Swing Your Partner

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The music is live, and the dancing is as simple or as inventive as you want it to be. It’s as casual as dancing barefoot in the kitchen.

Have you ever held someone’s hands and spun — faster — faster — until you fell into the grass, laughing? Contra and square dance can feel like that. You don’t need a partner or experience, though you’re welcome to bring both. Come on out and join us.

We’ve had a local dance scene here for generations … square dancing at summer fairs, polka at the PNA, contra dances in college halls and students playing music in their dorms on warm nights. We’ve had local bands on the green and monthly contra dances in North Adams and Bennington, Vt. And we’re bringing them back.

why “larks and ravens”? and why “gender role free”?

At our November 9th dance, with the renowned Will Mentor calling,  we will be using “larks and ravens” role terms.  For many, this is an opportunity to try something new.  We hope you’ll come, and let us know what you think.

why “larks and ravens”? and why “gender role free”?

What is “Larks and Ravens”?
New terminology for a long-lived dance form, replacing “Gents and Ladies”, with non-gendered, non-hierarchical words. You’ve probably heard callers explaining that “these are just role names”, and you’ve probably met dancers who switch roles regularly. In a way, changing to non-gendered role terms is just catching up with the evolution of the living tradition.

How do I know whether I’m a Lark or a Raven?
You get to pick! If you’ve danced contra before, you’ll know that it’s done in pairs, as part of a larger group. The starting and ending position within each pair has one person on the left and the other on the right. Here’s a handy mnemonic: Lark on the Left, Raven on the Right You can dance either “lark” or “raven”, and no one need be confused (or care) about your choice.

Who is it good for?
Hopefully, everybody, but especially:
– parents teaching children
– dancers who want a better understanding of their partners’ experience
– people uncomfortable conforming to gender roles in daily life (and everyone in their community)
– anyone who wants to dance with a friend or relative or co-worker or new-dance-floor-acquaintance of whatever gender, without having to explain a thing.

Why change?
Many contra dance communities across the country have either switched to, or are trying, the new role terms, and it’s good to know what’s going on in the larger world.  For now, we’re just trying it out. We’ve met dancers on the floor here who prefer the new terms, but we (the dance organizers) have little personal experience. We’d like to gain experience, and definitely want to hear your opinion. Please come to the dance, and let us know what you think! We’ll have a simple exit poll where you can give as brief or elaborate an opinion as you like.

 

David Kaynor and friends take the lead

Becky and David

Fiddler and caller David Kaynor is a leader in the world of New England traditional dance. You may know him and his longtime friend, pianist Becky Hollingsworth, from Greenfield dances or Ashokan harmony workshops or dances across New England … over the years he has encouraged dozens of people to learn to call, hundreds of people to pick up a fiddle or a guitar and thousands to get up and dance.

David and Becky are coming to the Berkshires on October 12 for the new North Berkshire Community Dance, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Williamstown preschool — and they will join two of our well-known North Adams musicians: Tony Pisano, a longtime member of the band Coincidance, and fiddler Doone MacKay. Sarah VanNorstrand joining us as caller; she calls regularly in Syracuse, N.Y., and across the country.

News this month — we have completely overhauled our sound. If you passed the hall earlier, you might have seen us setting gromets into a slew of blankets to make our beautiful hall clearer and livelier.

In October the dancers will also hold a snack potluck at the break, and everyone is welcome. (The school is a nut-free zone, but we may bring apples and cookies, local cheeses and crackers, bite-sized contributions from our gardens …) And we hope you’ll join us.

 

September 14th Dance

The dance in Williamstown is back after August vacation: Saturday, September 14th, 7:30 pm. 777 Main Street (Williamstown Community Preschool, formerly the United Methodist Church – next to the bank).
Annika Amstutz is a phenomenal fiddler (phiddler?) – have a listen. We’re hoping to debut significant improvements to the acoustics in the hall too. Please join us for a joyful evening!

Bennington meets Brooklyn: Matthew Christian and Max Carmichael

Contra dance is playful, Sue Burns told me, when she and Russell and I spent a long morning at Dottie’s Coffee Lounge talking about contra dancing for a story in Berkshire Magazine this month.

“You learn it as you go,” she said. “It’s a dance — just laugh. You don’t have to come with someone, and you don’t have to know what you’re doing. Just come.”

A musician with North Bennington roots is visiting in July, who has played dances and Irish music across New England.  Matthew Christian and Max Carmichael are coming up from Brooklyn to perform traditional, Irish and Quebeçois tunes on fiddle, foot percussion and guitar and more.

The North Berkshire dance returns to Williamstown on Saturday, July 13 from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., with live music, and Steve Howland is calling. Come with or without a partner — beginners are warmly welcome, and experienced dancers will find us lively.

Cloud Ten flies high (June 2019)

On June 8, Cloud Ten comes to town to open the summer with us, and we hope you’ll walk in on a warm night. They have a following up and down the East Coast, and we’ve been looking forward to their buoyant energy all winter. If you want a taste, you can listen here.

Cedar Stanistreet is on fiddle, Jesse Ball on guitar, mandolin, and accordion, Ness Smith-Savedoff on drums, and Arthur Davis on piano, banjo and trumpet, making a generational leap from our opening on May, when his father, Andy Davis helped us lift off our first dance. Luke Donforth will call.

Because of Williams College reunion weekend, this dance moves to the Elks Lodge in North Adams (just for this month), from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at 100 Eagle St., just off Route 2. All dances are taught, and everyone is welcome — no need to bring a partner.

Dances are second Saturdays monthly. Admission is $12, or $5 for students and $25 for families. For more information, please visit us at northberkshiredance.org, or call 413-663-4479.

Who We Are

North Berkshire Community Dance began with a conversation. In the fall of 2018, Doone MacKay, a longtime local fidder in North Adams, met John Seto, a board member of the Country Dance and Song Society. He came to renovate an apartment in North Adams, and he found a longstanding dance community here.

The Northern Berkshires has had a dance community for generations — singing squares in the 1940s, dawn dances in Williamstown in the ’70s. College musicians formed a band 20 years ago and taught themselves to call and held informal dances in Goodrich Hall or played reels in the Berkshire quad. MCLA professors and students danced downtown.

Bennington and North Adams have both had dances until the last few years, and active dances thrive within an easy hour’s drive, in Lenox, Albany and Greenfield.

NBCD has formed to revive dance in North Adams and Williamstown. We are affiliated with Country Dance and Song Society, and with support from them and the Dance Flurry Organization just over the New york border, we are opening the doors this spring.