NGI Recipient: Shira Wolf
Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - English Dance Week (2019)
Thank you, CDSS and Pinewoods Camp, for giving me the opportunity to attend CDSS English Week. I had a fantastic time, learned many new things, and made wonderful new friends. I’d first heard about Pinewoods from my contra and ritual dance friends, who talked about it as if it were a magical realm — a place where they could abandon the stresses of the “real world” for a moment and be truly happy. I generally took these stories with a grain of salt, as I’d spent my childhood being relentlessly bullied at a religious day camp. I had been a queer kid without the word to put to it, and for years I had associated camp with the pain and alienation that I had experienced when I had last been a camper.
After I entered the contra and ritual dance community in my late teens, I thought occasionally that Pinewoods might be kind of cool, but knew that I didn’t have the money to go even if I could get over the camp-related trauma of my childhood. So, off I went about my life, with no real summer plans other than my lame food service jobs, until I received an e-mail informing me that I’d been nominated for an NGI scholarship. I’d never heard of an NGI scholarship, but I realized that if I ever wanted to attend Pinewoods, this was my chance. I filled out the surprisingly-easy application and selected CDSS English dance week to attend. I figured it would be a better way to spend my 22nd birthday than assembling cakes for other people, and I knew how much I loved Morris and Rapper. I was also intrigued by Dartmoor stepping, and I was more than open to try some more English Country Dancing.
Several of my friends were working at Pinewoods all summer, and several more had been to camp in previous years, and when I found out I had received the scholarship, I excitedly told them that I’d be seeing them for English week. They sounded surprised that I had chosen English week. Didn’t I know that it was the least queer-friendly week of camp? Was I really okay with being surrounded by people I had never met, with backgrounds completely different from mine, for a week? I started to have my doubts, but I was determined to enjoy myself. A friend who knew several people at English week reached out to them, asking them to make sure I was having a good time.
On the drive down, my car broke down on the same spot of I-89 in New Hampshire that it always breaks down on. I encountered Cape Traffic for the first time, and I got lost navigating the weird roads through the pine barrens. When I finally got to camp, I was stressed. The first person I saw was a woman from one of my local dances. She made sure that I had everything I needed and helped me park. Everyone I ran into was helpful and kind, and my stress began to evaporate. My cabin was lovely — as was my roommate, who had already been at camp for a week and gave me a very helpful rundown. It didn’t take me very long to realize that I had nothing to worry about at Pinewoods.
At the beginning of the week, I sat with people I had never met at every meal, just as I had been warned. They were all kind, supportive, and talented, and after a few days I had spoken to almost everyone. My friends had been wrong: I did not feel alienated or lonely at all. Instead, I had dozens of new friends whom I never would have met if I had attended a week where I could cloister myself in a wall of familiarity. I was still able to spend time with the friends who were working, which was lovely, but I had no one to distract me from classes with an invitation to sit around, nothing to keep me from jumping into something that I had never tried before, no one to impress or hide behind.
I learned a new Morris tradition, which I’d been wanting to learn for a long time. I danced some rapper, which I’d been missing from my life since I moved away from my old team. I fell in love with Dartmoor stepping, and look forward to practicing it in many supermarkets and parking lots and waiting rooms to come. Being able to perform a dance pretty decently at the end of the week was definitely the highlight of my camp experience.
Another highlight of my week was the gender-free calling discussion groups facilitated by Aaron Marcus throughout the week. While I was already passionate about gender-free calling, talking to lots of different people with diverse perspectives on it gave me new ideas about how to talk about gender-free dance of all types in my home dance community. The Morris friends my friend from home had reached out to also came through. They checked in on me, supported me, and made sure I was included. I spent a week at summer camp and I had fun and damn, I was free to be myself, and if I hadn’t attended CDSS English Dance Week at Pinewoods, I would never have known that feeling.