OPPORTUNITY DANCES WITH THOSEWHO ARE ALREADY ON THE DANCE FLOOR– J. Jackson Brown, Jr.
When I was asked to write an article about Wheatland’s Traditional Arts Weekend (a/k/a Wheatland Dance Camp) for the 2005 Festival program, my mind immediately drifted back to the hours that I spent dancing in West Virginia one summer. Why West Virginia?
During the summer of 1987, my good friend (and former Wheatland Board Member), Randy Rickert and I packed up our instruments, dance shoes and Randy’s woodworking tools, and drove to Augusta Heritage Center, in Elkins, West Virginia for two weeks. I was enrolled in an intensive lap dulcimer class one week and was taking an intensive autoharp class the second week. Randy was more industrious. He was taking a two-week class in log-cabin making with Peter Gott. We quickly learned that while we would work very hard in our classes during the day, we would somehow be able to garner the necessary energy to dance the night away…night after night after night…
For many reasons we were very fortunate to attend Augusta that year. We were among the first Augusta students to initiate the new Augusta dance pavilion. The pavilion had a roof, open sides, bandstand and real wooden floor (somewhat similar to our Dance Stage by Kid’s Hill). At night the bare light bulbs strung around the pavilion for lighting, combined with magical music and wonderful dancers set the stage for many hours of good old-fashioned fun. It was like attending a play party at your neighbor’s barn every night. The Augusta dance pavilion immediately became the place to be after the evening performances in the auditorium. It was the perfect place for new and experienced dancers to meet and share their love of the music, the callers and the wide range of dances. It was the perfect place for new dance students to mingle with their instructors or practice their newly acquired dance steps. The entire pavilion was lined with onlookers, which included citizens of Elkins and citizens of neighboring towns.
Because of the manic schedule that we had kept during the two weeks, Randy and I had worried a little bit about our drive home. We didn’t look forward to trying to keep each other awake while driving. Much to our surprise, we were not exhausted! We were so energized at the potential to bring this type of play party atmosphere, combined with cream of the crop instructors, to our Wheatland family that it seemed like in a flash we were back in Michigan. During that trip home, we planned every detail that we could so our presentation to the Wheatland Board of Directors would be fluid, well received, and accepted.
Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated;
you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.
— David Lloyd George
Well, our presentation wasn’t quite as fluid as we had wished. Our presentation wasn’t quite as well received as we had hoped, and certainly was not immediately accepted and adopted by Wheatland’s Board. As a matter of fact, it was an uphill battle. So many questions came our way, including questions like: what dates did we have in mind for this annual event (it is very hard to schedule a new festival-like event in the country without conflicting with another awesome venue!), who will attend, how will you advertise it and the biggest question of all: How will you pay for this?
It took several months of meetings and hours of discussion to work out the details. It became clear to us that it was our obligation to try to plan and accomplish this task. You see, while you are enjoying the festival each year, behind the scenes we are conducting surveillance of the entire festival grounds. We are tuned into your likes and dislikes. We are tuned into what events you are attending or the events you are passing on. It was clear that one thing you wanted was more dance. You didn’t want to just sit on the sidelines and watch someone else dancing. You wanted to learn the steps and jump into the middle of the whirling dervish of the dance floor!
You become successful the moment you start
moving toward a worthwhile goal.
- Samuel Johnson
And so it began during Memorial Weekend 1989, and so it has been for every Memorial Weekend since. To quote our Dance Camp article in 1992, “Each year we try to present a program that combines equal parts of the comfortable and familiar and the new and challenging.” It would be impossible, in this article, to name every dancer, musician or artist that has partnered with Wheatland throughout the years.
Throughout the years, we have learned (just to mention a few): clogging, English Step Dance and French Canadian from Mary Beth Roska; Jitterbug Jazz, Rapper Sword dance and Rhythm Awareness from Sharon Leahy; clogging and step dance from Clayton Shanilec; Cajun dance styles from Mille Ortega; Appalachian clogging, flatfooting, English clogging, French-Canadian clogging, Irish step dancing and tap dance from Ira Bernstein; African dancing from the Pashami Dancers and The Omowale Cultural Society; Country/Western dancing from Alan and Bonnie Cleeves and Linda and Rick Lange; Swing Era dances from Artspectrum’s A Company of Dancers; swing/dips and leans from Ron Buchanan; ballroom dances with Tomas Chavez; Northern Step dancing and old style tap from Sandy Silva; Wake up to Dance with Susan Filipiak; and Marley Buck & Wing Dance from Sheila Graziano.
