CDSS News, Winter 2021


ISSN: 1070-8251

Copy Editor—Ben Williams
Layout & Design—Anna Gilbert-Duveneck
Managing Editor—Kelsey Wells

CDSS Office

116 Pleasant Street #345, Easthampton, MA 01027-2759
fax 413-203-5471
Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.


Executive Director, Kathryn Tarter German, x 100,
Director of Finance, Julie Brodnitzki, x 111,
Accounting Manager, Anna Mach, x 113,
Membership & Development Coordinator, Nicole Perez, x 104,
Director of Camp Programs, Steve Howe, x 102,
Director of Programs, Joanna Reiner Wilkinson,
Office & Registration Manager, Crispin Youngberg, x101,
Director of Development, Robin Hayden, x 107,
Community Resources Manager, Linda Henry, x 105,
Director of Operations, Sarah Pilzer, x 103,
Sales & Insurance Manager, Ben Williams, x106,
Marketing & Communications Manager, Kelsey Wells,
Webmaster, Anne Campbell,

CDSS Governing Board


President: Gaye Fifer, Pittsburgh, PA
Vice President: Nikki Herbst, Amana, IA
Secretary: Pam Paulson, Waukesha, WI
Treasurer: Joel Bluestein, Arlington, VA

At Large Members

Peter Baker, Ann Arbor, MI
Nancy Barbour, Monmouth Junction, NJ
Jeremy Carter-Gordon, Marshfield, VT
Karl Colón, Yellow Springs, OH
Jolaine Jones-Pokorney, Gainesville, FL
Susie Lorand, Ann Arbor, MI
Robbin Marcus, Lithonia, GA
Avia Moore, Toronto, ON
Justin Morrison, Burlington, VT
Doug Plummer, Seattle, WA
Marni Rachmiel, Seattle, WA
John Seto, Sacramento, CA
David Shewmaker, Washington, DC
Diane Silver, Asheville, NC
Luanne Stiles, Asheville, NC
Darlene Underwood, Cincinnati, OH
Juliette Webb, Nashville, TN
Chris Weiler, South Burlington, VT

Contact the Board at; board bios and photos are on our website at:

To receive store and office updates, please add,, and to your address book.

About CDSS

The Country Dance & Song Society connects and supports people in building and sustaining vibrant communities through participatory dance, music, and song traditions that have roots in English and North American culture. Membership is open to all. Direct benefits include this magazine, a 10% discount from the CDSS store, priority registration for our summer camp programs, and more. Indirect benefits include the satisfaction of knowing that your support will enhance CDSS’s ability to spread the traditions you love. CDSS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; membership dues and donations are tax deductible. For more information, visit

This magazine is published quarterly by the Country Dance & Song Society. The views expressed within represent the authors and are not necessarily those of CDSS. All material is published by permission.


Steve HowePhoto by Deborah Payne

See you soon, Steve!

This fall, we celebrated the (semi-)retirement of Steve Howe, CDSS Director of Camp Programs. Steve has worked at CDSS for more than 30 years, and we are forever grateful for his enormous work building and growing our camp programs.

We’re also excited to introduce you to our new Camp Director at Pinewoods, Steve Howe! Although he is stepping back from his program directing duties, he will continue on in this capacity, making sure that everyone is housed, safe, and welcomed at CDSS weeks at Pinewoods.

CDSS Bylaws Revisions Approved

In September, the CDSS membership approved revisions to the CDSS bylaws. Three years in the making, these revisions fixed a small number of errors, harmonized language and processes, and made three more substantial changes:

  • Create a new succession pattern for officers (President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary).
  • Make the President and Executive Director non-voting members of the Nominating Committee.
  • Allow the Board to delegate to the CDSS office staff its power to set the rules for CDSS membership and group affiliation.

More information about these changes is available here, and the bylaws including all revisions are available here.

Common TimeHave you joined us for Common Time?

Common Time is a monthly online program highlighting different aspects of the CDSS community through interviews, panel discussions, and lectures. Common Time is on vacation in December, but stay tuned for an announcement of a great line-up of 2022 programs soon. The next Common Time will be Monday, January 17, 2022, at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT).

Missed our previous programs? All of the Common Time programs are posted here. Here are a few to check out:

  • Stepping Up to the Mic: Creating the Post-pandemic Dance Experience
  • Songs That Speak: Saro Lynch-Thomason
  • Contra Pulse: Mentors & Inspirations

2021 Affiliate Survey Report Available

This summer, we conducted our third annual Affiliate survey to learn about the work our Affiliates are doing and how we can best support them. This year we also asked about how groups have been doing through the pandemic, what kind of data they collect from their attendees, any cultural equity work they’ve taken on, and more. 63% of Affiliates responded—the most since the survey began in 2019. We’ve already started to put into action some of the findings from the 2021 survey. Read the full survey report.

Contra Pulse CallersMary WesleyPhoto by Maddie Freeman

We’re excited to announce a new CDSS podcast coming soon!

Based on the success of Contra Pulse with host Julie Vallimont interviewing contra dance musicians, we’re expanding to a new series of interviews with contra callers.

Contra Pulse: Callers, hosted by Mary Wesley, will feature conversations about callers’ crafts and personal histories, as well as looking at the history and living traditions embodied by our communities from the caller’s viewpoint. Look for monthly episodes starting in January!

An Update on CDSS's Cultural Equity Work

By Gaye Fifer, CDSS Board President

In February of this year, CDSS established a Cultural Equity Advisory Group. This group is composed of a facilitator, Dena Ross Jennings, and eight additional group members (who you can learn more about here). The group’s mandate is to meet regularly over the course of a year, analyze CDSS from an equity perspective, and provide recommendations for change. This advisory group meets separately from the CDSS Board, taking time to build their team and model equity in their activities. Throughout the year, they’ve reviewed CDSS’s communications and public content, considered member suggestions and concerns in relation to race and equity work, evaluated our program and operating models, and conducted interviews with CDSS staff and Board members. They will report their findings and recommendations to the Board in March 2022. We plan to share their report with the broader CDSS community when it is available.

As the Cultural Equity Advisory Group works to inform our long-term vision for equity initiatives, the CDSS Board and staff continue to work on addressing equity concerns. It is clear to us that we need to make changes, especially in the areas of transparency and “telling the whole story” about the history of song, music, and dance in our traditions and in budget priorities that will make our work more accessible and inclusive. We’re thinking through how we present the traditions that we love and identifying the barriers to equity that are present in “how we’ve always done things.” We continue to encourage Affiliate groups to work on these issues alongside us by providing CDSS grant funds for communities to hire facilitators to offer workshops and trainings on cultural appropriation, diversity, and equity.

The CDSS Board and staff knows that the work of meaningfully addressing issues of equity and inclusion is based in relationships and commitment to sustainable change. We appreciate your support as we move forward collectively on this path. If you have any questions about these initiatives, would like funding for a workshop in your community, or have ideas to share, please feel free to reach out to me.

