Gotta get back on the horse sometime.

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From behind the mic at the last full evening I called: David Kaynor’s Friday night dance in Greenfield, MA.  June 19, 2015.

It took about eight months, but I finally miss calling. That’s 241 days. Or in midwife time, I am 34 1/2 weeks along, with a due date right around the corner. HOORAY! I’ve missed feeling excited about calling for dances.

I’ll admit, when I stopped calling last summer I was pretty exhausted by it. There were lots of practical reasons why I needed to stop when I did, not least of which was that I was starting a major transition to a graduate program that would at times threaten to take my sanity. (Quick aside: Good call, eight-months-younger Danielle. You were right.)

Looking back, though, the single biggest exhausting thing was not related to a time crunch at all: I was emotionally drained. Specifically, I was drained by having to win over a new crowd each night. Starting in August 2014 I called in 12 different states, and never called at the same location more than once. This went on for 10 months. By the end of it, I was wiped.

The difference comes down to the home-team advantage. When I started calling in New Mexico it was to a close community of friends who had become like family. They were excited to see me up there and enthusiastically cheered me on. It was easy. They were always happy, simply because I was one of them.

Not so when you’re an out-of-town caller. I’m not suggesting that dance communities are unfriendly towards visiting callers – on the contrary, dancers, musicians and organizers all across the country have warmly opened their homes and their dance floors to me. It’s just that whenever you walk into a new dance as a visiting caller, the dancers don’t yet have a reason to trust you. You have to work to earn their trust and good will. And it’s hard work.

I have found this work to be the most difficult of anything else involved in the tasks of calling. There isn’t anything you can really practice, exactly. Yes, you want to be prepared, call an interesting dance, read the crowd and all that. But winning over a crowd has to do with so much more than doing a technically-proficient job.

A new crowd reads absolutely everything you do as a visiting caller. They notice what you wear and how you introduce yourself. They watch whether you dance on stage or stand calmly by the mic. They pay attention to whether you tell jokes or stories, whether you are verbose or terse. It matters how friendly you are before the dance and during the break, how comfortable you look up on stage, whether you seem to be having fun or not, whether you remember people’s faces and names who you’ve met earlier in the evening.

I do it too, if I don’t know the caller. What reason do I have to trust them until they give me one?

So other than the old adage that time heals all, what else has changed to reset my dial from burned out to fired up? Answer: dance weekend fairy dust.

This past month I’ve attended two events that gave me the fuel I needed to feel the love again. I got a boost in caller’s courage at the Ralph Page Legacy Dance Weekend, and got a big warm East Coast community hug at the Flurry Festival.

Last month I attended the Ralph Page Legacy Dance Weekend in Durham, NH on a caller’s scholarship. (Shout out to the awesome scholarship committee!)

The weekend was so many kinds of wonderful – heartwarming, encouraging, exciting, relaxing, stimulating, thought-provoking, challenging, reassuring, hilarious, confidence-building, rejuvenating, and above all, sweet as pie. Afterwards I felt more connected to the tradition of American folk dance than I ever have before. It reinvigorated me to get back up behind the mic to share these rich traditions with modern communities. Conversations with other callers gave me the information, context, and inspiration to move forward as a new caller. I was reminded that I could contribute my own “flavor” to the melting pot that is the ever-evolving folk tradition.

Then this past weekend I finally attended the Flurry Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY. It lived up to all the hype. The workshops were great, the dancing was fantastic, and best of all, I realized that I know people!!! There were friendly faces all over to dance and chat with. It was encouraging to realize that I am indeed gaining ground in finding community here in this north east corner. Maybe I am succeeding in putting down roots among these beautiful humans, after all.

And finally, both of these weekends highlighted how lucky I have been with wonderful mentors. I’m not sure how aware they all are of the impact they’ve had on me. I think this will merit its own post in the future, but for now: thank you, kind caller mentors. You have helped more than you know.

Maybe I’ll even stare down the barrel of a microphone in 2016. Go for gold, eh?

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What do I do with my power?

A 21 year old white male shoots and kills 9 peaceful African American churchgoers.

An ill-informed group equates racial appropriation with the transgender experience.

A town strong-arms a decision to turn a public green space into a parking lot.

Injustice takes many forms. In the face of such selfishness, bigotry, hatred, ignorance and disrespect, I feel small and powerless. I feel the cynicism that has come to be such a regrettable hallmark of my generation. I feel like the only “right” reaction is to cry out, thrust out the picket sign, and place myself on national television to decry the degradation that has overtaken our societies. And in the same breath I know that that is not me.

