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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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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BVD Tour—The First Week

by Val Medve and Barb Seppeler

BVD—Barbara Seppeler (pianist), Val Medve (caller) and Dan Seppeler (caller)—accompanied by Tom Medve and (in part) Tom Grande, are touring New England this month (see their earlier blog). Here’s a diary of their first few days.

Val’s post, Thursday, July 11, 2013

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Ready to go (Tom Medve)

Getting ready to hit the road from our house in northern Vermont … Dan got a good rate on a minivan rental in the Rochester, NY area (his home base). We needed a vehicle large enough to carry all four of us (plus our Rochester dancing friend Tom Grande on parts of the tour), PLUS sound equipment, luggage, gadgets, calling/music aids/books, and Barb’s electric keyboard (a very long and heavy Roland FP-7). You can see how the van looked with everything loaded. Dan made a good choice of vehicle, because the seating areas were clear of “stuff” so we could ride very comfortably. Dan is doing all of the driving (bless his heart!).

Barb’s post: From the pianist’s point of view!

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Val & Barb at the CDSS Office (Dan Seppeler)

First stop: CDSS! We stopped off in Easthampton, MA to pick up some giveaways. Executive Director Rima Dael, and staff members Robin Hayden, Pat MacPherson, Jeff Martell, and Caroline Batson wished us well and sent us on our way!

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Reel Nutmeg dance, Windsor, CT (Dan Seppeler)

Our first adventure began in Windsor, CT at Helen Davenport-Senuta’s house for a potluck dinner before our first dance, which was a private party for members and guests of Reel Nutmeg, an English country dance performing troupe based in the Hartford area for over 30 years. We were astounded not only by the very warm reception, the great food and lively company, but also by Helen’s creative handiwork: the beautiful glass artworks (including 6 foot tall flowers) in the yard and stained glass windows inside. We were treated to a quick tour of the Monet-like garden pathways and then we were off to our dance venue. The dancers were delightful, as they were very advanced and responded so very quickly to both Val and Dan’s calling. I was very surprised to meet some dancers I knew so far from home. One of the highlights of the evening was Val’s rendition of Colin Hume’s The Sting in the Tail, which amused dancers as they progressed from their own three couple set into the other three couple set. I just had to end this dance with a slightly discordant “sting” on the end to suit the dance! Another highlight was Dan’s version of Giverny, a dance by Terry Glasspool to a tune by Charlene Thomson. It’s a dance we learned at the Binghamton Ball this past March. I love to play this, and the dancers seemed swept away with the lovely dance and tune. It was warm on the dance floor, but despite the heat and the brave fans, there were more than 24 dancers!

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At Billie’s home: Dan, Barb and Val collaborating on the upcoming New Haven dance (Tom Medve)

We stayed the night at Billie Lanz’s lovely home in Hartford. What an interesting experience we had, as Billie had portraits of her ancestors on her dining room wall, and showed us maps of her family’s farm from the 1700s! There was even an 18th century chair there. The dining room table was so pretty, all set in blue and white. Tom Grande met us at Billie’s house in the “Middle of the Night” and the next day we went to explore Hartford, where Val worked and lived in the 1980s.

Val again, later that day

I presented Helen, Reel Nutmeg’s co-director, with CDSS giveaways: two ECD book/CD sets. Helen will give the sets to Nutmeggers Luanne Stiles and John Lam, who hope to start an ECD group when they relocate to one of the Carolinas later this year.

 

Barb’s post: From the pianist’s point of view!, Friday, July 12, 2013

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The Abbey Road photo: Barb Seppeler, Tom Medve, Tom Grande, Val Medve (Dan Seppeler)

Enroute to Bushnell Park after lunching at City Steam (so Tom Medve could enjoy a brewed-on-premises beer), we were crossing the street, moving across the big painted white lines, and Dan took a photograph just like the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover! Val took us to the Bushnell Park carousel and we all took a ride. What fun!

Our dance that night in New Haven, CT was in the Undercroft of Christ Church. Yes, we were in the basement, with multiple fans running to keep us all cool. We improved our numbers of dancers, topping out at 28! Highlights included From Among Dragons by Leslie Lasseter, and Barn Elms from the Fallibroome Collection. Ooh, these are exquisite melodies! And once again I was surprised to run into a dancer I knew from Pinewoods!

