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NGI Recipient: Julia Hillegonds

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - English & American Week (2007)

Dear CDSS and Pinewoods Camp,

Not many people can say that they have spent a week in the woods of Massachusetts, accompanied by people who share a passion for music and the art of many different styles of dance. I am one of the few teenagers of my generation to witness and be a part of the annual tradition of Pinewoods, and I am immensely grateful for this fact.

At a usual event that I would attend on a Saturday night in Ann Arbor, we would dance from eight to eleven in the evening. Part of my joy in Pinewoods was due to the fact that, if I so chose, I could participate in not three but eight hours of assorted dances every day. I did my best to take full advantage of this – how often do we have the opportunity to engage in Contra, Squares, English, Rapper Sword, Ceilidh, Morris, Irish sets, and clogging all in one day?

When I first arrived at Pinewoods, the amount and the scale of welcome was incredible. As newcomers, my dad and I were given a private tour around the entire compound; we had maps and fliers with lots of handy information, and our guide (a Pinewoods veteran of many years already) was so friendly in showing us where to eat, where to sleep, where to dance, and where to hang out after-hours that we really felt at home right away.

Another great thing about the Pinewoods environment was that, even when not dancing, you could never be bored. There were people playing instruments and singing wherever you went, and it was amazing to hear all the talent not usually focused upon when each of these people were dancing. I learned that many of my fellow dancers are extremely gifted in music as well, and their opportunity to unobtrusively show off a little was given at Pinewoods.

Fortunately for me, I was given that opportunity as well – I had the chance to sing for the group of people who shared my week at Pinewoods. I have recently begun more of a solo career as a singer, but I have been performing with choirs my whole life, and I have traveled to Europe twice with different groups for a total of almost a month. But at Pinewoods, with none of my choir friends around, I signed up for The Gathering in order to sing a Celtic folk piece that I learned a couple of years ago. I was nervous at the beginning – I had maybe only performed twice by myself before. But once I was onstage, the warmth and support from the gathered audience was very calming and reassuring. As I finished the song, the applause that poured in my direction was overwhelming­ – it was a great feeling to be appreciated by so many friends and music lovers. That positive experience encouraged me to perform the same piece at my choir camp the next week, and because I had so much enjoyment in performing it at Pinewoods, that comfort carried over and I was able to employ the same relaxed state of mind, and the rendition of my song seemed to improve that much more.

At Pinewoods I did indeed branch out into another type of dance – for the first time, I was part of a Rapper Sword team. I had seen Rapper demonstrations several times before, but this was the first time I had ever participated in one. It was surprisingly simple – the figures appear so intricate, but they are formed with relatively simply maneuvers. I had great fun with my group – unlike most of my dance experiences, I was surrounded by people close to my age. It was neat to be a part of such a cool activity with people I could relate to more!

I truly enjoyed all the callers who came to share their dances with us – Lisa Greenleaf was hilarious, and Philippe Callens added that spice to English that really enhances the learning experience. I had the opportunity to dance with Philippe one evening, and it was inspiring to be partnered with such an elegant and precise dancer. I attempted to imitate some of his quirks, probably to no avail, and yet I still managed to come away with a sense of having one of the best English dancing experiences yet. I also had the chance to speak with Lisa at the end of the week, and her bubbly, friendly personality left a lasting impression on me – I only hope that, if I ever enter into the realm of calling Contra dances, I can embody some of the free spirit and spontaneity with which she brightens up the stage.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to spend a week of my summer in a world of music and dance­ and for providing the chance to create lasting bonds with the veterans who have attended Pinewoods for decades. Thank you for allowing me to start that tradition in my own dancing history; I will hopefully return for years and years to come.