The only reason these dance lessons were even possible is due to the fine musicians and callers that we have been privileged to host: Jive at Five; The Bone Tones; Bob Bovee and Gail Heil; Jan Fowler (Caller); Dave Ross; Dan Kirchner; Erma-Lynne Bogue (Caller); Chirps Smith; Corey Mohan; Pete Humphreys; Edgar Leon y La Orquestra Tradicion Latina; Critton Hollow; Ruthie Dornfeld (Caller); Mac Benford & Woodshed Allstars; Peter Martin; John Kirk (Caller); Ron Buchanan (Caller); Uncommon Loon String Band; Café Accordion Orchestra; Tongue & Groove; Bruce Hutton; Matapat; New Riverside Ramblers, Frogwater; Beats Settin’ Home; Rick Thum and Friends; The Rhythm Billies; Frogwater; K. Jones and Benzie Playboyz; Hotpoint Springband; Seth Braun; Danse Candence; Lil’ Rev; Celia Farran; Blue Water Ramblers; and this list goes on and on and on.
I would be remiss if I did not mention special musician/dancers/artists and friends within the canopy of our Wheatland family who have contributed hundreds of hours with us every year at Dance Camp, including: Keith Reed, Peach Burke; Kris Stableford and Bruce Bauman; Steve and Kris Rose; Eldon and Ann Whitford; Erika Faust and Sky King; Heidi Kulas; Nathan Myers; Susie and Glynn Russell; Julie Brewer; Jeff Rose; Jack and Linda Freeman; Roger and Linda Little; Dave Leonard; Ryan and Dorrie Edwards; Brenda Ritter; Tom Donley; Mary Sue Wilkinson; John Hatton; and this list goes on and on. And, while I am thanking people, Dance Camp/Traditional Arts Weekend could not have been possible without the help and assistance of our good friend Lola Tyler, her husband Bill, and the understanding of her children and grandchildren. Again, so sorry I can’t list all of the behind-the-scenes people that have worked so hard over the years, but my heartfelt thanks go out to each and every one of them!
Together we have built dulcimers, dream catchers, gourd rattles, beaded medicine bags, split rail fences, completed screen printed t-shirts. We have yo-yo’d with Red LeClear, made drums, watched antique tool demonstrations with Al Groothuis, and walked in the woods with Ron Western, Greg Hoff and Red LeClear. We have made bird houses, learned how to do the hambone, made clay sculptures, learned how to repair stringed instruments, took a hayride, quilted with Beck Ricker, made stained lass mosaic with Diana Nickerson, made stepping stones with Terry and Linda McLachlan, and tried chip carving with David DeGraff, made brooms with Julie Sullivan, and tried to learn outdoor sketching. So many things to learn and so little time during a weekend to do it all!
And then there was food. Boy, have we eaten a lot of food throughout the years. Food under a tent, outside of a tent, and in the food building. And then there was that unfortunate event…the spilled gravy on the inside of Jack and Linda Freeman’s van as it came from St. Michael’s. But we stuck it out and hereby offer the tried and true banging on pots and pans for our many cooks and their helpers!
The only serious injury that I am aware of happened in 1990 when Steve Kriegel blew out his knee on the dance floor. OUCH! He quit dancing that weekend, but stuck it out and stayed at Dance Camp!
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.” Believe me when I say, our vitality lives in our hearts and continues to show in our acts and deeds every Memorial Weekend. One thing that we are very good at is committing ourselves to Wheatland’s Traditional Arts Weekend each and every year because we are determined to bring you the best of the best in music, dance and the arts.
My friend Randy Rickert moved back to California years ago. If he were here today, I’d tell him how our dream evolved and what has been accomplished in his absence. I’d tell him how Dance Camp has evolved into Traditional Arts Weekend. I’d tell him thanks for believing. I’d tell him that we finally gave in to Jack Freeman by never ordering pink dance camp shirts again. I’d tell him how much we miss him and his stovepipe hat. I’d also ask him for a dance.
While I try to track down Randy this winter, your job will be to watch for upcoming Wheatland Quarter Notes for information about Traditional Arts Weekend 2006 – it’s the place to be after a long winter! Please plan to join us at TAW. Dance anyone?
P.S. Thanks Augusta Heritage Center for providing the inspiration!