Balance and Sing: Online Store

This Winter!

Check out this great selection of books and CDs from 2021! Along with CDSS gift certificates, these make great gifts for the music, dance, and song lover of any age in your life. Order ASAP if you need them for the holiday season!

The Longest Night by the Cosmic OttersThe Longest Night
By The Cosmic Otters

The Longest Night by The Cosmic Otters (Meg Dedolph, Eric Schedler, and Jonathan Whitall) is a mix of 14 wonderful original and traditional dance tunes from England, Ireland, and the United States, including waltzes and a song. With its solid rhythmic foundation, inventive harmonies, pulsing accordion, and tasteful percussion, the music is ideal for both listening and for dancing along.

Join Up Hands by Sue HulsetherJoin Up Hands
By Sue Hulsether

In Join Up Hands, Sue Hulsether gives a volume of simple and accessible set dances stemming from a variety of American traditions. Each of the 23 longways, circle, and square dances is accompanied by clear directions and time-tested teaching tips. Throughout the book, the author describes both how to teach the dance moves and also how to build human connection through the dance experience. The companion CD (sold separately) features lively string band music that joyfully recreates the spirit of a real-live barn dance.

David Kaynor book coverDavid A. Kaynor: Living Music and Dance
Edited by Susan Songer

This extraordinary, spiral-bound volume encompasses and celebrates the many contributions David made to the world of contra dance. The book contains over 70 tunes that David composed, his harmonies and his stories about the tunes, over 50 dances that he choreographed and his stories about these dances, David’s essays on tune composition and harmony, his previous book, Calling for Beginners by Beginners, and his complete autobiography with tributes from family members and friends.

The ABCs of Contra DancingThe ABCs of Contra Dancing
By Luke Donforth & Sarah Hirsch

This lovingly-illustrated board book is a series of rhyming couplets about the alphabet and contra dance, written by Luke Donforth as he travelled calling various dances around North America. The fabulous artwork was done by Sarah Hirsch, based on her decades in the dance community—you may recognize some friends in her illustrations! This book is a wonderful introduction to this living tradition for the next generation.

Call: 413-203-5467 x106  •  Email:  •  Shop

From the Director

"Let us, then, be up and doing, / With a heart for any fate / Still achieving, still pursuing / Learn to labor and to wait."

Last year I attended a webinar for arts orgs advising us to choose one of three responses to the pandemic: close for good, hibernate until you can do what you are comfortable doing, or adapt and respond to whatever lies ahead. As I listened, the song lyric here drifted through my thoughts. It is the last stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem "A Psalm of Life," and it summarizes perfectly our approach to 2021. We have indeed been up and doing; still achieving and still pursuing. We have embraced new work and new challenges with openness to the possibilities. And we’ve learned to make difficult choices thoughtfully.

The Labor of Learning and Listening

In order to keep up with the rapidly shifting landscape of 2021, and to ensure we focused our work where it was needed most, we devoted time in 2021 to learning from experts and listening to our members and affiliates.

We monitored vaccine availability and accessibility, kept up with virus research and changing public health guidelines, and grappled with the legal and ethical ramifications of conducting in-person events. We consulted legal, medical, public health, and cultural equity professionals, to guide our own programming decisions and to share that expertise with you through our public communications and online programming.

We examined our role in the broader dance, music, and song community, and so reached out to learn from you what work would be most timely, relevant, and useful. We conducted surveys of both CDSS Affiliates and members and collected feedback from people attending our in-person and online programs. We used this data to direct programming decisions throughout 2021 and to shape our program plans for 2022.

We also listened to what you had to say to us directly. The CDSS staff and Board had hundreds of conversations with members, donors, organizers, and instructors, all giving us insight into the particular challenges they face and what CDSS could do to help.

Up and Doing, Putting Thought into Action

In the spring, we grappled with the decision of whether to hold in-person camps. We navigated a transfer of leadership in our Programs Department. We undertook a website redesign that will improve the clarity and functionality of our ever-growing website.

Thanks in no small part to your ongoing generous support, we launched new year-round programming to accompany our historic camp programming, presenting lower cost accessible training opportunities online. Your support also makes possible our free and on-demand offerings (listed just below) well suited for pandemic times.

  • Web Chats for Organizers, recorded focused conversations designed for organizers of dance, music, and song

  • Common Time, recorded monthly panel discussions on a variety of topics designed for dance, music, and song practitioners

  • Contra Pulse Podcast, audio series hosted by Julie Valimont, featuring 14 new episodes in 2021 exploring the world of contra dance musicians and music

  • Songs that Speak, online video series for singers hosted by Saro Lynch-Thomason featuring traditional songs, their history, and a chance to learn by ear

  • Dance it Yourself, online video series for educators and parents hosted by Robbin Marcus and featuring a number of teachers and musicians, designed to get kids moving wherever they are learning, series 2 coming soon!

  • The CDSS Resource Portal, online collection of public and crowd-sourced articles, essays, and tools for practitioners and leaders of the traditions we steward

If, like me, you are inspired by what we did this year, you’re going to love what’s coming next!

  • A new website, better organized an easier to navigate
  • The Cultural Equity Advisory Group report, the culmination of their year of work
  • More online programs, designed with Affiliate and member feedback in mind
  • A full camp seasonfingers crossed!— with exciting intensive courses
  • Expansion of scholarships
  • Improved artist and instructor compensation

From where I sit the immediate future looks complex but bright. While the pandemic isn’t over, we are getting closer to the time when we can safely be in each other’s company again. When I pause and think about how far we’ve come in just the past year—how much better we understand virus prevention and treatment, how many millions of people have been vaccinated and even boosted, how deeply we’ve thought about social and emotional health, and about all the ways we’ve changed how we move through the world—I can’t help but feel hopeful. We are indeed “up and doing, with a heart for any fate,” operating in ways that would have seemed impossible just a few short years ago.

You’ve made it possible for CDSS to adapt and meet the needs of local communities during a period when we lost 77% of our earned income. As we work to grow our new programming and prepare for post-pandemic times, your continued support will allow us to maintain focus on the broader community. Please consider making a gift to our year-end appeal today.

Katy's signature
Katy German, Executive Director

Two dancers in Regency clothing, holding yardsticks

Pandemic Panaceas

ECD: The Pandemic Waltz

By David Cheatley

Longways proper for 4 couples. Dancers spaced 6 feet from each other, holding meter/yard sticks as shown.

