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NGI Recipient: Anne Roskowski

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - English Week (2018)

Learning is not merely an absorption of “do this” or “say that”, but rather, a journey, through which you become more familiar with the curves and tracks in the road that bends towards the horizon just ahead of you. I experienced this on the long trip extending from Rochester, NY to Pinewoods Camp, MA, for the CDSS English Country Week, where as I traversed the dusty, rutted dirt roads from Lads a Bunchum and the dining hall to C Sharp, C Sharp Minor, and the Camp House, my feet learned to dance new steps with rhythm and grace. In every famous trip, the hero/heroine never wanders alone; Lewis had Clark and Sacagawea for companionship and guidance, Elizabeth Bennet had Uncle and Aunt Gardener as traveling companions, and Frodo had the Fellowship. Fortunately, I also made friends to share the lessons with. It was interesting to hear about everyone’s different backgrounds and to learn the tips and tricks they found for dancing. Music and dancing are truly the thread that can bind together the 4 corners of the world (or rather, the 4 corners of North America, meeting people from North Carolina, Canada, California, and good old New York State).

No worthwhile adventure is ever easy and this was certainly no exception; after the first few days of dancing sun up to sun down, my feet ached in agony, begging to be put into eternal rest, but my heart and soul yearned for more. Then, there was the frustration as I tried to remember the steps to each new figure in the Longsword dance from Sleights or the Morris Dances, where in spite of all efforts, I still somehow managed to make a mess out of things in a new way every time. During the morning English Dance Class, as sunlight dripped through the leaves hanging over C Sharp Minor, despondency pooled within me as I tried to move in perfect timing to the music, but not quite making it. These depths of despair have become useful in my return home because remembering how I felt learning the figures has given me patience and understanding with new dancers who come to the English Country Dance group in Rochester.

Then, the plot began to turn, the road bent in a new direction, and the hills became less steep as less mistakes were made. The most enthralling parts of the week were the moments when I finally understood and could almost perfectly dance the figures I had been struggling with for days. It was the sun dawning on my horizon, the glow and energy ascending from the knowledge that “yes, I can finally do this!” instilling me with the gumption to learn more. Things gained were not just steps and movements, but also confidence. Before English Week, I was not the most confident of dancers and would be reluctant to perform for people if I knew I would make mistakes. While at Pinewoods, I performed in Plymouth on the Morris Tour and then exhibited the dances I learned in front of all the campers on Friday, charging ahead even though I knew there was the distinct possibility of making mistakes. I wanted to experience as many new things as possible and not let fear get in the way of that. Performing and brushing off mistakes in a determination to learn from them rather than be crippled by them, along with the constant encouragement from teachers and fellow campers, bestowed upon me confidence so that I am now no longer terrified of making mistakes in front of others. The English Country Dance Week has given me new courage to make mistakes and to become a better dancer from them. In addition, my new found confidence and familiarity with the figures has now enabled me, at the weekly dance back in Rochester, to help introduce newcomers to the wonders of folk dance, just as others introduced me.

Every good tale about traveling and travails needs a tavern and this story was no different; the Pub Night on Monday was certainly a highlight. The Ceilidh Dance that preceded it was such a thrill of excitement, skipping and polkaing through the traditional figures, the throbbing of the fiddle mimicking the wild pounding of my heart and toes; I had never experienced anything so full of exhilarating fun and energy! The electrifying adrenaline from Ceilidh Dancing carried me through the pub night, where it was a jovial time belting out songs with my fellow campers, the notes tying all our hearts closer together and the lyrics finishing the knot. The late evening dance parties on the other nights of the week were also of interest because I learned styles of folk dance, such as French dancing, that I knew very little about and that I came to love very much.

I tried as many new experiences as I could this week, to broaden my horizons, making the most of each moment, and I am so glad that I did! It was such a privilege to be gifted a scholarship to go for a week to camp to learn so many beautiful forms of dance from talented experts and to make a variety of new friends with the same passion for dancing! I am so grateful for the generosity of CDSS and PCI in making camp possible for me through the NGI scholarship; I would not have been able to attend without it. It was exciting to see how these scholarships – awarded not just to myself, but to so many others – allowed inclusion of students and young professionals, encouraging the passing on of these dance traditions to the new generation. I would also like to thank everyone else who helped me to get here: my friends who encouraged me to apply for the scholarship, the fellow dancers who helped to make this a fun experience during the week of camp, and PCI for providing the wonderful food and facilities that helped define my experience that week. I will certainly treasure the lessons and memories from English Week at Pinewoods for a lifetime!