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NGI Recipient: Sam Zegas

Session Attended: Folk Arts Center of New England - FAC Weekend (2007)

I’m a lucky guy; I know this because this past summer I went to Pinewoods Folk Arts Center weekend on a full scholarship, sponsored by Pinewoods Camp and the Folk Arts Center.

My discovery of folk dancing five years ago was a small miracle. Infinitely more interesting and artistic than doing 100 meter sprints on the high school track team, folk dancing captured my attention because it offered me insight into foreign cultural traditions and music and kept me moving at the same time. As a high school kid whose parents couldn’t figure out what this dancing thing was all about, however, my dancing opportunities were limited to whatever events I could reach within a 15-minute drive of my house. That said, traveling several hours to a multi-day dance event and paying for lodging was pretty much entirely out of the question.

Now I’m in college and am as excited as ever about folk dance and the folk dance community. My family still hasn’t quite figured out what this dancing thing is all about though, and as a full-time student my income is, well, barely existent. This is where my luck comes in; thanks to the efforts of Pinewoods Camp and the Folk Arts Center of New England to support the next generation of dancers, young people like myself can get scholarships to go to events like Pinewoods and have the full folk dance experience of learning, dancing, spending time with other dancers and having fun.

Even in those earliest days of my dancing I can remember hearing about Pinewoods. Still unable to tell a Hungarian csardas from a Bulgarian racenica, I would hear other dancers talking about Pinewoods with eager anticipation or fond nostalgia – “it was so much fun!” “It will be so much fun next year!” “The Pinewoods Band members are demigods of musical talent!” It never occurred to me that I’d be able to go to Pinewoods, so I had to be content with the stories.

Then one day last spring, Marcie at the Folk Arts Center told me about a scholarship opportunity to come to the Folk Arts Center Pinewoods weekend and before I knew it, I was accepted and ready to go! Veteran Pinewoods dancers began offering me matter-of-fact advice between dances at our weekly events. “You’ll certainly get lost on the dirt roads leading to the camp – be careful!” “Bring a swimsuit; you’ll want to swim all the time.” “The food is amazing!!” With all these tips flying around in my head I forgot to pack shoes and had to buy new ones on the way down. Once that problem was solved though, nothing could stand between me and Pinewoods.

After dinner (where the food was indeed amazing,) was one of the best dance parties I’ve ever been to. People who I had met in passing in many different corners of the folk dance world were all there, along with seemingly hundreds of people I didn’t know. Almost everyone from my youth dance group Mladost was there too, and with the Pinewoods Band playing I couldn’t have asked for more. The next three days continued just like this. We learned English Country and Macedonian dances from excellent teachers and danced every night. Not only did I learn a lot of new dances, but I met a lot of new people and got to know my old friends better. I’m really glad and very thankful that I could be there this year.

When I originally started dancing on Friday Nights, Conny Taylor, one of the founders of the Folk Arts Center, was there every week, too. Before he passed away in the fall of 2006, he told me that people who folk dance are special because they don’t confine themselves to the mainstream, but look beyond it to find what makes them happy. It’s a good feeling for me to know that organizations like Pinewoods and Folk Arts Center are supporting the young generation. With their help we can hopefully keep the path created by Conny Taylor and others well trodden so that future generations will always have a place to dance.