A1 (16 bars) Up a double (4 waltz steps) (no hands; sticks may touch), 3 waltz steps back, and 4th waltz step turn out of the set and turn in place to face your partner
Everyone turn right and circle left 8 waltz steps to home
B (chorus) (16 bars) First corners left shoulder cast to change places (4 waltz steps)
Second corners right shoulder cast to change places (4 waltz steps)
Change places with your partner by the right shoulder/stick (4 waltz steps)
Set right, set left, turn single and bow

A2 (16 bars)

Siding (8 waltz steps over, 8 waltz steps back)


as above
A3 (16 bars) Arming: 8 waltz steps around, touching right meter/yard sticks 8 waltz steps around, touching left meter/yard sticks
B as above

COVID Precautions

  • Everyone should wear a mask.
  • Everyone should carry a meter/yard stick in each hand, held perpendicular to the ground, to maintain social distancing.
  • Gloves optional.

Hear a dance-length version of the tune. This recording is six times through the tune, enough for four couples to complete the dance twice.

The Pandemic Waltz: A Safe English Country Dance

by David Cheatley

Pandemic Waltz sheet music

David Cheatley began learning violin in seventh grade (1966). Ten years on, he was playing and dancing square, morris, contra, and English dances in Toronto, Canada. Recent adventures include calling English dances in Kaslo, BC, and arranging and recording dance tunes.

Tell Me More

Ignatius Sancho

By Graham Christian

Ignatius Sancho and Montagu HouseMontagu House, Blackheath. Sketch of c. 1780 by Paul Sandby.
Inset: Ignatius Sancho. Oil on canvas by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), 1768.

Ignatius Sancho 2Ignatius Sancho 2Ignatius Sancho’s trade card. This card, probably printed in the mid–1770s, advertises Sancho’s tobacco with rather absurd images of, on one side, a Native American boy enjoying a pipe while an African boy gathers sugar cane, and, on the other, a European trader and a Native American in an unlikely headdress shake hands at a port while treading on a shield that includes the fleur-de-lis of France.Ignatius Sancho (1729–1780) must be one of the most remarkable figures in a remarkable epoch of British history, and it is fortunate for us that music and social dance figured so large in his varied life.

Born on a slave ship in 1729, he almost at once lost both his parents, his mother having died of illness and his father having committed suicide. As an infant, he was baptized by the bishop of Cartagena under the name of Ignatius, and at the age of two, he was given by his then-enslaver to three sisters living in Greenwich. There, their friend John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu (1690–1749), met him and encouraged his curiosity and his passion for reading, giving him presents of books and “recommend[ing] to his mistresses the duty of cultivating a genius of such apparent fertility.”

The sisters, on the contrary, deplored his efforts, threatening to return him to the rigors of plantation slavery. At length he ran away, fleeing to the house of his noble friends, and when the now-widowed Duchess discovered that Sancho intended to shoot himself rather than return to Greenwich, she took him into her service.

Upon her death two years later, he discovered that she had left him a small annuity. This seems to have tempted him to embark upon a life of adventure and dissipation in the established Georgian manner, gambling and whoring. Encouraged by his friend, the celebrated actor David Garrick (1717–1779), Sancho also tried the stage, acting the roles of Shakespeare’s Othello and Aphra Behn’s tragic hero Oroonoko in the play of that name, but a speech impediment dampened his prospects there. After he lost his clothes at the gaming-table, he returned to Montagu House in Blackheath, a chastened young man, to act as a servant there, first to the chaplain, and eventually as a valet to George Brudenell Montagu (1712–1790), the son-in-law of his late patron.

He met and married Anne Osborne, a highly intelligent woman of West Indian origin. They had six surviving children, and Sancho unashamedly adored and admired her: “She is the treasure of my soul,” as he wrote to one friend in 1770.

In 1774, as gout made his work at Montagu House more difficult, he opened a shop at 19 Charles Street in Westminster, selling, among other things, tea, sugar, rum, soap, snuff, and tobacco. By then, Sancho could already count among his friends not only Garrick, but the virtuoso violinist Felice Giardini (1716–1796), the sculptor Joseph Nollekens (1737–1823), and the painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), who executed a sensitive painted sketch of him in 1768. Perhaps the most cherished and certainly the most celebrated of his friendships was that with the avant-garde writer and eccentric cleric Laurence Sterne (1713–1768), whose novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman furnished inspiration for a favorite modern English country dance and tune, “Shandy Hall,” Sancho having written to him in a burst of enthusiasm after reading a collection of Sterne’s sermons. The two men were as one in their abhorrence for racism and the slave trade: “'Tis no uncommon thing, my good Sancho, for one half of the world to use the other half of it like brutes, & then endeavour to make 'em so,” as Sterne said; the two men exchanged several affectionate visits before Sterne’s death of consumption.

As an independent property owner, and a man, Sancho was entitled to vote, a right he exercised as the first known person of African descent to do so in Britain, in 1774 and 1780. He was well-known as a wit and aesthete. Nollekens’ biographer John T. Smith recalled having visited Sancho’s shop in Charles Street, where they “drank tea with Sancho and his black lady, who was seated, when we entered, in a corner of the shop, chopping sugar, surrounded by her little ‘Sanchonets’.” Sancho was the inspiration for a character in an anonymous abolitionist novel of 1790, The Memoirs and Opinions of Mr Blenfield, where, under the name of Shirna Cambo, he dispenses sage counsel on religion, literature, slavery, and moral duty along with the tobacco, and learnedly discusses the thought of Edmund Burke and Laurence Sterne (of course) at an oyster club.

In 1775, part of his correspondence with Sterne was published, and he became a famous man, such that when his friends and family published Sancho’s own letters in 1782, the collection became a bestseller, attracting an almost unheard-of 1,181 subscribers, including the Prime Minister, and going on to see a fifth edition by 1803. It is hard not to be charmed by this genial, gregarious, well-read, well-fed man (he laughingly referred to his “convexity of belly exceeding Falstaff,” a feature implied by Gainsborough’s portrait of him), but he has a special call upon the interest of historians as the first known composer of African descent to have music published—most of it for social dances of his own devising.

It is not clear exactly how Sancho acquired his very substantial proficiency in the creation and transcription of music, but at least four collections of music were printed in his lifetime. The first publication, Minuets, Cotillons & Country Dances for the Violin, Mandolin, German-Flute & Harpsichord, Composed by an African, was issued around 1767, and, typically for the time, included eight longways country dances, as well as six minuet tunes and nine cotillons, the cotillon then being quite a new dance form in England. It was dedicated to Henry, Duke of Buccleugh (1746–1812), who married George Montagu’s daughter Elizabeth in that year: The volume may have been intended as a wedding gift. Not long after, Sancho published six concert songs, some to verse written by his friend David Garrick, as well as a setting of Shakespeare’s “Take, oh take, those lips away.” A few years later, another collection appeared, this time dedicated to his patron’s short-lived son, John Montagu of Boughton (1735–1770): it included thirteen minuet tunes, one air, one gavotte, one hornpipe, and four country dance tunes with titles but lacking figures.

