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NGI Recipient: Ellen Howes

Session Attended: Folk Arts Center of New England - Folk Days (2009)

I have been dancing all my life. But when I say dancing, I mean spending long hours each day on the tips of my toes in a sweaty leotard training to reach perfection; long hours of not only rigorous ballet, but modern, jazz and flamenco as well. The term “folk dancing” had never really been part of my vocabulary. Then, four summers ago, the director of the dance studio brought in a guest teacher to teach us a different style of modern than what we had already known. The teacher’s name was Andy Taylor-Blenis, but we had to call her Miss Taylor-Blenis. She didn’t just teach us modern dance however, she taught us these fun group dances with accordions and fiddles playing the music. This dance is from France, in that dance you hold onto each other’s pinkies, this dance is a partner dance from Israel, that dance is from the Austrian courts way back when people rarely bathed (we went into a huge discussion about that one). Every summer Miss Taylor-Blenis would try and get us to come to a folk dance at Copley Square, but none of us ever did. In fact, no one ever really considered going to these folk dances. Only this year did I decide to finally come out and see what these folk dances were like. None of the other girls from the studio could come, so I braved the new experience with my mother. We drove from our little town of Holliston to get all the way to Watertown. After that first folk dance, I couldn’t stop myself from wanting more.

One night at a Friday dance a few months later, Marcie Van Cleave approached my mom and me and started telling us of Pinewoods. I immediately wanted to go. Everything about it appealed to me: the ponds, pavilions, and not to mention, the dancing. Marcie and Andy told me of a scholarship that I could get, and trust me; my mom liked the sound of that! But I was nervous; I hardly knew anyone in the community. I could count the number of people I knew with one hand. That didn’t stop me from going though! I met so many amazing people at camp and I have made so many friends. The classes were so much fun too. Being able to be taught a Bulgarian dance from someone like Yves, who has been to the countries of these dances and learned them right from the villages, was so new for me. Yves dances have definitely stuck with me, especially when you have a song like Liljano Mome that you and your friends can’t get out of your heads! What I also enjoyed about the classes was the fact that I could now go to the night dances already knowing some of dances rather than learning them on the spot during the actual dance. Rapper sword was another great new experience. Having never been in the folk dance community before, I had never done rapper before. I can’t say whether I was any good at it or whether I picked up on it quickly, I just know that by the second day of class I was helping to teaching some of the other kids in our set what to do. Being invited to go to the Mladost classes that Andor was teaching was such a gift. I’m not a member of Mladost, and it would sometimes take me a bit longer to pick up the steps than the others, but I still loved being there. Andor was an amazing teacher; listening to him talk was like absorbing another country’s culture. I think that’s one of the many great things about Folk Arts Center of New England; the cultures you get to explore while staying in our own state. Pinewoods was such a wonderful experience, and I am so grateful to be part of the folk dance community!