Stories: Dance

[caption id="attachment_12103" align="aligncenter" width="602"]The Brasstown Morris Teams in England. Carl and trombone are on the far left. The Brasstown Morris Teams in England. (Carl and his red trombone are on the far right.)[/caption] There are all sorts of traditions that are alive and well at the Folk School. The Brasstown Fire Department always brings the firetruck to spray down all the children during Little/Middle Folk School, we always dance the Salty Dog Rag during the evening break at Saturday night dances, and the Brasstown Brigade always helps us bring in the New Year with their black powder muskets. One of my favorite Folk School traditions is the Brasstown Follies, the talent show that happens each Winter Dance Week the night before New Years Eve. For as long as I've been coming to Winter Dance Week, the Follies have been organized and MC'ed by Carl Dreher - dancer, musician, magician, and all around Brasstown enthusiast. So enthusiastic, in fact, that he and his wife Charlotte Bristow recently retired and decided to move here from Texas. Let's meet Carl... [caption id="attachment_12107" align="alignright" width="253"]Carl & Charlotte at Kenilworth Castle. Photo by Julie B. Hearne. Carl & Charlotte at Kenilworth Castle.
Photo by Julie B. Hearne.[/caption] CC: When did you first start coming to the Folk School? Was it for Winter Dance Week, or to take another class? CD: I believe it was 1993. I saw an ad for Winter Dance Week in the Country Dance & Song Society (CDSS) newsletter, and saw that Bob Dalsemer (the Music and Dance Coordinator at the Folk School at the time) was in charge. I knew Bob from serving on the Board of CDSS, and that was all the recommendation I needed to know that it would be a fun week. So I loaded up my truck and drove out. Except for one year when my wife Charlotte and I decided to stay home for Christmas (a big mistake, I SO missed everyone!) and one year when I was sick, we've been coming continuously since then. CC: Tell us about your interest in music and dance? What musical instruments do you play and what kinds of dance have you done? CD: I've always had music in my life, with my parent's encouragement. Neither of them played any instruments that I can remember, although I still have my dad's harmonica. My parents loved German music and bought my brother an accordion...is that child abuse?...but he didn't take to it, so I picked it up. (Not easy...it was a full 120-bass "Billy Baldwin" Har-har.) I started the trombone in 7th grade. (My parent's reaction was "What? The trombone?! But you have an accordion!") I continued playing it all the way through college and then grad school at the University of Virginia. There was a very fine concertina player at U.Va., which inspired me later to buy an instrument and some books and learn it. The melodeon came next out of necessity, since I wanted to start a Cotswold Morris side and I was the only musician (that's being self-flattering) in the group. Next on the list are the banjo and the ukelele, which are hiding in a closet, waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting world. I intend to make use of Folk School classes to get started on those. Wow, accordion, trombone and banjo. The Big Three of social-pariah instruments.

I stopped by the Yarn Circle to speak with Charlotte Crittenden to talk about calling and dancing. Charlotte, a Brasstown local, is a regular caller at the Folk School on Tuesday and Saturday night dances. She is a popular regional caller who has recently called at Old Farmer's Ball, River Falls, Grey Eagle, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Charleston, Charlotte, Sautee and more! Enjoy our interview... [caption id="attachment_11663" align="aligncenter" width="600"]contradance_5114 Charlotte calls a contra dance in the Community Room.[/caption] CP: How long have you been calling at the Folk School? CC: I came to the Folk School as a Work/Study in the winter of 2006 and I took Bob Dalsemer’s Dance Callers' Workshop that summer. So technically I’ve been calling since 2006, but I wasn’t calling regularly 'till a little time after that. CP: Why did you get into dance calling?  CC: I’d been a contra dancer for a long time. When I was in elementary, high school and college I was involved in other kinds of dance, so I’ve always had a history of being interested in dancing. I wanted to be a provider of the activity as opposed to just a consumer. Recognizing that my skills as a musician might be a little lacking (laughs), I embraced calling as the next fun way I could be able to do that. [caption id="attachment_11666" align="alignright" width="340"]Charlotte & Charlie Charlotte & Charlie[/caption] CP: What’s the best thing about calling a dance at the Folk School? CC: What a good question! I’d say the dance community at the Folk School is one of the best for integrating all kinds of different folks. People who have been dancing for years and years and years are dancing on the same floor as those who have never ever done it before. Little kids all the way up to folks in their 70s and 80s - all on the same dance floor and everyone’s having a great time, enjoying each other's company. That’s the best part! CP: Do you have a favorite tune? CC: I really like the old time tune called Growling & Grumbling, which I love as a dance tune. It got this great low, mumbly beginning and then it busts into this fun, upbeat tune. CP: Is that the same tune as Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman? CC: Yep! That’s the one! It a great tune. CP: Where do you get your dances from? CC: Oh goodness! Lots of sources. Primarily (and I’d say traditionally) from other callers, but also from going to other dances. I’ll go to a dance and enjoy something that I just danced, run over to the side and write it down real quick. So I collect dances from dancing. I collect dances from other callers. And in our modern day & age, the internet is a wonderful place, not only to collect dances right off the web, but also to find literature from different places. I use the Country Dance & Song Society which is an organization up in Massachusetts that promotes folk dance and music. I peruse their bookstore pretty frequently. They are a great resource for all things dance.

