by Diane Silver & Pam Paulson, CDSS Board Members
Photos by Avia Moore

CDSS board members meet in CincinnatiCDSS Board President Gaye Fifer and Executive Director Katy German facilitate a discussion among members of Cincinnati’s English and contra dance communities

On February 7-9, 2020, the CDSS Executive Committee met in Cincinnati for its semi-annual in-person meeting. The Exec. Committee meets monthly by conference call and strives to meet twice a year in person. Meeting in person gives us a chance to reinforce the collaborative nature of our work, dig more deeply into the business of the Board, and discuss issues and ideas with a stronger feeling of cohesion. Equally important (likely more!), we hold the meeting in different locations across the U.S. and Canada, with the specific goal of getting to know one of our local communities personally and giving them a chance to connect with CDSS in a more direct way. We hope it is a labor of love. We know for sure that it is added labor, to host 10 itinerant music/dance guests all at the same time. Cincinnati Contra Dancers and Cincinnati English Country Dancers joined forces to make us welcome. We are grateful for their tremendous hospitality.

Cincinnati was one of the five founding cities that created CDSS in 1915, and traditional music and dance continue to thrive in the Queen City. They hold weekly ECD and contra dances, a more advanced contra dance one Saturday per month, plus an annual ECD weekend in the fall and contra weekend (Pigtown Fling) in the spring. Whew.

Our weekend began on Thursday evening, February 6, with the weekly English country dance. Duck Creek provided the music (Jim Coppock, Linda Coppock, Kathy Woods, Bob Frankenhoff, Rick Boyce, Tim Jamison, MM Jamison, Joan Griggs, and Dave Marcus), and longtime Cincinnati ECD leader Mike White led a lovely program, with Nicholas Rockstroh taking over for the second half.

Work Time

We held our business meeting from 9:00-4:00 on Friday and Saturday. We covered a broad range of topics. Highlights include:

  • Annual Plan: We reviewed the current annual plan to ensure that we are making steady progress on our big-picture goals, and we received a preview of the annual plan for 2020 from Executive Director Katy German.

  • Finances: We did a careful review of our budget and finances, with attention to plans for keeping our budget balanced once the final year of our special Sage grant is complete. CDSS had a strong start to the year, and we also have ambitious goals for programs and services to our Affiliates and Members that require robust fundraising. The Board Treasurer, Finance Committee, and Fund Development Committee work in concert to monitor our financial details. They also plan and lead a range of revenue strategies to meet our operational expenses, and to fund scholarships for camps and the grant programs for affiliate groups and members

  • Affiliate Renewals: A proposal from the Executive Director (ED) was discussed to combine the renewal dates for membership, insurance, and 501(c)(3) status for Affiliates. This means Affiliate groups have just one renewal date to deal with each year, rather than three. We also discussed providing the authority for the ED to adjust the Affiliate membership free for groups facing financial straits and to adjust the Affiliate fee for Canadian groups to compensate for the U.S.-Canada exchange rate that has made affiliation more expensive for Canadian groups. Both of these proposals were subsequently approved by the full Board and enacted by staff this spring.

  • Inclusivity Statement: We decided to begin work to develop an inclusivity statement for CDSS programs (staff is now in the process and drafting and reviewing with community members) and to commit to Board and staff training in this area (scheduled for the Annual Meeting in April).

  • Committee and Task Group Reports: We reviewed reports from all of our committees and task groups, where the bulk of the Board work is done. The plans and accomplishments of this work include:

    • A joint board-staff task group is working on creating mission and vision statements for our camps, to provide more guidance and clear messaging for one of our oldest programs.

    • The Community Culture and Safety Task Group is making steady progress on a writing guide to help local organizers craft courtesy and etiquette guidelines for their communities to especially address issues of safety and inclusion.

    • The Governance Committee has done yeoman’s work crafting a new strategy for succession planning for the board officer positions. This draft plan received a good deal of discussion, with many ideas providing guidance for the committee. This is a good example of the kind of deep work which meeting in person facilitates.


