«Back to all NGI Letters

NGI Recipient: Rachel Fifer

Session Attended: Folk Arts Center of New England - FAC Weekend (2011)

This year the NGI Scholarship gave me the opportunity to attend FAC Weekend for the first time, and more significantly, gave me the chance to immerse myself in the world of International Folk Dancing that I have only begun to discover in the past two years. Though I had previously attended other dance camps at Pinewoods, participating in the Folk Arts Center Pinewoods experience was a glimpse into a community very different from that in which I’ve grown up as a southern contra-dancer. I have to admit, I was intimidated to venture into a group of people that seemed both close-knit and incredibly talented at remembering impossibly complicated footwork and rhythms.

The first time that I learned of the existence of International Folk Dancing was at NEFFA Festival in 2009 when a friend leaned over to me at the end of a contra dance and said “come to the other dance hall if you want to do the best dancing in the world…”. I curiously approached the other hall but was confused and overwhelmed to see a room filled with concentric circles of dancers furiously leaping around the room to music so captivating I couldn’t help but tap out the complex syncopated downbeats. I promptly fled back to the contra dance.

Since that fateful night, I have been thrown into the International Folk Dance community, by the Taylor-Blenis family, by my own continued interest, and by the dear friends that I’ve begun to find at International Folk Dances in places like Charlottesville, Virginia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a musician and singer, I am fascinated by the intricate music that drives the dancers. As a dancer, I am energized by the challenge of picking up complicated footwork as the rest of the dancers join immediately in steps they’ve retained through muscle-memory for decades. I have attended Mladost practices, attempted to keep up at the International Folk Dance Parties in Newton, and (rather bravely, if I do say so myself) searched out International Folk Dance nights throughout my travels along the East Coast. Attending FAC Weekend was a perfect culminating leap forward in my growth as a beginning International Folk dancer.

Though apprehensive as I walked into the dining hall the first night, I soon began to relax into the Folk Arts Center community. Whether it was striking up a conversation with a new acquaintance on the dock of Long Pond, keeping up with the hilarious and energetic antics of Sonia and Cristian, or gettin down at the after-parties until my feet screamed, I encountered friendly, wonderfully goofy dancers who welcomed me into the extended family that is the dance world. Who ever said that contra dancers and International Folk dancers can’t be friends! I was overwhelmed and deeply touched when, after noting my “poor-college-student” excuse for my pathetically duct-taped dance shoes, Leora Berns secretly bid on a pair of dance shoes and gifted them to me after the auction.

As an aforementioned “poor college student,” I truly appreciate the generosity of Folk Arts Center, PCI, and the NGI committee shown in awarding me the NGI Scholarship. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at FAC Weekend this year and appreciate the growth I experienced as a dancer and as an individual. The community we build and sustain around dance, music, and a deep respect and love for those around us is something much bigger than footwork. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to expand my own comfort zones and community experience.

Two years ago I didn’t know that International Folk Dance existed; this month I taught and led my first International Folk Dance to a room full of experienced International Folk dancers. I hope that this is just the beginning of my exploration of and involvement in this enthralling and inspiring new dance community.