacted attendance that night in Nelson. Another factor was the hot and humid weather (high 90s during the day, I recall). Allison Aldrich promised—via Facebook postings—that the temperature would drop dramatically in the evening, to make for very pleasant dancing. In reality, global warming visited Nelson on July 19th: the temp did drop, but not as low as Allison predicted (per her past experience). Luckily, the many window fans helped cool the venue a bit.

Because the ECD series in the Monadnock region was recently established, we expected mostly dancers new to the genre. However, with one or two exceptions, the majority of the dancers were experienced English dancers. We were thrilled to see Mary Jones on the dance floor. She had come to Nelson on an errand for CDSS and then decided to stay for the dance since the evening was so lightly attended. This was very kind of her—and much appreciated by our BVD group.

ladies that made

Lisa Sieverts and Allison Smith, who made the English dance happen, with support from the Monadnock Folklore Society (Val Medve)

Parts of my program quickly flew out the window when I recognized so many dancers and gauged the overall skill level. The simple Geud Man of Ballingigh was replaced by my BVD Tour fave, Colin Hume’s much more challenging Sting in the Tail, since the numbers (six couples) were just right for that dance. Once again, our solo pianist Barb rolled with the punches and quickly found the tunes for this and other alternate dances.

Allison and Lisa organized (and contributed to) the refreshments at the break. There were delicious treats—and the refreshing mint iced tea was my go-to beverage to quench my thirst. Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening. We may have ended a bit early, due to the heat, however.

Val’s post, Saturday, July 20

Tom and I had a good night’s sleep at Allison and Hunt’s house. It certainly helped to go to bed at a very reasonable hour (11 pm—early for us on this tour, late for Allison and Hunt). We enjoyed Allison’s excellent homemade granola for breakfast, along with cups of tea. We were treated to a delightful morning concert, with Allison and Hunt practicing the New England tunes they would play later that morning at the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market. Before the concert, we listened to the two long-time performing musicians talk about how to draw and engage your audience—approaches that also work for dance callers and dance musicians. Lots of great information that I wish we had recorded or captured on video. Perhaps this could be a future video project undertaken by CDSS?

dancers await

Dancers await instructions for an English country dance, Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Burlington, VT (Tom Medve)

We drove directly from Nelson, NH to Burlington, VT for the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. Our ECD session was scheduled for 6:30 pm, following on the heels of singing Happy Birthday to the Festival, on the occasion of its 30th year—with everyone dining on a decorated sheet cake.

The muggy weather had finally broken, so we had clear skies above the Dance Tent and welcome breezes wafting through it. Due to financial difficulties, the Festival was cancelled in 2012. It was resurrected in 2013 on an earlier-than-usual weekend in a new venue, the Rock Point School (a scenic spot, nestled between North Beach and Burlington High School). The 2013 festival had been scaled down and many performers (including ALL the callers and musicians who performed in the Dance Tent) donated their services for free so that the Festival could earn some money to ensure future festivals.

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!

frost & fire

Frost and Fire plays for a contra dance, Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Burlington, VT: (l-r) Hollis Easter, Peter Macfarland, Viveka Fox and Aaron Marcus (Tom Medve)

It’s time to go to the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. I had never been to a folk festival before, so this promised to be a lot of fun, and it was! We walked to the dance tent and immediately joined the contra lines. We couldn’t help it, the music (by Frost and Fire) and calling (by Will Mentor) were so great! But after two dances, our clothes got soaked from the humidity. Knowing that we were to perform soon, we were forced to stop, at least for a bit. I was astonished to watch Frost and Fire’s Aaron Marcus play piano for contra AND supply foot percussion! I have never seen a pianist do anything like this, and he was incredible! I want to learn!!

I was introduced to the musicians who were to be my bandmates later that afternoon. Peter Macfarlane and Hollis Easter from Frost and Fire and Joanne Garton from The Turning Stile.

Right before we were to perform, Dan and I noticed a dancer in the contra line. He was one of our dancers from the Hobart/William Smith English Dancers in Geneva, NY. (This is the ECD club that Dan and I started, teaching and playing every Friday during the academic year.) We were flabbergasted when Ryan motioned to Eileen, another of the Hobart dancers, who immediately ran over to hug us! What a greeting!

Our performance was well-received, with a very long line of dancers who appeared to immensely enjoy themselves!