 

Val’s post, Saturday, July 13, 2013

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The New Haven dancers (Tom Medve)

We received this lovely note via email from Susan Leff (an organizer, along with Barbara Ruth and Caroline Murphy, of Friday’s New Haven dance): “Many many thanks. The programs both Thursday and Friday night were delightful. Thank you for so carefully tailoring the program to the dancers. Our new dancers seemed happy, and all the rest of us had a lovely time. Thank you.”

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Tom Medve on his way (Val Medve)

And BVD travels onward…

 

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Singing and Dancing in Macedonia

by David Millstone

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Rehearsing songs in a historic church near Struga, southern Macedonia; photo by fellow camper Sophia Emigh

I’ve been a contra dancer for some 40 years and an English country dance enthusiast since 1987. For decades, the only singing I did was with my fifth grade students, who didn’t understand that I couldn’t really sing. With that background, what took me on a overseas trip with Village Harmony for two weeks of singing and dancing, Macedonian style?

It started when I told my wife, Sheila, who has spent years coming along with me to dance weekends and camps, that it was time that I accompanied her instead of vice versa. (“He makes it sound like that was a punishment I endured,” she quickly adds. “I love to dance.”) This was the trip she picked. “It’s okay,” I said. “I can just spend my time documenting the trip with photos and videos.” This was met by a steely gaze that quickly translated into “You Will Sing.”

So, there I am in southern Macedonia, a self-identified non-singer with little experience in folk dance, and after the first few days I’m ready to hide under the covers. It’s a Slavic language, many songs are based on an oriental scale with elaborate vocal ornamentation, and then there are those odd meters: 7/8, 9/8, and more. My hands can clap the rhythms, but not always connected to the tunes.

This is just the singing; let’s not discuss in detail my feet. Unlike country dancing, stepping one beat at a time and learning a series of different figures, these dances all come in the same simple formation but with unfamiliar demands on my body—slow steps and quick steps, weight shifts, hops and pivots, downbeats with an uplifted foot. “The music tells you what to do,” right? If so, this music was telling me, “Get out of the way of people who know what they’re doing.”

For there were many around me having no trouble. There were strong singers, accustomed to learning by ear and holding down a part. Some had come to Balkan camps before, some sing and dance Balkan in their home communities, some even speak Serbo-Croatian or Macedonian. Although I’m a totally competent country dancer, I was definitely Out of My League on this dance floor.

This tale of woe has a happy ending—I had a great time. A lot of that was thanks to my fellow campers. “I don’t sing,” I mentioned to a tenor near me early on. “What do you mean?” he said. “Everyone sings.” He wasn’t making a political statement, just presenting this as a fact. Lesson learned: stop making excuses, listen, and open your mouth. I discovered, too, that I wasn’t alone. Their solution? Give it a try, and so I did. Can’t sing this particular tenor line? Okay, I’ll stick with the bass part here… it’s simpler. Not sure how this section goes? Turned out I wasn’t the only one, as one of our leaders drilled the group on the same four bars of music until we all had it.

Same thing with the dancing. I practiced by myself behind the line, got coaching on the side from those who knew what to do, and gradually felt more comfortable. (Yes, dancing in 12/8 is still awkward.) Some of it was letting go of the notion that I had to be able to do everything well. Sometimes I stumbled around in line, doing fragments of a dance and gradually adding other pieces. No one pulled me out for remedial lessons, no one frowned; folks on either side trusted that I’d ask for help if needed. When we gave our final concerts, singing and dancing in small villages, the locals offered no critical judgments—they joined our chorus on many well-known songs, grinned at our pronunciation, reached out a hand and made space in line with a smile.

In a few days, it’ll be time to join the community chorus at Harmony of Song & Dance, CDSS’s next program at Pinewoods. I can’t wait. I get to sing again!

In addition to being a contra and English country dancer, caller, dance historian, videographer, co-author (Cracking Chestnuts), coordinator of the Square Dance History Project), and new international dancer and singer, David Millstone currently serves as CDSS’s President.

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“Rootbound”

by Nathaniel Smith

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Maple Morris; photo by Sarah Pilzer

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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Morris Offspring; photo by Alan Cole

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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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

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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.

Enjoy!

~ 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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