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NGI Recipient: Megan Letchworth

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - Harmony of Song & Dance (2018)

This July I was honored to be able to attend the CDSS Harmony of Song and Dance week atPinewoods. About two years ago I agreed to join the Folk Happens Board which organizes the monthly contra dances in Prescott, AZ. I’ve been contra dancing for 12 years and singing all my life. Recently, I had expressed interest in learning to be a caller. One of our board members noticed that there would be a caller workshop at camp this year and suggested that I apply. I wasn’t sure that I would be ready for such a leap. When the camp was suggested to me I had a very quick turn around to apply for scholarships and the caller course. Thanks to my board and their generous support I was able to get both applications in on time. This was the first of many times the generous spirit of the community was shown to me.

When I arrived in Plymouth I was very unsure what to expect. I had only talked to one other person who had ever attended a CDSS camp. I was assured that I would have an amazing week. Upon walking into the dining hall I heard my name being called across the hall It was my [NGI-assigned] mentor, Annie, calling out to me. Annie enthusiastically answered my questions about camp and we laughed and chatted with the whole table. I left the first dinner incredibly excited about the week ahead.

Heading into the week I had a different experience from other first-timers because I had been accepted into the square dance callers course. Eleven folks, from all areas of the country and with varying experience in calling came together every afternoon to learn about square dances, calling, and build their skills. Nils Fredland was an incredible teacher who has such remarkable knowledge and patience. I learned so much about square dances, calling, the music, and how to organize dances. Nils created a beautiful structure that allowed all participants to grow in spaces that attended to their own needs and goals for the class but were applicable to the entire group.

Prior to attending I had never participated in English Country Dancing. It was so much fun to learn a new skill with such an experienced group of dancers who were patient in teaching a newbie. My biggest challenge of the week was staying awake for all the excitement, as my body was still operating in a different time zone!

Apart from dancing I was unsure what to expect musically from Harmony Week. I am a part of an a capella women’s choir and was blown away by the musicianship of the attendees and the staff. I was amazed by the ability of so many people to learn so many songs in such a short amount of time. It inspired me to bring several of the camp songs back to my local choir and I still find myself singing many of them even now.

I’m so excited to be able to contribute to my home dance community. We have some really amazing callers in Arizona but in our little town of Prescott we sometimes struggle to book local callers. We are located about a mile in elevation and sometimes in the winter our callers from other parts of AZ cannot make it to us, causing us to cancel dances if we cannot find a local caller to replace them. I’m excited to be able to step in to fill this role in the community that gives so much back to me. I also learned so much about organizing dances. I work at a college and organize student activities. Many of our students attend the local contra dances when they are able but I am working to organize dances on campus for students that incorporate more inclusive language (larks and ravens vs. gents & ladies) and lots of information about being a good partner (consent, asking questions, etc.).

Without the NCI scholarship I would have never been able to attend camp. I am so thankful to both Pinewoods and CDSS for providing these scholarships to keep these arts alive. My home dance organization is working diligently on reaching out to the youth in the area to get them involved in the dance and music scenes. We have a youth band that performs regularly for dances and are starting to offer free youth entrance to dances to involve persons 21 and under in this rich and vibrant world. The goals of the NGI scholarship are not lost on me and I hope to carry on the mission in my small corner of the world.