In time, the Thompson firm seems to have taken an interest in Sancho’s work; in 1778, they published Twelve Country Dances for the Year 1779, this set dedicated to “Miss North,” almost certainly Catherine Anne North (1760–1817), the Prime Minister’s eldest daughter, connected by a complex skein of marriages and alliances to Sancho’s friends the Brudenells and Montagus. Several of the tunes and dances were republished, some as early as the 1770s, by other music-publishing firms like Skillern, Preston, and Budd, giving evidence of Sancho’s skill with dance and dance music. Perhaps the most accomplished of Sancho’s musical works are the songs, graceful turns in the galant style; but all the tunes are pleasing, and several of the dances are worth reviving as simple triple minors.

The title of the very last dance and tune we know of from his hand, “Mungos Delight,” is evocative, to say the least. The character of Mungo was created by Isaac Bickerstaffe (1733–c.1808) for the libretto of the comic opera The Padlock, based on a concept by Cervantes. Mungo, a caricature of an avaricious, drunken servant speaking an approximation of West Indian dialect, was portrayed not by the then-young Sancho, as was once thought, but by Charles Dibdin (1745– 1814), the composer of the opera’s music, in one of the first recorded instances of theatrical blackface. As painful as the notion of blackface performance is to us now, Sancho evinced a lifelong gift for appropriating and re-purposing the stereotypes that the expanding British Empire occasioned. In the opera, Mungo says, “When my heart a sinking... / We dance and we sing, / Till we make a house ring,” but for this wit, friend, composer, and abolitionist., Mungo’s true delight could only be, like Sancho’s, freedom.

Mungos Delight sheet musicMungos Delight, from Twelve Country Dances for the Year 1779. Set for the HARPSICHORD. By Permission Humbly Dedicated the Right Honourable Miss North by her most obedient Servant, Ignatius Sancho. London: Printed for S. and A. Thompson, [1778].

CDSS Sings

Songs Stay Sung (From Harmony of Song & Dance 2021)

By Betsy Branch

Collage of photos from campAll photos taken by Deborah Payne during Harmony of Song & Dance Week 2021.

The happy memories of what felt like a stolen week at Pinewoods are sustaining me on this gray, rainy November day. After months of isolation and drama, a week in the woods among friends, surrounded by music and dance, was especially delicious this year. The week felt like entering an enchanted garden, a place where we could all step briefly away from the stresses of pandemic living.

We begin each day at Harmony Week with the all-camp chorale. After hearing for months that singing together is one of the most dangerous group activities, getting to sing together daily, surrounding ourselves with harmonies, brought immense joy and relief. So many of us wept on that first day of singing together. I love Harmony Week every time I participate, but the camp this last summer will always have a special place in my heart.

Not that there weren’t stresses involved. All of us who were program directors this year experienced tremendous stress. We were operating without full staffing and with a ton of uncertainty. Three of us got to run our weeks in person, with increasing amounts of drama each week as the Delta variant took hold. But there were three weeks that weren’t able to run—such a disappointment for those Program Directors who put in so much preparation work. My week was short five staff members, including four dance musicians. One of my callers seriously injured herself at the opening night dance. Every day, Steve, Crispin, and I put our heads together to plan out which things we could make happen, and which things needed to get cancelled this year. There was troubleshooting every single day, and a bit of scrambling. Since we were the first in-person CDSS camp week since 2019, we felt like guinea pigs for the weeks to come. I kept telling myself, “At least we’re furthering science!”

But in spite of the stress—and possibly because of it—the camp community rose to the occasion and supported each other every step of the way. Every one of my staff members went above and beyond to make this a magical week. We were all operating at our edges. I will forever be grateful to these incredible artists. Everyone taught and performed from their hearts, with honesty and integrity. Our staff meetings were filled with laughter and deepest respect.

The camper community responded with joy, gratitude, and flexibility. They understood that we were all doing the best we could in a difficult situation. There was so much grace from them, and I am filled with gratitude for them as well.

A few highlights of the week for me personally:

  • Hearing the satisfying and resounding BOOM as dancers did a balance and swing on that wonderful dance floor
  • Leading the camper open band
  • Late night slack jaw competitions (I’m probably the worst at this game of anyone I know)
  • A pavilion filled with singing voices, smiling faces, and eyes shining with tears
  • The magical pub night in the Tarp & Gull (aka C# Minor), decorated so beautifully.
  • Late night swimming/singing in Long Pond
  • Incredible staff concerts
  • Getting to share our week through the Daily Antidote of Song, thanks to Jo Rasi and her live broadcasts from the Pinewoods porch.

There are so many more! And I think everyone there at camp will have a long list of extra special memories. One of the songs we sang together this year, “Songs Stay Sung,” by Zoe Mulford, perfectly sums up so many of my emotions around this camp. Jeremy Carter-Gordon and Lauren Breunig of Windborne presented this song at camp. The words which especially resonated to me this year were, “Love stays loved and songs stay sung.” I take heart that all the love we experienced at camp and all the songs we sang are still out there having an impact on all of us. I could feel the power of all the love and songs from years past at Pinewoods. I’m excited to get back there next summer for another fantastic week of song, dance, swimming, love, and laughter among the pines.

"Songs Stay Sung" sheet music


By Kelsey Wells

Beehive puzzleBeehive

Create words using letters from the beehive. Each word must be more than three letters long and use the center letter at least once. Score one point for each word and three points for each pangram (any word that uses all seven letters). Letters may be used more than once in a word. Our solution list doesn’t include proper nouns, obscure or hyphenated words, medical terms, or obscenities.

This puzzle is inspired by “Spelling Bee,” published in the New York Times.

Sudoku puzzleDiagonal Sudoku

Fill in the empty squares so that each row, column, 3x3 inner square, and yellow diagonal line contains the numerals 1-6.

Wandering Words

Trace a path through all the letters to find the word or phrase that matches the clue. The path can start on any outer block and can move horizontally and vertically but cannot cross itself.

Cranked instrument:

Wandering Words puzzle 1

First line of a favorite winter carol:

Wandering Words puzzle 2

Philippe Callens dance with a chilly title:

Wandering Words puzzle 3


2022 Lifetime Contribution Award Recipient:
Ed Stern

Ed Stern waving handkerchiefs while jumpingPhoto by Jim Pfau

Ed Stern in a flowered hatPhoto by Dean MuldoonThe Country Dance & Song Society is proud to announce that Ed Stern of Minneapolis, MN, is the 2022 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. Ed’s passionate involvement with dance stretches back to the 1960s with international folk dance and morris dance in Chicago. Ed has lived in the Twin Cities since 1971, and several generations of Midwestern dancers have experienced the joy of dance that Ed infuses into his skilled teaching. He has taught numerous styles of dance, including morris, English country, contra, Scottish, international, ballroom, Scandinavian, Irish ceilidh, and more. Ed is a founder of Minnesota Traditional Morris, and morris dancers from many communities have learned the massed dances for the Midwest Morris Ale from Ed.

