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NGI Recipient: Olivia Barry

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - English Dance Week (2017)

I recently attended English Week at Pinewoods with the honor of being selected for a scholarship that allowed me to come to such a magical place. For the past few years I have heard about a haven in which dancers may come together to focus on community, dance education, and love for music. I was told by my community in Brasstown, North Carolina that scholarships are available for those seeking financial assistance. After taking some time to consider the possibility, I decided to apply. After receiving the news that I had indeed received a scholarship, I was physically brought to my knees. For years I have financially supported dance, along with other aspects of my life, and to know that I would have such a remarkable opportunity made me feel unbelievably blessed.

My experience at Pinewoods was ineffable. I will always be able to explicate several different situations that each of you are familiar with, but I will never be able to convey how I truly felt. To elaborate… Do you know that feeling you get when you are being taught a dance and you hear the tune for the first time? It is an amazing tune, that is upbeat, a key that makes you feel empowered, and all you can think of is that feeling you get in your chest that just screams “Move your feet!”? That is exactly how I felt all week. I found myself with that feeling even when I was not dancing—I could be swimming or doing dishes! I truly believe that the experience of soul-moving music, which leads to the need to dance, is rooted in joy. ECD (English Country Dance) has always brought me much joy because of the emotional connection to the music, the history of dance being portrayed, and community participation.

Now I would like to share some of the most precious moments from my week at Pinewoods. First of all, I decided upon English Week because of my love for all things English. Many would find it rare to have such interest at such a young age, but I have always found ECD to be a puzzle that all can enjoy; a puzzle in which mediation and active thinking takes place. The dancer must be involved and active in a way that allows them to think their part but to dance it through their body and their soul. This concept was first introduced to me a few years back at a dance but was reiterated perfectly by Robert Moir. At one point he stopped a dance just to explain to us that we were thinking, not dancing! Similarly, I found this idea discussed during meals, one of the best parts of the day. With that in mind, if it weren’t for the people, Pinewoods wouldn’t be Pinewoods. To come in only knowing those that have been to the John C. Campbell Folk School, but to leave feeling as if I met everyone—I am incredibly humbled by the relationships I was able to form with people, along with the educational moments I was able to take part in by listening to others’ stories. The people were welcoming and engaging, both attributes I hope to use in my own community for newcomers.

After having done several dance weeks before, I thought I knew what to expect. People tend to be quite reserved around the younger crowd. Why? I am still not sure of the answer, but I do know that if you are going to make connections with people, despite age, you have to engage in a different way… you have to be interested, not interesting. Understanding that it would take time for people to realize I actually knew what I was doing was one of the most significant challenges during the week. As one who does not like to go around proclaiming my abilities, I found a place for myself in just jumping into asking people to dance, to sit with them during meals, and to ask questions such as “Where are you from?” or “Why do you love to dance?” Pinewoods allows for such an engaging atmosphere, allowing people from all over the country to come together to form a long lasting community. This perspective is an aspect of Pinewoods I will never forget.

With all these memories in mind, I would like to take a moment to thank you for the scholarship program as a whole. If it wasn’t for such a generous program, countless motivated and inspired young leaders would not be able to come. It is because of scholarships that young leaders are able to further their education and set a precedent for the future of music and dance (especially English Country Dance). Words and phrases such as “Thank You” and “Appreciative” do not cover how indebted I feel to the entire Pinewoods and CDSS community for the generosity so selflessly bestowed upon me. As they say, a week can change a life. Mine was certainly changed and I have so many people to thank for that. Due to my experience at English Week, I was inspired to continue writing my own dances and rejuvenate the rapper sword scene in my community.

Thank you so much for all you have done and all that you will each continue to do.