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NGI Recipient: Ben Casiello

Session Attended: Folk Arts Center of New England - FAC Weekend (2008)

Dear Pinewoods Community,

My first experience with folk dancing came about two years ago. I tagged along as “the new boyfriend” of Catherine Pixton to a Friday night dance. My plan was to stand back and watch until I had a feel for things, and then maybe (just maybe) try a dance or two towards the end of the night. In my mind I saw myself playing it cool and then coming in and wowing the crowd/impressing Catherine by participating in a couple of dances. Unfortunately, things did not go quite as I planned. We entered the church in which the dance was being held, and immediately I was swept up in a torrent of hugs, smiles, and introductions. Slightly overwhelmed, I was not entirely upset when the band began to play and the introductions slowed as people began dancing. I composed myself and, trying to stick to my plan, began retreating to a corner in order to try and take everything in. Immediately people whom I had just met began ushering me, perhaps even ordering me, to the dance floor. Before I knew it, after stumbling through a few dances, I found myself out in the hallway with Catherine and Andy Taylor-Blenis, attempting (and failing miserably) at dancing a hambo. I was amazed at how positive both women could be, despite my utter desecration of the dance and the flattening of Catherine’s toes. It wasn’t exactly the first impression I was hoping to leave on the folk community.

Fortunately, after this less than ideal initial experience, things began to go slightly better. I started becoming more comfortable with folk events and felt quite confident as I prepared to attend NEFFA for first time. On the way to the festival I drilled Catherine with questions about what I would find, and we had some interesting conversations about men in skirts, jam sessions in the hallways, etc. However, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the full force of a folk festival experience. Overall, things went well, despite my slightly spinning head. I even purchased a pair of bones which, much to everyone’s annoyance, I have practiced loudly for many hours.

Things began to move very quickly after this. After my marriage to Catherine I began attending more and more folk events, started playing guitar with IMC (the very same venue at which I had had my very first folk experience), and I even joined the dance group Mladost. Yet despite all of this, I knew that I had not yet fully participated. Ever since I had met Catherine, she had told me fond stories of Pinewoods. I knew that in order to really experience what the folk community was all about, I would need to attend Pinewoods.

Unfortunately, as many of you can understand, as newlyweds fresh out of college, financially we were not equipped to both attend camp. We had many long discussions as to whether we could come up with the money or not, or if I could even get vacation time from work as I was a fairly new employee. Things were not looking good and we considered sending Catherine to camp while I stayed home. But then we were told that there was a scholarship that was available to someone who had not attended camp before! I fit the bill, and after talking it over with my supervisors at work, they agreed to give me the time off.

After three years of hearing about how wonderful Pinewoods was, I was finally able to attend! It definitely lived up to (and in many cases exceeded) all of my expectations. I have never had more fun, or felt more comfortable at a folk event. Learning the dances during the day definitely gave me the opportunity to participate more fully in the dance parties at night. It was a great to be able to just get up and dance without having to learn the dances on the side before joining in. I began to feel like I was really part of the community, and that was definitely a good feeling. My only complaint about the weekend came from my legs the morning after doing Halling dancing (Gideon must have quads of steel)!

There are not many communities that would openly welcome newcomers at a moment’s notice, especially not a goofy soccer/rock guitar playing farmer who couldn’t hambo to save his life. However, I have never felt anything from this folk community except complete sincere welcome. This is definitely something special and should be acknowledged. I would like to thank everyone who attended camp this year while we were there for making me feel so included. And I would like to thank everyone who made the scholarship available to us; I definitely would not have been able to attend without it (I’ll start saving now for next year). Pinewoods was more enjoyable than I ever could have imagined, and I am planning on continuing to attend. I left with some great memories, high expectations for next year, and a new toy! (Catherine would like to thank whoever donated the kaval to the auction; I have hardly stopped playing it since I got it!)

Thank you all so much!