In the late ‘70s, Ed founded the Saltari Folk Dance Emporium which directly led to the creation of the Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis, a unique organization in Minnesota that encourages and supports many forms of traditional dance to this day. Ed has taught at Tapestry since its early days in the ‘80s and has actively recruited and mentored new callers. He happily admits that he became addicted to dance early on and is driven to ensure that dance continues to brighten the lives of future generations. Thank you, Ed!

“Over the past 40 years, Ed has been a steadfast and active member of the teaching leadership for the folk dancing population in the Twin Cities. People of all ages, from the youngest participants in our family folk dance program to those retirees dancing in the English country dance program, have been touched by Ed’s influence. In the morris community, Ed’s teaching of teachers and involvement in Minnesota Traditional Morris and so many programs at Tapestry shows his dedication to the art of folk dance and its continuation in upcoming generations.”

—Lydia McAnerney

“Besides the fact that Ed has been involved in varied dance and song communities for more than 50 years, he continues to joyfully impart his knowledge to those of us of all ages involved in these communities. He is also a patient, yet deliberate and exacting, teacher who has a vast base of knowledge to impart.”

—Hassan Saffouri

“My community, my dear friends and many of my joyous experiences in life would not exist without Ed Stern’s founding of Minnesota Traditional Morris. He really is the impetus of the Twin Cities Folk Dance community. When I think about all the things Ed has done for our community, it is the most selfless and admirable gift anyone can bestow upon others.

I have danced in the street, I have danced at pubs, I have danced down Nicollet Mall in the heart of Minneapolis. I have sung around campfires with Ed and the rest of my Folk Dance Brothers. I have been to England and again danced in the street and danced in pubs. I am very grateful for Ed Stern’s presence and commitment to Folk Dance in the Twin Cities.”

—Dean Muldoon

“From my perspective, Ed’s involvement in folk dancing could never be separated from his desire for the traditions he is teaching to continue. Actively seeking out and encouraging new dancers and musicians is part of his fabric as a person who deeply loves and enjoys the traditions he teaches.”

—Amy Muldoon

“One of Ed’s greatest attributes is his ability to introduce and teach the joy of dance to any generation. I have witnessed this many times and in many ways, including at my wedding. Ed is the reason I am involved in the dance community. His knowledge and passion for dance is unlimited and has influenced literally thousands of people and I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

—Leif Petersen

“Ed continues to inspire individuals across many demographics, and his legacy will continue for decades to come. I find it hard to think of anyone who has had such a profound impact on traditional dancing as Ed Stern has, and I cannot think of anyone else who is more deserving of a lifetime contribution award than he.”

—Ted Hodapp

Taking a Look: The 2021 Member Survey

By Sarah Pilzer and Katy German

dancersPhoto by Doug Plummer

In September, we conducted an online survey of current CDSS members. We emailed the survey link to 2425 active members and collected responses for one week. 702 members responded, for a response rate of 28.9% (a typical rate for an online survey).

The survey had three main goals:

  1. Identify the aspects of CDSS membership that people value most
  2. Learn where our work could be improved
  3. Start collecting demographic information in order to better understand the various identities that comprise our membership, and how we can best serve everyone

The survey asked 17 questions in three sections: demographics, member benefits, and future directions. This article summarizes basic aggregate data for each section.


We collected demographic information, including geography, age, gender, race and ethnicity, to assess how these aspects of identity might affect member experiences and opinions. We also asked how members are involved in our community (dancer, singer, musician, organizer, etc.) and in which genres (contra, ECD, singing, ritual dance, etc.).

On a practical level, this data will help CDSS apply for grants to fund mission-aligned work. We’ll also use this data to determine whether the needs of members with marginalized identities differ from those of other members, and if so how we might equitably meet the needs of everyone.

In this article, we show aggregate demographic data. We will provide segmented analysis in future reports.


Members from the US, Canada, England, United Kingdom, France, and Australia responded. In North America, members from 49 different states and provinces completed the survey. You can see in the maps below that responses generally correlated with our membership distribution. The highest number of responses came from Massachusetts, New York, and California.

Geographic Distribution of North American CDSS 2021 Member Survey Responses

geographic distribution map

Geographic Distribution of North American CDSS Member Households

geographic distribution map


age groups

As is common in demographic surveys, we asked respondents to select where they fell within closed age groups rather than specifying their exact age.

Just over half the people who responded were in the 65–74 years old age bracket. The 55–64 and 75+ brackets together totaled an additional 35% of responses. Since we have never before asked members their ages, we don’t know how these results compare to our membership in general. Anecdotally, we believe many local communities reflect the survey trend.


gender graph

We provided a list of choices for identifying gender and allowed respondents to select as many as applied or to write in their own description. Find definitions for these terms here. While this style of question helped us collect more nuanced responses, the analysis is more complex. For this article, we show the total number of people who selected each choice as independent categories. This means the total number of selected choices (850) shown in the next chart is greater than the total number of survey responses to this question (702).

The following table shows how many people selected one, two, or three choices as a response to this question.

# of Selected ChoicesResponses% of Total
1 566 81%
2 124 18%
3 12 2%

Race and Ethnicity

race and ethnicity

Because race and ethnicity are also complex aspects of identity, we again provided multi-select options and space for write-in responses. We used a modified analysis method1 called “fractional assignment” to allow us to visually render multiple-answer responses to this question as percentages of a total.

A large majority of respondents identify at least in part as “White” with 3% of total respondents either including or selecting another racial category. The second most common choice was “East Asian”. Fewer than 1% of all respondents chose each of the additional categories provided with three categories receiving no responses at all.

1 This method is outlined by Carolyn A. Liebler and Andrew Halpern-Manners in the research journal Demography as a part of their “practical method for incorporating multiple-race respondents into analyses” (Liebler, Carolyn A, and Andrew Halpern-Manners. “A practical approach to using multiple-race response data: a bridging method for public-use microdata.” Demography vol. 45,1 (2008): 143-55. doi:10.1353/dem.2008.0004) . It is also referenced by James P. Allen and Eugene Turner in their article “Bridging 1990 and 2000 Census Race Data: Fractional Assignment of Multiracial Populations.” published in the journal Population Research and Policy Review, vol. 20, no. 6, Springer, 2001, pp. 513–33., vol. 20, no. 6, Springer, 2001, pp. 513–33.


Traditions bar graph

Bar graph of engagement in local dance scene

We asked members to specify how they are engaged in their local dance, music, and song scene (participant, organizer, etc) and also which traditions (genres) they participate in. For both questions, respondents were allowed to select all that applied. Many people indicated that they participate in multiple traditions with a variety of roles. Given the way the questions were formulated we can’t say with confidence which roles are for which tradition, so similar to the gender question, responses to the participation questions are presented as totals for each choice independently.