Let them eat cake, Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Burlington, VT (Tom Medve)

Every night we have maintained our debriefing meetings to determine how to improve ourselves. Our Massachusetts gigs in Whately (Monday) and West Newton (Wednesday) are bearing down on us, and we need to be at our absolute best for these dances. But first comes tomorrow’s ECD Musicians’ Workshop and English country dance in Norwich, Vermont. To be continued…

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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



Photos by Doug Plummer


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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




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

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BVD Tour—The Second Week

by Val Medve and Barb Seppeler

BVD—Barbara Seppeler, Val Medve and Dan Seppeler, accompanied by Tom Medve (and in part, Tom Grande)—toured New England last month. Val and Barb shared the daily diary writing; see their earlier blogs, The First Week and the Intro.


Posing with “Moo-sic,” a gift from Lucy and Mark Weinstein to Jackie Algon. Moo-sic was one of the scenic props for this year’s “On the Farm” Playful Ball in Ridgewood, NJ, made by Judith DeBiase.(Tom Medve, with the help of a timer)

Val’s post, Saturday July 13, 2013

We left Billie Lanz’s place in Hartford around noon, after a hearty and delicious breakfast (homemade egg casserole and fresh-from-the-oven muffins), to visit my cousin Mary in Hamden, CT, detouring slightly from our path to South Kingstown, RI, the site of that evening’s dance. Mary and I got the contra dance bug at the same time (in the early 1980s) and would carpool from Connecticut to dances all over New England and northwestern New York. (She met her husband Kurt, then living in Ossining, NY, at a contra dance in Pittsfield, MA.) Over the years, we’ve kept in touch with sporadic catch-up emails and the annual Christmas letter. So it was wonderful to visit with them and their grown son Bryan. For me, an enjoyable aspect of our time in Connecticut was visiting with former co-workers and dancing friends.

The Rhode Island dance group (headed by organizer/contact, John Buscaglia) publicized that night’s dance as a benefit, complete with an amazing potluck supper (as Barb describes in her post—to which I must add Fred Boland’s excellent, homemade seafood chowder), silent auction (which included many handcrafted goods donated by local dancers, plus three items donated by CDSS), and three-hour dance ($15 admission covered their usual caller/musician fees and other dance expenses, with the overflow going to the dance series, which had sustained a financial loss this past season). The turnout was very good—we counted 38 people. There was a mix of English dancers and contra dancers: a very social and friendly group; there was lots of good-natured chatter as sets were formed.

The tour has been a good learning experience for me, as well as for Dan and Barb. My husband Tom would approach callers and experienced dancers for feedback, which he then shared with us. And after each dance event, Barb insisted that we sit down and do a debriefing, discussing what went right, what went awry, and what could be improved, and we’d each set goals for our next gig. For instance, the dancers in Rhode Island did a fine job of dancing Fried Herman’s The First Lady once they actually got to dance it!!! My teaching was longwinded, despite a demo. And the dance itself wasn’t the best choice for the crowd and a party (rather than workshop) atmosphere. I made a substitution for the next dance: Corelli’s Maggot, which was both easy and familiar. I could hear the sighs of relief from the floor! Barb rolled with the punches and played the tune with gusto.


Dan Seppeler calls for dancers in the beautiful Land Trust Barn in South Kingston, RI. (Tom Medve)

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!

Saturday evening we reached South Kingstown, RI. As we pulled into the parking lot, I knew this was going to be a wonderful dance, as we were surrounded by a manicured low stone wall on a beautiful lawn. I thought it looked like England!

We received an enthusiastic welcome, along with an amazing potluck dinner that included roast chicken, lots of watermelon and ice cream. (This is comfort food… ooh la la!)

I finally had to admit that everyone here was a stranger to me, but it did not last for long, as dancers were asking me if I knew other dancers…and I did! By the time I began to play, I felt at home, especially as dancers happily responded to the music and calling. Once again we had the best fun! What a wonderful community we are!

And the fun was not over when the dance ended. I happened to ask if we were close to the ocean, and was told—at 11:30 p.m.— that it was a five minute drive away. We piled into our cars. With about ten dancers, plus our BVD group, we got permission to go inside the locked gate and walk to the shore in the pitch black.  We could hardly see where we were stepping, but the ocean was so loud as we approached it, we knew which way to go! We stood on the shore and collected pretty stones that we found with flashlights, and laughed and talked for far too short a time. I did stick my finger in a big wave so I got to touch the Atlantic Ocean. Yay! Exciting! Tom Grande said goodbye to us, leaving for a weeklong Early Music Clinic in Pittsburgh. He will join us later in the tour.