[caption id="attachment_10345" align="aligncenter" width="480"]DMW-DiningHall Dance Musicians Week students serenade folks as they enter the Dining Hall for lunch.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_10346" align="alignright" width="256"]DMW-Class1 Student learn to play together as a dance band.[/caption] In 2001, I received a message from Bob Dalsemer asking if I would join the instructor team for Dance Musicians Week at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Lifelong mentor, fiddler, caller and instructor extraordinaire David Kaynor had thrown my name out to Bob, the music and dance coordinator at the school at the time. At that point I was living in Western Massachusetts playing with David and the Greenfield Dance Band and had been devoting much of my time to being a touring singer songwriter. I had been in the contra dance scene picking tunes for about a decade. My musical influences were a woven patchwork of the folks that had surrounded me growing up in New York—Jay Unger, Lyn Hardy, Molly Mason, Sonny Ochs, Pete Seeger. Being born into a family of activists and labor organizers, community was most important and music was (and is) the vehicle and the glue that tied it all together. We were raised to believe that music and dance for music and dance’s sake is not enough. Community first. [caption id="attachment_10347" align="alignleft" width="195"]DMW-Dance2 A band of DMW students takes the stage for one of the nightly contra dances.[/caption] “Sing behind the plow!” is one of the great mottos of the John C. Campbell Folk School. Upon first look into the Folk School it seemed to be a kind of Brigadoon, a place stuck in time. Of course, I mean that in the best way. At that point in my life I was lamenting the waning of “community” in “community dance” and was excited to see a place nestled in the far west mountains of North Carolina, founded in the 1920s by the grandmother of the twentieth-century folk music revival, Olive Dame Campbell. Mrs. Campbell based the philosophy of the Folk School on the Danish tradition of folkenhojskolen which aims to foster culture and tradition through noncompetitive adult education—metalwork, quilting, woodwork, photography, cooking—happening alongside a rich tradition of music and dance, with folks from the surrounding Brasstown community invited to weekly concerts and dances and given special admittance into classes. I heard a student once comment “This place is like a kind of Whoville!” referencing the idealistic village from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is exemplified best by the very fact that each dance ends with a short goodnight song, sung with hands joined in a circle. The facilities are surrounded by hills, rivers, lush gardens, outdoor folky sculptures and paths through the woods. Best of all, the dancers are not contra “dancers”—they are mostly just folks from the community. Their gauge of a great experience is more based on who they got to see that night, not how slick the floor was or what tempo the band had played. I had found my place, or maybe the place found me!

[caption id="attachment_10289" align="aligncenter" width="480"]Cory Cory and fellow Tinsmithing student play music in the Community Room after Show and Tell[/caption]
In the spring, the Berea College Bluegrass Band comes down from Kentucky to charm the Folk School Community with a Friday night concert and a jumpin' Saturday night dance. I had the opportunity to have a good porch sit with Cory Shenk, a former Work/Study, Sticks in the Mud Dancer, and former man-about-Brasstown. Cory left Brasstown to pursue his undergraduate degree at Berea College. He is a member of the Berea Bluegrass Ensemble who will be playing at the Folk School April 4.
[caption id="attachment_10295" align="alignright" width="228"]Cory-Hay Laying on the hay in the Folk School field[/caption]

CP: When were you a Work/Study?

CS: March 14 – May 15, 2010. I remember the date clearly because I recall being mesmerized by the St. Patrick’s Day Party at the Murphy L & N Train Depot. Dale’s imitation of a leprechaun trapped in a brown paper bag - I thought that was brilliant!

CP: What have you been up to since your W/S session?

CS:I am currently a student at Berea College. I have been there for three years pursuing my undergraduate degree. I’ve also done a bit of working and traveling. I went to Ireland and Japan with the Berea Bluegrass Band. For a while before I went to Berea, I was working with Meredith Dahle (former host) at Sugarboo Farms in Blairsville. That was great because I could still be involved at the Folk School.