By far, the most common way that people participate is as dancers with 87% responses including that selection. Organizing was the second most common role at 47% of responses. These results indicate that a large portion of our community is invested in helping put on local events, though one possible explanation for this observation is that organizers are just more likely than other members to fill out a survey.

Member Benefits

Bar graph of CDSS services and programs

At CDSS we strive to provide programming and resources that are useful to a variety of people. We also want to make sure we understand which programs and services our members value most, to ensure that we are appropriately investing our time and energy. The chart below shows responses to the question: Which CDSS services and/or programs enhance the value of your membership? Please note that “other” responses are not included in this chart, but will be analyzed further in the coming months.

Most Visited Webpages 

We also asked members to indicate which three pages from our website that they visited most frequently and rank them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd based on how often they visited. The following table shows the pages that received the most total votes. The green highlights indicate which page received the most votes for that ranking.

Camp/Online Programs 258 68 54 380
CDSS Store 91 122 87 300
Events Calendar 93 114 87 294
Online Member Directory 32 64 99 195

Future Directions

Perceived Challenges

As we prepare for our next round of Strategic Planning in 2022, we will be reviewing what motivates members to support CDSS and what challenges they see ahead. We asked members to share what they think is the biggest challenge their local community will face in the next 5 years and how CDSS might help. This was an open ended question, which adds complexity to the analysis, but provides us with hundreds of rich responses. In our initial review of the data we identified 10 basic themes or categories (see below).

Identified Themes
  • Safety Concerns
  • Finances
  • Talent Development
  • Facilities/Rental Locations
  • Changing Traditions
  • Cultural Equity
  • Leadership/Organizational Development
  • Low Attendance/Building Membership
  • Youth Engagement/Aging Population
  • Publicity/Outreach

At the time of this writing, we are still in the process of coding the responses according to these themes and do not have results to share. But we will continue digging deeper into analysis of this rich qualitative data to use member feedback to guide decisions at CDSS.

Cultural Equity

"Cultural equity embodies the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people— including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion— are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources."

Americans for the Arts

As an organization, we are committed to continued learning about cultural equity and working toward just and equitable operations. We strive to be transparent about this work, and to seek community input along the way. To that end, we asked members to tell us how they were feeling about our work in this area so far. The question included multiple options, and a place for people to add their own words.

After a preliminary review of the open-ended responses, we selected every word that could describe a feeling, and created a larger response set for the question.

The word cloud below is a visual representation of all the responses, with larger bolder font indicating words that were selected more often and smaller font indicating words mentioned less frequently. Following the word cloud is a chart of words listed in order of frequency mentioned.

word cloud

Number of respondents by word, for words submitted by more than one:

comfortable 289 
proud 189
neutral 175
excited 152
invested 149
relieved 88
confused 47
worried 39
frustrated 37
uncomfortable 33
surprised 16
curious 10
pleased 8
threatened 7
hopeful 6
skeptical 3
annoyed 3
underwhelmed 2
positive 2
interested 2
uncertain 2
cautious 2
glad 2
important 2

Thank you to the 702 individuals who responded to this survey! You have provided us with a rich dataset that we look forward to diving into deeper in the coming months. Stay tuned for additional reports with more detail and analysis!

Brooke FriendlyPhoto by Kalia Kliban

Online Callers’ Workshops

By Brooke Friendly

I was supposed to travel to Asheville, NC, in May 2020 to lead a weekend ECD callers’ workshop for a group of callers from the Southeast. Then it got cancelled. Those first few months of COVID shelter-in-place, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My one joy was looking after my grandchild while my daughter taught her high school Spanish classes online. Then, in early May I was a guest for the Historical Tea and Dance Society’s 5 Things series, and it felt pretty good.

That experience, plus discussions with my daughter about online teaching, led me to send the following email to the organizers of the Asheville weekend: “...wondering about the possibility of doing an online series before we meet in person (whenever that might be). The idea being to do some of the lecture and discussion stuff over time and give us more time to do exercises and practice calling in person. It could be any number of meetings... Each session would be a different topic...”

The organizers responded with: “We both love this idea! It seems that at the in-person callers’ classes we often have to skim over or skip topics due to time constraints and this would give us a good forum to explore a greater variety and/or in more depth.”

I had done plenty of weekend, weeklong, and single session callers’ workshops. This was very different. I looked at my copious notes, outlines, and handouts from my various in-person callers’ workshops and began thinking about a structure. I smiled when I realized that I could cover all the topics for which I had developed information, plus add to them—we would finally have time to get to everything I might hope to explore.

I ended up creating an eight session online course meeting every other week for two hours with an optional third hour for chatting and more questions. We ended up using the full three hours; folks didn’t want to stop. And we did have both more variety and more depth than we could possibly cover in an in-person weekend or weeklong workshop. And guess what? We didn’t get to “everything.” That was part of the fun: discovering there is always more to learn, to discuss, to dig into.

Another big part of the fun was stretching my teaching (and technical) skills and discovering new ways to explore the material. There was homework! Reading, writing, thinking, projects. The every-other-week format gave participants time to do follow-up work from the previous module and preparatory work for the upcoming one. Each module included lecture, exercises, discussion, screen-sharing, breakout groups and pairs, sharing, and Q&A, with a strong connection of group work to lecture and homework. I wove some theater improv games, movement, and vocal exercises into most modules to get us out of our chairs as well as build other useful skills.

The eight modules were: Introduction (qualities of a good caller, feedback guidelines, setting goals); Music (important parts of a dance tune, communication with musicians, doodling...); Teaching and Learning, Part One (preparing to teach, preparing to go on stage); Teaching and Learning, Part Two (teaching, learning, prompting); Teaching and Learning, Part Three (style); Global/Positional Calling; Program Planning (how to create an evening dance program, repertoire and resources); and Social/Community Considerations (crowd management, helping, inclusivity and safety).

Parallel to this, a group from the Pasadena, CA, area had been the high bidder on my offer of a weekend callers’ workshop through a CDSS online auction in March 2020.

“I liked the openness, and the attitude that we were all of us learning (even the instructor), and we were all on a journey to be better... and as callers and as students there was no finish line, and no grades, and no “perfect,” and no judgment.”

—Workshop Attendee

Once I started the Asheville course in late May, I offered the same idea to them. They started a similar course in January 2021. Each group ended up adding an additional session for folks who wanted more on specific topics.

“Who would have thought that an online caller workshop could be so effective? Brooke had us doing useful exercises I’ve never done in any other workshop, and they’re ones that I’ll keep using after the workshop.”

—Workshop Attendee

The second course content was slightly different (new people with different experiences and goals), and the structure was better (I learned a lot from teaching the first course that I applied to the second one). One of the students in the second course is a chemistry professor specializing in pedagogy. She generously met with me afterwards and helped me refine the syllabus and structure. Now I have an even better plan in case I get to do this course again!

