Winter Dance Week

One of the happiest places to spend the time between Christmas and New Year’s is Winter Dance Week held at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, held each year between December 26 – January 1. I’ve been fortunate to be hired at the Folk School in the past to call American dances, English country dances, or, as was the case this year, a combination of the two.

WDW was full this year, just over 100 people registered. It’s a smaller event than the Christmas Country Dance School in Berea, Kentucky, which I’ve never attended. One of the terrific things about the smaller size is you really have an an opportunity to dance and to talk with virtually every other person at the week. The sociability is enhanced by everyone living on campus and taking meals together. The food is good, the ambiance warm and welcoming, and the dance floor in Keith House is one of my very favorite dance venues. What’s not to like?

One of my classes was billed as Challenging English, and it attracted about half of the camp each day.

We started each day with a dance from the Thomas Bray collection of 1699, and followed up with a composition by Nathanael Kynaston, early 18th century. Kynaston’s dances have been interpreted by Andrew Shaw in recent years, bringing some gems to light. I then programmed lots of compositions by contemporary choreographers.

Most of the dances were unfamiliar to dancers; indeed, many were set to tunes not in the two volumes of tunes edited by Peter Barnes, so in some cases the musicians—the extraordinary duo Foxfire (Daron Douglas, violin, and Karen Axelrod, piano)—were working with music they had not played together before. And in a few cases, I was teaching dances I’d never taught before, always a risky proposition. What made this class such a satisfying experience was the sense that we were all in it together, that caller and musicians and dancers alike were working together toward the same goal, to take instructions and notes on a page and turn that information into a living, breathing entity, a dance.

Callers and musicians sometimes talk disparagingly about a “consumer culture” that we see at some dances; people are there with an attitude of “Show me what you got!” with the implicit expectation that “It better be good enough.” There was none of that here. Errors were greeted gracefully, people made helpful suggestions and listened attentively, and we had a most enjoyable time.

One of the dances we explored is called The Refined Company, by English choreographer Hilary Herbert. Here’s a video of one set of dancers. Enjoy!

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