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NGI Recipient: Samson Fowler

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - American Dance & Music Week (2021)

My experience at Pinewoods was hardly typical. Between some unexpected coming and going, to the agony of the waiting for COVID test results, to encountering all of the baggage of being in huge crowds of people after years of social distancing, it was all a little overwhelming. On Monday, I thought that I would be lucky if I survived camp at all. Now I sit in my kitchen, writing this letter, listening the bubbling of hard cider that I am making for some new friends I met at Pinewoods. Funny how things change.

Firstly, an apology: I was not the leader I wanted to be during this week at Pinewoods. I did not attend the Callers course I signed up for. I genuinely wanted to be and do those things, but when the time came, to my profound shame, I came up short. I reverted to a quieter, shyer version of myself that I had not known for many years. But that person helped me survive COVID, so I do owe them for that. But they were not, I think, the best person to have at a dance week. I am profoundly grateful to the staff at Pinewoods for giving me the flexibility to be that person, for a little while, and to step away from those responsibilities that I had previously agreed to, while providing their full support.

Secondly, my experience. From the first moments I arrived in camp, I was greeted by warm and enthusiastic folks, and the experience was immersive from the get-go. To be thrown together during the classes with complete strangers, to dance and harmonize together again, was a little daunting at first, but I was quickly reminded why I loved those activities, and why I missed them so much, and how grateful I was to be able to do them there, unmasked even! There was not a single class I attended that I did not thoroughly enjoy, even when, in some cases, everyone was exhausted, or melting in the heat, we always found ways to keep going (see: square dancing in the lake) because we were all enjoying ourselves and glad to be there. I loved the outreach displayed by the staff, who invited us to share our skills with the other campers, whether by singing or playing or calling or in revelry. It was a great reminder that we all have skills and talents worth being proud of, ones that everyone can appreciate, even in the presence of extremely talented professionals. I loved the unstructured evenings, where all over camp there were little gatherings taking place, dancing, or singing, or star-gazing, or jamming. And I was welcome to join in any of them. Long into the night, there was music and merrymaking. What a rare feeling that is. To be there, and participate int this inter-generational community, is something everyone should do at least once in their lives.

It’s hard to speak to this experience, because Pinewoods left me speechless. Photos are worth 1000 words, but I turned my phone off on day one, and didn’t turn it on again until Saturday, so I’ve none to add here. And none of that would have been possible without the generous scholarship I received. The financial assistance I was allocated allowed me the time to find people to cover my shifts, to afford gas, to actually enjoy a vacation during what has been a very difficult financial period. For what is offered, Pinewoods is very affordable, and when I return again, I hope to pay my own way. But for the moment, when those funds were inaccessible, I am extremely, extremely grateful to the CDSS board for the scholarship, which meant that, for one week, in the depths of COVID, I could forget my worries in a quaint little camp in Plymouth, and listen to some of the best music, and dance with the best dancers anywhere.