During January-March 2021 I also taught two three-session online callers’ courses for CDSS, focused on global/ positional teaching. These were extremely rewarding. I found myself stimulated by the questions and forced to become more articulate around something that has been part of my teaching since the ‘80s.

Preparing and teaching these online callers’ courses was a huge amount of work and a huge amount of fun. I learned so much, and the happy “dance geek” and “teaching and learning geek” parts of me were deeply fulfilled.

As much as I love being in the same room with others, I have to say that I adore teaching this material online. While certain aspects of a callers’ workshop—such as practice calling with feedback—don’t work, the online format can give more opportunity for deep exploration and more breadth than is usually available in person. It is also accessible to folks with travel and/or financial restrictions and allows for a tremendous variety of teaching and learning methods. I think these types of workshops will continue to hold great value, even when we can travel and dance regularly in person. I hope to do more.

Brooke Friendly has taught dance using global/positional language and strategies in schools, university, lifelong learning, and community settings since 1981. Known for her warm yet commanding personality, clear teaching, sense of whimsy, and focus on community, she has been on staff at weeklong camps, weekends, and festivals throughout North America, England, and Australia.

Brooke’s online course, “Global Terminology & Positional Calling,” is coming back in January! Find details here. And look for Brooke’s new book on the subject in the CDSS Store soon!

Weathering the Winter Together

By Linda Henry

A tree with leaves printed with ideas

During our November 1 Web Chat, 150 participants brainstormed in breakout rooms to generate ideas for keeping communities engaged during the coming months. This tree of ideas brings you a sampling; check out this page for the entire harvest. We’re happy to continue adding to this list, so please send your suggestions to All ideas are welcome!

This Web Chat also included a valuable presentation by Dr. Kimbi Hagen, public health professor and dance organizer. She provided current information and concrete considerations for organizers who are planning pandemic-era dance, music, and song events. Links to her presentation and materials from this and all previous Web Chats are available here.

Our next Web Chat will be on January 19, 2022. We’ll hear from a panel of folks discussing their decision-making process leading up to reopening their events, the adjustments they’ve made, and the outcomes of their experiments. Registration open soon!

Online Programming Field Notes:
ECD Choreography with Scott Higgs

By Wendy Clarke

Scott HiggsScott Higgs. Photo by Carrie Rose.During the pandemic, like many organizations, CDSS stepped into the world of online programming to support continued connectivity and engagement in our community. Shortly after starting as the Director of Programs, Joanna Reiner Wilkinson requested ideas for online classes that would augment or take the place of camps over the summer. I proposed the idea of a choreography course and worked with Joanna to make it happen this past August. Master caller and choreographer Scott Higgs was the perfect choice to lead this three week online class focusing on ECD choreography.

ECD Choreography was open to 12 people and met on three consecutive Saturdays for two hours each day. Class members ranged from experienced choreographers who wanted to expand their knowledge and collaborate with others to beginners with little experience writing a dance, with all levels in between.

Scott’s curriculum focused on giving participants time to create and road-test choreographies, augmented by hand-outs on what makes a good dance. Knowing that every choreographer works differently, Scott invited guest speakers Gary Roodman, Jenny Beer, and Jenna Simpson to share their experience, joy, and wisdom as choreographers and to answer questions posed by the class.

Vicki Swan and Jonny DyerVicki Swan & Jonny Dyer. Photo by Lucy Lawson.Part of each session consisted of a group effort to create a dance from one piece of music. In the contemporary English dance world, each dance is often tied to its own tune. UK-based musicians Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer, who are two of the Purcell’s Polyphonic Party trio and regular musicians for the Atlanta ECD and Symmetry Zoom dances, graciously provided seven original tunes for the class to work with, each in its own mood and meter. The goal of this group project was not necessarily to create a finished product, but to highlight how music drives movement and how a dance often needs several iterations, time to marinate, and actual bodies to dance the figures and transitions before a choreographer can declare it ready for primetime.

In conversation after the final class and on their evaluations, participants shared that they would have loved for the class to last another three weeks!

Here is one of the original tunes provided by Jonny and Vicki for the workshop.

This tune is one of seven written for Scott Higgs’s ECD choreography course by UK musicians Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer. The tune’s name refers to a common peril of Zoom dancing!

Hear Vicki and Jonny play this tune and download a full-size PDF.


Jeremy Carter-GordonPhoto by Deborah Payne

Why I Serve

By Jeremy Carter-Gordon

I am a CDSS Board member because at every stage of my life, CDSS has been present, creating and nurturing the communities that I have grown up with, taken inspiration from, and shaped my current career and connections in the world. I am a board member because I believe the privileges afforded to me should be available to more than just those who can easily afford them, and that it’s a community responsibility to share and make that so.

A few years ago, my parents told me that they made the conscious choice to introduce me to activities that I could participate in at any stage of life, not just as a child or young adult. The traditions, singing, and dancing that I learned at dance camps, as well as at CDSS Affiliate dances, indeed formed a foundation for the way I move through the world. My excitement surrounding the connections that are formed in these intergenerational communities led me to switch my college major from physics to anthropology with a focus on dance. A passion for sword dancing—first learned at Pinewoods, and developed through Tom Kruskal’s youth teams—led me to a Watson Fellowship collecting sword dances across Europe, and then to a MA in ethnochoreology. The experiences of being surrounded by song and improvised harmony led me to singing with Windborne and touring.

I believe in the value of traditional participatory arts at every stage of life, for a wide range of people. Beyond the well-documented physical, mental, and emotional benefits of both social dance and group singing, I have seen the value of having lifelong, intergenerational communities. It is watching friends who I danced with in Pinewoods kids classes bringing their own children to camp. It is traveling and staying at the house of another dancer, and feeling a joy of belonging and connection. It is returning to a home dance after years away, and being welcomed back with warmth.

In my time on the board, I hope to be able to make this kind of experience and trajectory accessible to more people, particularly folks who haven’t been able to participate. It’s not that I think everyone should make music and dance their career. Rather, I want the opportunities, community, and support that I experienced to be available to folks from all backgrounds and walks of life, and I want to continue working to make CDSS spaces proactively equitable, inclusive, welcoming, and sustainable.

It’s exciting to talk to staff and board members about how we work toward these shared goals. For CDSS, along with many organizations, the pandemic has been a time of huge challenge, along with a healthy dose of reexamination. We all deeply miss the living, breathing, dancing, singing immediacy of camps and other activities, but I do find gratitude in the time we have taken to reimagine the future—not just in the short term, but for the decades to come. I appreciate that the way that CDSS is approaching these initiatives feels new and powerful, and in particular that because questions of cultural equity, fair pay, diversity, board recruitment, camp accessibility, and organizational planning are all intertwined, solutions must be as well!

