NGI Recipient: Angela DeCarlis
Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - English Dance Week (2019)
Since first attending American Week in 2012, I’ve been unable to spend a single summer away from Pinewoods. Anyone reading this is likely already quite familiar with the glowing, crystal clear ponds, the peaceful, fragrant woods lush with wild berries, and the gorgeous open dance halls. Any attempt I could make to expound upon those details would fall short, because I know that their magnificence must be experienced to be fully appreciated.
I can say that, for me, Pinewoods is good medicine. It is a place where I am able to replenish myself completely, from the nourishing comfort food prepared by joyful Pinewoods kitchen crew members all the way to the soul-rejuvenating song and dance which CDSS’s programming provides. For me, the ponds are a place of such immense solace that I will often visit them in my imagination on my worst days throughout the year. For me, Pinewoods is a Home, in absolutely every sense of the word.
My first CDSS English Week was a worthy divergence from my usual adventures. As an established contra dance caller and organizer, I felt that this year was a good year for me to try something new. When I saw that my friend Alex Cumming would be taking on the role of Programmer this year, I was excited to register. I’ve loved English Country Dance for a number of years now, but have not attended local events regularly, nor have I yet learned to call for English dancing successfully.
To be honest, my experience of the week was very mixed. ECD has a reputation, depending on whom you ask and where in the world they dance, for having some members who demand and foster a strict culture in which “tradition” must be adhered to; this culture, to the best of my experience and understanding, is what has driven some (often younger) dancers away. The common punchline in the ECD world pokes fun at one such community: “Well, that’s not how we do it in Boston.” Dance camps present somewhat of a unique situation, however: there’s less opportunity for methods and ideas to stagnate or be policed when dancers are traveling from across the globe to be together, and there are more dancers who have traveled there, indeed, professly to share and gather new ideas. Dance camps are a hub for cultural exchange.
It’s absolutely fair to say that I had more negative experiences at English Week than what I’ve had at other CDSS weeks, but even so I feel that my good experiences outweighed the bad, and I was also struck more profoundly by the positive experiences as a byproduct of the contrast: I’m immensely grateful to Alex Cumming, Lisa Greenleaf, Aaron Marcus, Scott Higgs, and Miriam Newman for hosting programming which explicitly highlighted genderfree calling and inclusion, for example. I feel glad that the staff was comprised of both established members of the community, as well as younger, more up-and-coming talent. I also met a great number of campers who were excited to discuss aspects of ECD “with” me (as opposed to “at” me, which happened with unfortunate frequency) and who were incredibly generous with their time, energy, and thoughtfulness. I learned an incredible amount about the culture of English Country Dance: where it’s come from, how it’s changed already, and how some are hoping that it may continue to change in the years to come.
I’d like to sincerely thank the New Generation Initiative for the aide which enabled me to return “Home” for the summer of 2019 and there investigate a tradition and a community with which I hope to have a lasting relationship with for (truly) the rest of my life. I’d like to thank Carl Mastandrea for his recent leadership at Pinewoods Incorporated: he has demonstrated an incredible awareness of what this place means to our community, and I have absolute trust in his ability to continue to make important improvements to the camp without diminishing its magic. I’d like to thank Alex Cumming for accepting the challenge of making everybody happy during a week where, culturally speaking, that task seems especially impossible; I know he has further dreams for creating exciting programming in the next two years! Finally, I’d like to thank everyone at CDSS, particularly those who rarely get thanked by name, for all the work they do to keep these traditions vibrant and accessible for generations to come. Y’all rock!