Our hard work was sustained by a generous supply of snacks, coffee, and soft drinks, including a variety of homemade treats, all contributed by local dancers and organized by caretaker extraordinaire Mary Rekers. We were also rewarded with a catered Middle-Eastern lunch on Friday (thank you, Betsy Lehman for organizing!) and a beautiful and generous luncheon at the very tasteful and tasty Grand Finale restaurant on Saturday, thanks to Jeneene Brengelman and Charles Wallner. There was also a fabulous community potluck dinner on Friday night with the English country dancers, organized by Jim and Linda Coppock, and a potluck dinner (thanks to Jeneene and Charles again) plus an amazing snack spread, organized by Amy Foltz, at the Saturday night contra dance. We also were honored by a beautiful Sunday brunch at the home of Ken Irwin and Betsy Lehman. Dancers everywhere take community meals very seriously, and Cincinnati is no exception. So many contributors, such generous offerings. We are grateful for being so well-fed by the community for six meals! We especially appreciated the environmentally-conscious touch of volunteers (led by Jim and Linda Coppock on Friday and Amy Foltz on Saturday) bringing real dishes and flatware and doing the work of washing up!

Play Time

Supertrad band playing musicSupertrad (Sam Bartlett, banjo; Eric Schedler, accordion; and Brian Lindsay, fiddle) play for Cincinnati’s Saturday night contra dance.

Of course, we also danced and sang! In addition to the regular Thursday night ECD, we were treated to a bonus ECD evening on Friday night, with CDSS board members Brooke Friendly, Gaye Fifer, and Beverly Francis sharing the calling, and music by Cincinnati’s Ed Strelau Band, with Kathy Woods, Astrid Mast, Doug Mast, and Joanne Degreg joining Ed. On Saturday, we enjoyed the band Supertrad with Kathy Anderson calling at the regular second-Saturday contra dance. A fine time was had by all! For those able to stay late on Sunday, there was a choice of the regular shape-note singing group, or the Queen City Balladeers, a coffeehouse-style evening of singer-songwriter performances.

Community Engagement

Our weekend culminated in a productive community meeting on Sunday with leaders and interested participants from both local dance groups discussing issues and concerns to the local community. CDSS Board President Gaye Fifer and Executive Director Katy German co-facilitated the discussion, starting with a brainstorm list of successes and then moving to challenges.

Successes include an active and thriving ECD group, with a corps of callers big enough to support a weekly dance and a growing corps of musicians. In the contra community, successes include a new sound system, continuing success of the annual Pigtown Fling, and a strong start to exploring gender-free dance. Both groups enjoy a growing cadre of volunteers, a quality of dancing that welcomes new dancers and raises the level of dancing in the hall, and a strong regional network of mutually supportive dances, with coordination and collaboration across four cities. There is a strong and deeply rooted sense of kindness and caring in this community from its long history of community dancing.

Challenges include board burnout, over-extended leadership, the need to engage new ideas and energy (especially getting younger dancers on the board), the need for guidance regarding use of copyrighted tunes by local bands, financial stressors, growing and nurturing the pool of local callers, connection between the ECD and contra communities, and significantly, a recent debate and decision-making process regarding the adoption of gender-neutral terms within the contra community, which has left some wounds that will require healing.

CDSS board members participate in a danceCDSS Executive Committee members join Cincinnati dancers at English and contra dances in February.

CDSS does not have magic answers to these difficult issues, but we were able to provide some insights from the benefit of external distance, and more importantly, reassurance that these issues are not unique to this community. It is tremendously helpful to the CDSS Board to have the trust of local members to share these challenges so openly and honestly. It helps us understand the struggles at the local level and focus our efforts to provide whatever resources we can to many communities. And importantly, Cincinnati’s challenges will become a resource for other groups encountering similar issues. In this way, Cincinnati once again demonstrates its national leadership, as it did 100 years ago in helping to establish CDSS.

In addition to the individuals named above, many thanks to Christine Armstrong, Susan and Jim Vogt, John McCain, Terri Spiegel, and Debra Barrett from the Cincinnati Contra Dancers and Mike Self, Mike White, and Jim and Linda Coppock from the Cincinnati English Country Dancers for all their organizing work. And extra thanks to John Brockman and Dianne Frick and Hazel and Aren Jodock for rounding out the home-hosting. We love Cincinnati!

The next traveling Exec. Meeting is scheduled for St. Louis at the end of October. We are crossing our fingers and maintaining optimism and hope that COVID-19 will be behind us and we will be able keep up our tradition and valuable strategy of meeting in person with another local community.

The full Board gathers in person each April in Massachusetts (when not thwarted by a pandemic). The Executive Committee meets in person twice throughout the year in different communities across the continent. All other meetings during the year are held via teleconference. The Executive Committee is charged with conducting the business of CDSS between Annual Meetings. Click here for more information about your CDSS Board.

CDSS board members participate in a danceCDSS Executive Committee members join Cincinnati dancers at English and contra dances in February.

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