In the past year, I served on the Cultural Equity Task Group (a subset of the board), helping to imagine, design, and recruit for our amazing Cultural Equity Advisory Group, led by Dr. Dena Jennings. While this group has been working over the course of this year to analyze the organization from an equity perspective and provide recommendations for change, the staff and board have not stopped doing our own work to create a more equitable CDSS. On all the committees and task groups I have taken part in, equity is one of the first considerations in conversation. Whether it’s conversations about how camp can balance affordability and access for all campers with fair wages for teachers and musicians, how to create material to help teach the traditions we love to grade school teachers in multicultural classrooms, or even what it means to be on the board and the responsibilities, work, and contributions we ask of board members, I am constantly hearing questions that ask we take a broader, more inclusive perspective.

CDSS is looking to make sure that we are not only serving those who are in our community (because we have been meeting their needs already) but also looking at how we can better serve the needs of folks who aren’t present yet. And what has been particularly fulfilling in these conversations is noticing how often these two goals align. Making our work, programming, policies, hiring, and board more equitable isn’t just helping those who have been excluded or underserved, it is directly making things better for those of us already deeply embedded in this community.

I would like to end with an invitation to reach out to me if you have questions or thoughts about CDSS, this work, and the board. I am excited to keep hearing from people and engaging deeply in this community, these conversations, and this work. And I hope to see you on the dance floor down the road.

Highlights from 2021 Board Work

  • Launched the Cultural Equity Advisory Group, a nine-member team hired to analyze CDSS’s operations from an equity perspective (read more)

  • Continued conversations about cultural equity within committees and task groups, including discussion prompts for Board members and time set aside at Executive Committee meetings to dig deeper into this work.

  • Conducted the annual board meeting and quarterly executive committee meetings online (for the second year!), which were productive, in spite of the challenges of not being able to meet in person.

  • Hosted new quarterly learning sessions for board members, focusing on a single issue each time (finances, cultural equity, fund-raising) and giving participants space for more in-depth discussion.

  • Held special online events to engage donors and answer their questions about our current work and future plans.

  • Drafted and passed revisions to the CDSS bylaws and hosted our first online membership meeting.

  • Decided to initiate CDSS’s next strategic planning process one year early, given the rapid changes in community needs and priorities.

A lark and a robin against a background of dancersPhoto collage by Anna Gilbert

Larks & Robins: Why Gendered Terms Feel Oppressive to Me

By Allison McKenney

A while back, I was at a contra dance, and I mentioned to someone the growing practice of using non-gendered terms for dance roles, usually “larks” and “robins” instead of “gents” and “ladies.” She was baffled by the idea, and I tried to explain why it is so important to many of us LGBTQ+ people, and especially us trans people. But I don’t know if I did a good job of it in the moment. So here is my latest attempt to explain why this is so important and personal for me, hopefully better than I did then.

I’ll speak first about what it’s like as a trans person (a trans woman in particular), since I can speak from personal experience there. I’ve heard cisgender (non-trans) women say that sometimes they have to dance the “man’s” role and be referred to as men or gents, and they don’t have a problem with it. The difference is that, for me, the experience of having to live as and think of myself as a man for six decades was a painful one. I wouldn’t have transitioned if it hadn’t been, and I know many trans people feel the same way. If I get referred to as a man, I re-experience that pain. It feels like being kicked in the stomach. I doubt that most cis women have that kind of reaction.

And it is painful. I mostly dance the “lady’s” role, especially at dances where gendered terms are used. I will occasionally dance the “gent’s” role if there happen to be more dancers who can only dance as ladies, since I’m an experienced dancer and believe I have a responsibility to make them feel included. However, when I do so and the word “man” is used to refer to me, I notice that all the joy gets sucked out of the dancing. I feel forced back into the painful role I was stuck living in for so many years, and the dancing becomes a duty rather than a pleasure. Sometimes it is so bad that I end up leaving after that dance. Being referred to as a “lark” doesn’t have any of those associations or effects. Moreover, the terms “ladies” and “gents” are both a problem for many nonbinary people. The non-binary people I know are deeply uncomfortable being referred to as either term.

While the comfort and inclusion of trans people like me should be argument enough for non-gendered calling, we’re not the only ones affected. Gendered terms implicitly reinforce the assumption that men are supposed to partner with women and women with men. If you’re a lesbian, like I am, or a gay man, the “men” and “ladies” terminology keeps reminding you that your orientation is abnormal, which is the message we get all the time already in the world outside the dance. If the caller uses non-gendered terms like lark and robin, it allows you to feel comfortable no matter what gender you or your partner are. You’re no longer playing a gender role in a celebration of heterosexuality, you’re just a person enjoying dancing with other people.

Back before COVID, I participated in a dance weekend where the dances were taught and called without using gendered terms. Anyone could dance with anyone, and we did. I no longer had to worry about all the nonsense around gender and orientation, and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. We were just people, being ourselves and enjoying one another and having fun.

I have never felt so free.

Allison McKenney lives in the NYC area and has been dancing various kinds of country and folk dance since 1975. She is also a back-bench musician who occasionally sits in on open band nights to contribute the obligatory wrong notes.

Last Page

Circle of FriendsCDSS has been working tirelessly to support our communities as we navigate this pandemic, and we’re so proud of the work we’ve done so far. As we continue expanding into year-round programming, we need your year-round support! Circle of Friends is our monthly or quarterly recurring giving program. It may provide easier access to membership, allow you to give at a higher level, or it may simply be more convenient for you! Circle of Friends donors provide us with consistent income in an uncertain time, allowing us to focus on what really matters: serving our communities and the traditions we love. Visit to join.

Ben Sachs-Hamilton and Myles Louis Dakan“We've been CDSS members for a few years now, and decided to join the Circle of Friends this summer while at American Week at Pinewoods. We are involved in lots of different folk activities, including contra dance, shape-note singing, morris dance, and pub singing, and in all of these areas we see the role that CDSS plays in sustaining the communities and traditions that mean so much to us. Giving monthly through the Circle of Friends makes it easy to support this work in a consistent and enduring way.”

—Ben Sachs-Hamilton and Myles Louis Dakan, Northampton, MA

Jenna Barron and child“I want my child to be able to enjoy the traditions that I do, so it's important to me to support CDSS. By joining Circle of Friends, I can provide a regular donation which ensures that the great family programming CDSS provides can continue.”

—Jenna Barron, Easthampton, MA

Erik J Martin“I have been a dancer for nearly 70 years, starting when I was nine years old and had square dancing in the third grade, and including 50 years as a Scottish dancer, and 30 dancing both contras and English country. I am lucky to have been able to dance so long despite developing muscular dystrophy, although now I do only the slower ones. I started supporting CDSS years ago because they support the dancing that matters so much to me. I’d been giving monthly since the Centennial campaign, and signed up for Circle of Friends as soon as the opportunity arose.”

—Erik J Martin, Bothell, WA

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