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NGI Recipient: Esther Fraser

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - Harmony of Song & Dance (2016)

I am so grateful to have been a recipient of the New Generation Initiative scholarship. With it, I was able to attend Lisa Greenleaf’s Contra Callers’ Course during the CDSS Harmony of Song and Dance Week this summer. It was such an incredible opportunity for me to grow as both a caller and a dancer, one I wouldn’t have been able to afford without the support and guidance of CDSS and Pinewoods Camp.

My home dance is in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the Contra community is pretty small and we have a high percentage of beginning dancers. For me, to spend a week surrounded by really experienced callers, dancers and musicians was like a dream. I gained more technical skills – singing, calling, English dance and Contra – than would be interesting to list, so I will focus on how much I enjoyed having such talented and enthusiastic people around me for a whole week.

The very first day, I met my NGI mentor, Linda, who was an invaluable resource throughout the week (thanks, Linda, for coming to the Callers’ Party every evening!). Later, I sat by the dining hall and talked to a caller about which microphones he likes and why. I asked several people, “Will you teach me a folk song from where you’re from?” and they just did, like it was the most normal request in the world. I gained not only a whole new set of skills, not only a collection of folk songs and tunes, but also a network of warm, generous people (campers and instructors alike!). I can keep asking my questions, I can host at my home dance and I can visit all over the continent.

The most exciting moment of my week was the Campers’ Night dance. I was slotted to call the first dance of the evening and I was nervous. Learning to read the dancers and prompt less often was one of the goals I had set myself for this course, so I was watching carefully to see when I could safely stop calling the dance’s progression. I might have literally held my breath the fifth or sixth time through as the dancers came to the last move, looked for new neighbours and, without a word from me…progressed perfectly! Every single dancer found their new neighbour! For the rest of the dance, I just stood back, listened to the incredible music and felt the thrill of watching the dancers execute exactly the moves I had taught them.

That’s a skill I really hope to port back to my own dance in Halifax. The Halifax callers and I have been introducing our more advanced moves to our mostly-beginner dancers and, having spent a week thinking deeply about teaching language and calling style, I have some new ideas about how we can prepare our dancers for more challenging dances. I’m really excited for our dance season to begin so I can try out some new techniques.

Without the NGI scholarship, I would have stayed in Halifax all summer, waiting for fall and the dance season to start again. With the NGI scholarship, I was able to have this fantastic experience and start the dance season a better teacher, a better caller and a better dancer.