«Back to all NGI Letters

NGI Recipient: Justin Sargent

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society, Royal Scottish Country Dance Society - ESCape (English-Scottish-Contra) (2016)

Please accept my most sincere gratitude. Your generosity combined with my dance community’s enthusiastic evangelism made it possible for me to attend Pinewoods for the first time, for the English Scottish Contra session.

The setting alone was worth the trip. I loved walking through the tall pines, especially at night, with the moon and the stars to light my path. I loved basking in the sun on the raft in Long Pond. And I loved the spirit of the family style meals.

I decided on a somewhat unorthodox approach to meeting people at meals. Instead of searching for a place to sit each meal, I chose a spot on the deck and sat there every time. With almost no effort on my part, a revolving cast of new and old friends found or stumbled upon me. We broke bread together; we tried to attract vegetarians so we wouldn’t have to share our BBQ; we endured announcements filled with puns. It was grand.

But of course, what I loved most was the dancing. I have been contra dancing for many years now. I started English dancing for the first time a NEFFA a few years ago. I’ve dabbled in Scottish, and recently joined a Border Morris team. I mean no disrespect to my local dance community, but it is such a different experience when such a broad number of devoted dancers come together in a place like Pinewoods. Not only was I exposed to new dances and techniques, but I was able to dive deeper into the dancing I had thought familiar.

I started my days at Advanced English and American with Adina Gordon. She provided a great line up of dances, each of which seemed to play with the idea of what English and Contra dancing are. Sometimes they blurred together; sometimes they highlighted their distinctions, and reminded you of why you love them. I followed this at English Ritual Dancing with Ben Moss. This may have been my favorite workshop of the entire week. The first day we learned Molly dancing, whose rigid, powerful steps ironically provoked a torrent of giggles from me. I couldn’t get enough of it. After Molly, we learned Cotswold Morris (I forget which tradition). I’m a Border Morris dancer, so it was really hard to do the hankies AND the footwork at the same time. But Ben and the other dancers were a joy to learn with, and I made it through our exhibition dance at the end of the week without embarrassing myself (more than is expected for Morris dancing anyway…)

After lunch I always hung around the deck for the Song circle. This was another of my favorite times during the week. We went around the group and shared songs, some familiar, many new. I even worked up the courage to lead a few for the first time (never mind that one was Barrett’s Privateers)!

The rest of the afternoons my attention became rather scattered. There were too many interesting things to chose from! I remember sitting in on a discussion for callers and leaders, observing a workshop on Highland style Scottish dancing, and joining in a couples dance overview, with a particular focus on learning the Hambo. Add in swimming, playing and general fun, and my afternoons were always full of interesting and exciting adventures.

The evening dances were, of course, another highlight. I danced as much as I could, spinning through the treetops and drinking in the concentrated joy of so many dancers. I was less comfortable with the Scottish dancing, but even watching them was a treat. I did try to skip my way through a couple, at the insistence of my friends, and I developed a new respect for their distinct approach to folk dancing. It was amusing to see the effect the dance order had on the character of the dancing. If Contra preceded English, you could expect a lot of rambunctiousness to bleed over. And anything that followed Scottish was a little slow at first (what a work out!).

And the dancing didn’t stop there! The nights were full of it to. There was a Ceilidh, a Pub Night, even a chocolate party. I remember being one of the last few awake after the Pub Night. There were nine of us. With a caller and a musician that left 7 dancers. And it just so happened that the caller had a 7 person dance! We bungled our way through it, laughing the entire time. I think that must be the hallmark of an accomplished caller if you can make it through a dance with 7 exhausted inebriated dancers.

I made so many wonderful memories, met so many wonderful people, it’s hard to believe this happens all summer every year. Thank you again for giving me this opportunity; I can’t wait to go back.