(L-R:) Jackie Algon, Bill Evonsky, Tom Medve, Susan St. Germain, at Jackie’s home in Fairfield County, CT. (Dan Seppeler)

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Sunday, July 14

After we left the Rhode Island shore (around midnight), we had a two-hour drive to Jackie Algon’s house in Fairfield County, CT. We were exhausted when we reached her home so late at night, but she was up and waiting to greet us. My jaw actually fell when I walked into her front door and saw the beautiful space for the dancers, and the high ceiling, and, of course, the piano! We were able to sleep in the next morning. In the afternoon, the group of invited dancers began to arrive. We were so excited to see Orly Krasner and Tom and Susan Amessé, and my birthday buddy, Lucy Weinstein, among the 38 dancers! I had the pleasure of being in a band and not playing solo this time—Jackie had asked two local musicians to join me: Mark Eisenberg (recorders) and Sue Polansky (flute).

Jackie had a lovely meal planned for us, even taking the time to make a watermelon basket filled with fruit. The dancers augmented Jackie’s grilled meats and fruit salad with other delicious items. There was so much good food!

That night after everyone had left, we worked and worked on a new-to-us dance, Asking for the Road, by Dorothy Attneave, published in the CDSS News years ago [issue #166, May/June 2002], and with Val and Dan (and everyone else!) putting their heads together, we got it!

We stayed at Jackie’s that night and the next day. After many a goodbye and thank you, we left for Schenectady, NY for another private dance party.

Val’s post

In the morning, Tom changed into his yard work clothes (which we brought from Vermont, having offered Tom’s gardening assistance to Jackie) and planted lots of pachysandra on the hillside. I went back to sleep. Sleep deprivation was a real problem during our tour. I now have a greater appreciation for traveling callers and musicians. As someone who sometimes hosts out-of-town callers and musicians, I can see the importance of letting my guests decide what and when to do something while at our house (but working within our schedule). Sometimes you just need some quiet time/alone time to recharge your batteries!

Although Jackie has a beautiful in-tune upright piano at-the-ready in her dance room, we learned that some dancers found the music so loud that it was painful. Dan quickly got Barb’s electric keyboard from the BVD van and was able to turn down the volume on the keyboard. With the other musicians now aware of the sound levels, the music was no longer a problem. We did get off to a late start, however.

There were two dance highlights for me. I taught and prompted Weekend in Wilton, a beautiful dance set to a traditional Scottish tune (The Arran Boat Song), which Susan and Tom Amessé wrote for Jackie. It was definitely a treat to introduce the dance and see Jackie dancing it! I had an older version of the dance instructions, so from the dance floor, Susan caught my eye and with a simple tap on her left shoulder, clued me in to calling the dance as it had evolved. The other highlight was teaching Colin Hume’s The Sting in the Tail to yet another group of good dancers. (I had called it earlier at the Reel Nutmeg party on July 11.)

The next morning, Jackie made the four of us (Dan, Barb, Tom, me) a delicious breakfast AND mango smoothies. We waddled out of her home around noontime, after putting all the furniture back into the dance space.

union college ecd july 15

Schenectady Union College Group (Tom Medve)

Val’s post, Monday, July 15, 2013

We met Ann Thomas, plus Steve and Jeannette Sargent, for supper in Schenectady at a lovely restaurant (with good beer!) called The Van Dyke. It was a nice way to relax and ease into our evening dance at nearby Union College.

When we arrived at the dance venue, our clothes were immediately soaked by the humidity and the effort of moving all the heavy classroom chairs into the hallway. We are not spring chickens, being in our 50s-60s. Here was yet another reason to recruit younger dancers—they’d have more energy and oomph to move all those chairs!

After so many hot, humid dance evenings on our travels, my husband Tom decided that we needed an alternate name for our BVD Tour. His suggestion? The Sweat and Turn Single Tour! (A common figure/movement in English country dancing is set and turn single.)

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!

We were on the second floor of Union College and the heat was unbearable when we walked in the room. Windows were thrown open and fans began to do their slow, laborious work to cool us off. In spite of the heat, dancers arrived (with more fans!) ready for a great time. We were so happy to see Steve and Jeannette, sweet Grace, the two Bobs, Bill, and the Bells. We missed Gretchen, though! Ann Thomas was there as well. After the dance, we went to Ann’s house to relax and party the night away! Dan and I stayed with Steve and Jeannette that night, while Val and Tom went to Albany with Bill. After Dan and I enjoyed a leisurely and lovely breakfast with the Sargents (while watching the Tour de France), we were again on our way (with tasty bagged lunches packed by Jeannette), this time for a few days at Tom and Val’s house in Vermont, where we had a little free time to recover!

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