«Back to all NGI Letters

NGI Recipient: Ollie Cultrara

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - Harmony of Song and Dance (2019)

I was a beneficiary of a New Generation Initiative Scholarship during the Harmony of Song & Dance Week at Pinewoods this July. From the moment I pulled in to camp, the community enveloped me in a warm welcome. Throughout the week, various people, especially my mentor Margie Singer, checked in to see how I was doing. The music staff were generous with their time and attention, and the camp crew were patient and appreciative during my time spent as a dishwashing helper. I felt very welcome as a new person to the CDSS and Pinewoods community because of the numerous kind gestures from all kinds of people.

If I had to describe the week at Pinewoods in one word, it would be dreamy. It was such a joy to hear music and dance floating through the woods at all times of the day, whether walking along a path, swimming in the pond, or drifting off to sleep at night. I was particularly buoyed by all-camp chorale every morning. Before this camp, I had never sung in an organized chorale setting. I loved the wide variety of songs, patient and supportive teaching of several part harmonies, and glorious opportunity to sing and move together with a group. After this experience, I feel empowered to explore choral opportunities both informal and formal. I have new energy to bring to singing hymns during church services, and I may even seek out the opportunity to sing in an organized choir in the future.

More formatively, I attended Rani Arbo’s “Going Solo – In Duets and Trios” class, where I was pushed out of my comfort zone to sing songs in two or three part harmony in front of the whole class. To my delight, I found that I really enjoyed it! Rani even made extra time for me to have a short private voice lesson with her, and her encouragement has inspired confidence in me as a singer. The day after I got back from camp, congregants at my church were encouraged to share bedtime songs from childhood during the service. Because of my experience in that class, I was brave enough to sing a few lines of a song in front of the whole congregation—a big step for me!

Another learning opportunity came in Suzannah Park’s Appalachian Clogging class, which was one of the programs that attracted me to camp in the first place. I found the class to be both very challenging and exhilarating, especially when we all learned a routine and made rhythm together with our feet. I think I caught the clogging bug! I plan to seek out further instruction, as I can tell we barely scratched the surface. Throughout the week, Suzannah also modeled engaging with the cultures from which music and dance come and the importance of honoring and learning about the nuanced histories of the pieces we practice and perform.

The evening dances were a special culmination of each day. The gender-free calling was an essential part of me feeling so comfortable at Pinewoods. I got to dance with a wide variety of friendly dancers, try out some new clogging steps, engage in respectful conversations about dance roles and permission for twirling, and express myself freely in dress and dance (who knew dancing in a cape would be so fun??).

My experience at Harmony of Song & Dance week increased my confidence as a singer, dancer, and dance community member. I’m returning to my home community inspired by the songs we sang, and encouraged to continue to seek out opportunities for song and dance at home. I’m planning to return to playing the cello after a several year break. I hope to build relationships within my local contra dance community to start a conversation about introducing larks and ravens roles, which are so important to making all dancers feel welcome and seen. Song and dance is a chance for connection. More than anything, Harmony of Song & Dance week made me feel held.

Thank you for your support. Without the NGI Scholarship, I would not have been able to attend camp.