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NGI Recipient: Arianne Bergman

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - American Dance & Music Week (2014)

Dear CDSS and Pinewoods,

Thank you. Thank you more than I can say.

I was lucky enough to receive an NGI scholarship this year to attend American Week, and I’m still feeling the aftershocks even now that I’m back home and re-settled into things here, far from camp and everyone I met there.

By the end of the first day, short as it was, I was exhausted from the sheer onslaught of people and experiences and new spaces. By the middle of the second day (it seems crazy to me now that this was only the second day – it seriously felt like months had already passed), I was homesick and wondering how I would make it through a full week of days that are each several weeks long. Or felt like it, at least, because of how much we were doing and learning and engaging in constantly.

That night, the after-party was Old Timey-themed. Walking into a room full of musicians playing old time tunes, all together magically the way jams are, was just the same as it always is back home, and kicked the sadness away, as it will. Finally feeling comfortable and a little more at home, I started flatfooting softly behind the jam. One of my teachers, Phil, walked by and invited me to join them around the corner where a bunch of folks were jamming along with their feet. I’d never flatfooted in front of anyone other than my clogging group I learned with and my roommate’s cats, so I was a little intimidated by the image of the Gods of Flatfooting (who of course populate camp in my head).

Hoping to watch and learn at least, I started timidly flatfooting with the gang, but it wasn’t long before one of the two soundboards was empty and I was ushered onto it. No pressure, right? More than a little nervous, I jumped right in and gave it a go. The tune was bouncing and swinging with energy, my teacher was dancing on the other board across from me, so we jammed. With our feet! Playing off pieces of music with our own rhythms, taking turns with each other so each could take the foreground, never stopping (and you know how long some old time tunes will drag on). Racking my brain, I started throwing different steps I remembered from clogging in, not sure how they’d translate to flatfooting and never having tried to make them.

And it all worked. Beautifully. I don’t know when I’ve had that much fun. As a young Old Time musician and dancer, I learn pretty quickly, but I know almost nothing to start with, and don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability not to ruin things I jump in on. This was the first time I’d felt so involved in a jam, filled by that energy, and holding my own. Small as it is, probably the most empowering thing that’s happened to me this year. Then later when a friend asked me for flatfooting lessons, and I was able to help her get some things down, I couldn’t believe that I’d have a skill like this someone would want to learn that I’d be able to teach.

Aside from all the confidence-building and the skill-building (which are immense and not to be under-valued), the community changed me. I’ve been dealing a lot for a long time with certain grave issues of the mind, and this year, they’d been the worst they’ve ever been. I was spiraling somewhere bad. Being at camp, surrounded by so many people who so openly and instantly cared for me, who showed it actively, constantly, and who I cared for in return, started to change all that. It didn’t hurt that I spent a full week feeling the safest, strongest, most myself I’ve felt in a long time, physically and emotionally. It got to the point where beyond getting back to normal-person-levels of feelings, I started working on conquering some fears, and finally ruled out my nearly fifteen-year-old fear of diving (into water), with the constant love and support of a new friend at camp.

That spirit and those feelings haven’t left me since getting back. Yes, it’s been a decision sometimes to keep it in mind and continue to follow it, but somehow, everything seems more manageable now. I’m starting to feel like my old self again. Plus, I picked up the confidence to start pursuing these loves more vigorously here at home. In the next several months, I’m planning to host a party for my friends to practice my newfound calling abilities on them, start choreographing a new routine for my clogging group (with another clogger or two), and start jamming with my friends to work up the confidence to go to a public jam in the new year.

None of this would have been possible without the NGI scholarship. I’ve only been out of college a year, and during that have done mostly seasonal work until starting my current AmeriCorps position, so I would have been completely unable to come for lack of funds if not for this scholarship. So thank you, so, so, so much for helping me have this experience. It’s changed things for me in ways I expected, and some I didn’t. To say I’m grateful is an understatement.

Deep (and twangy) thanks!