So what do I do from my place of privilege? What do I do with the skill set and passions that I possess? (Some days I feel as though I have no skills at all but a bullheaded will. Even if that were true, wouldn’t it be enough to make some small change?)

Dancing is one of those forms of power and privilege. The fact that I have the free time, available transportation, and expendable income to spend on dancing is a manifestation of my privilege. Communities of dancers are often communities that can wield significant social, economic, and political power.

Some may question whether social change should be the responsibility of social dance groups. I say, if not here, then where? Where do we draw the line between our pleasurable activities and the activities that “really matter?” Equality, justice, and integrity should fundamental to all aspects of our lives – at least, these are things I strive for. For me, this includes both inner and outer expressions of rebellion, community, and integral values. Communities of any kind are compilations of individual power, and can be used to make positive change in our world.

I am inspired by authors who use fantastical settings and compelling characters to explore our societal ills.

I am inspired by dancers who believe that we can blend pleasure with powerful change.

I am inspired by advocates and ninjas and providers who put it all on the line for what they believe in.

What are you inspired by? What do you do with your power?

Grounding

 

Arrived!

Arrived!

Six months ago I arrived at last in the land of fire trees, apples, and volatile weather. Coming home to Vermont came with an increased awareness of my responsibility for my own happiness. While I was living in New Mexico or Colorado or Montreal or wherever over the past eight years, whenever I was having a tough time it was easy to blame it on location. It would all be better in Vermont, I would think.

Moving back to Vermont meant that there would be no more it would all be better land of maple rainbows and fluffy single-payer bunnies that I could think on. It meant that if I became unhappy, it wouldn’t be because I wasn’t in Vermont. It meant an end to the “grass is greener” mentality. I knew when I crossed the state line that it was now fully in my hands to keep the grass watered on my side.

First glimpse of foliage on the final stretch home - upstate NY.

First glimpse of foliage on the final stretch home – upstate NY.

Despite Easter snow showers six months later, my grass is still green and thriving. I have realized that I was, in fact, right for all of these years: things are better for me in Vermont. Even in -24 degree January weather. Even when it is still snowing in April. Even when the community I’m building isn’t localized in one convenient town. Six months later through one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record, there hasn’t been a single day that I’ve regretted my decision to move back. This is home. This is center.

A rhythm to the road

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Yoga to soothe and reenergize

If I’m not listening to something on the car stereo, I love listening to the lull of the road. Strips of rough pavement separate the smoothly paved parts, and the car thumps predictably between the two like a baby carriage over cracks in the sidewalk.

There is a rhythm to traveling. When you hit the right pace, days flow by while time is suspended, not essential in the way it is essential when other people are counting on you to be somewhere at a certain time.

This rhythm varies by trip. On this trip, the pace I liked best was two nights in each location. One night to get my feet grounded, one night to explore. Enough to take a breath without diluting the mystery a new locale holds in the air.

It is a bit trickier to find this rhythm when on tour.  It takes some of the flexibility and spontaneity out of the traveling to have booked gigs on specific dates – although it is a tradeoff balanced by the benefits of meeting such wonderful communities along the way.  I could only keep that pace up for so long, however, and two weeks ago in Asheville I crashed. I was inexplicably exhausted, and slept like a teenager for four days. I suppose I can only say – it happens.

Tea shops are great for this kind of fatigue – I spent two days in Dobra Tea in Asheville. So are kind friends who let you stay in their houses longer than planned (thank you, Rick!). So are blank journal pages and yoga pants.

I keep pushing on. Keep pushing north.

Yes, we are one nation.

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Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

This country is big. HUGE. And while there are many differences across the states, we are also all ridiculously, similarly human. I present a handful outrageously over-simplified findings from over three weeks on the road:

  1. People are bad drivers everywhere. I repeat, everywhere.
  2. Mexican is the go-to cheap, yummy food that you have when visitors are in town.
  3. There are kind, generous people everywhere – they let you stay in their houses and feed you and show you around their town.
  4. Using turn signals has gone out of style.
  5. Using the left lane for passing only has also gone out of style.

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    Straddling the Texas-New Mexico state line

  6. People are fiercely proud of the place they live; regardless of whether they moved there and never regretted it, or whether they feel ambivalent and/or mildly trapped there, it is home and is something to be loved.
  7. Having visitors is a good excuse to revisit your favorite places.

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    Inside the Texas state capitol building

  8. People have very strong opinions about where you park.
  9. Outside of New Mexico, a New Mexico license plate is an oddity to be stared at.
  10. Anywhere, a car that is packed full to the gills is an oddity to be stared at.