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NGI Recipient: Alec Ellsworth

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - English & American Week (AM) (2011)

Thank you for providing me with the wonderful opportunity to attend the American Dance Musician’s course at Pinewoods this summer. A number of things made this a special week for me. First, it was my inaugural attendance of Pinewoods! After many years of hearing stories of Pinewoods, I finally got to experience the magic for myself. There are many remarkable things about camp, but the most striking thing for me was the creativity that people brought to the week. This is not an all-included vacation where you show up, eat your continental breakfast and lounge by the pool for a week. This is a place that people prepare for. The songs and dances and performances that folks poured forth at camper’s meeting, late night parties, or mid-day hang outs were just as good as the workshops. It was an inspiring insight into the creativity of this community.

Second, there was a hurricane! While this put the camp on hold for two days, it also caused something magical to happen: we entertained ourselves. It is not often that you would find a group of people who could spend a whole day inside a dining hall together and have fun during a hurricane. Not only that, but the whole camp mobilized on Monday morning to clean the place up and get ready to carry on the week as planned. By the time the other campers started trickling in, there was almost no trace of the hurricane. I suppose there was the small matter of having no power (but who needs power at an acoustic music week?).

Lastly, the opportunity to study with Eden McAdams-Somer was a joy that far exceeded my expectations. She and Larry and Unger were magnificent teachers. They avoided the oft-used strategy of just teaching tunes, and instead delved deeply into what it takes to be a dance musician. We talked about how to pick tunes to match dances, how to impart moods to certain tunes, how do add dynamics to get the dancers excited, and how to decipher the cryptic language of callers (don’t tell the callers we’ve got them figured). We split up into bands to practice our new skills, and we even got to perform for a late night dance—what a treat. I met a whole new crowd of wonderful musicians, and I made some great connections that I hope will serve me throughout my development as a dance musician.

Some of the other highlights of the week were that I called my first contra dance, I danced English for the first time, I played more music per day than I ever have in my life, and a tree fell on my car (fortunately there was no damage). I am excited about my calling experience, which was greatly assisted by my mentor Adina Gordon, and I hope to develop this newfound skill.

As a member of the “next generation,” this week at Pinewoods helped me find a sense of place in the music and dance world of New England. I talked to a lot of older folks about the evolution of contra dancing throughout the years, and they helped me develop an appreciation for the passage of time in this community. Though I have been dancing for many years, I never fully appreciated the incredible stewards of our dance and music culture that have been hard at work for the last 50 years. As time moves forward, I plan to develop not only my dancing, calling and musical skills, but also my role as a steward of this culture.

In the Pines, In the Pines

Where the Sun always shines

Happiness is passed from one generation to the next