Memories of Christmas Country Dance School

Tonight we are bracing ourselves for another winter storm, which, according to the National Weather Service, could bring 1/4 inch of ice and 12 to 18 inches of snow. But I am thinking back to last December, when we attended Christmas Country Dance School in Berea, Kentucky. It’s strange looking back on events, even from a short while ago, how things shift focus over time. When I think back on Christmas School now, what’s left from a week filled with activity from 7:00 each morning until nearly midnight each night are the broad brush strokes as we criss-crossed the campus between the tavern and alumni center and gymnasium and music hall, trudging in snow early in the week, hurrying  in wind and rain a few days later; some days all bundled up in layers against the cold, other days with bare legs and skirts swirling, carrying our shoe bags and crafts back and forth.

photo of small decorative basket

Small decorative basket, with honeysuckle ribs and contorted filbert handle.

We took four classes every day, beginning at 9:00 a.m. I took basket weaving first thing and then Appalachian square dance, while Jim took English country dance and intermediate clogging. We had our choice of about eight different classes every session, including rapper swords, storytelling, shape-note singing, Irish ballads,  and all kinds of dancing. After the last morning class, everyone gathered for morningsong, which included time for announcements. The announcement on Tuesday that brought cheers was, “It is Tuesday morning, and we are not at work.” After morningsong, we headed down the hill and across the street to the cafeteria, then back up the hill to Seabury for afternoon classes. I often skipped the first afternoon class, so I could catch a quick nap, and then joined Jim for Irish set dancing mid-afternoon. After that, we might attend a concert or family dance before dinner, then back up the hill to Seabury for the evening dance from 7:30 to 10:30, after which we all gathered in the parlor for songs and stories.

photo of small decorative basketI can no longer remember the specifics of each day, but I am left with many images as from a dream—my fingers weaving wet pieces of reed through honeysuckle ribs, while the clogging class danced to the fiddle of Al White in the racketball court next door; the feeling of connection that comes from dancing the same dances that people from that region have danced for hundreds of years; the anticipation of a new day as we greeted each other at morning song; the smiling faces I would meet along the contra lines or while walking back and forth across campus; the joyful exhuberance of dancing each evening with three hundred people from all over the world; the warm glow from the candles burning each night at parlor; the sense of peace and happiness that comes from sitting in a room filled with people who are singing together and telling stories night after night, while snow falls outside.

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