A community celebrates dancing masters

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EAST DUMMERSTON — On April 21, the Village Dance Series is inviting the public to a community dance in celebration of New England Dancing Masters' 30 years of collecting and publishing traditional dances and singing games for children and communities. The dance will be held at the Evening Star Grange, 1008 East-West Road, in East Dummerston. There will be a pot luck dinner at 5:30 p.m. and a dance (free admission) from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The four New England Dancing Masters, Andy Davis, Mary Cay Brass, Mary Alice Amidon and Peter Amidon, will be calling and playing (accordions and piano) along with guest fiddler (and Village Dance regular) Laurie Indenbaum.

This community dance will be filmed by Michael Hanish and Alan Dater to be used in NEDM's ongoing effort to document and promote traditional American community dance. Attendees will be asked to sign a waiver in lieu of admission for the use of any footage that they may appear in.

There will be a break with baked goods made by Robin Davis and a folktale told by Mary Alice and Peter Amidon.

In the 1980s, before they founded New England Dancing Masters, Andy Davis, Mary Cay Brass, Mary Alice Amidon and Peter Amidon, had been regulars, both as dancers and musicians, at the contra dances in East Putney, Northfield, Mass., and Nelson, N.H. when they all started teaching elementary school music.

The four music teachers were meeting regularly to exchange dances and songs to use in their elementary school music teaching. They were all learning and adapting traditional dances learned at dances, traditional dance folk camps and from published collections of dances.

Peter Amidon was leading elementary school residencies of traditional dance and music in addition to his music teaching. He would visit a school for a few days, leading dancing to his accordion playing. Peter Amidon realized that once the residency was over the students could not do the dances because they no longer had the music. In 1988 Peter Amidon proposed to Brass, Davis and Mary Alice Amidon that they record a cassette tape of some of the dance tunes used for the dances — he could then leave the cassette tape of dance music at a school once his residency was over. As they talked about it, the four decided to publish a companion book of the dances as well. One of their favorite dances was "Chimes of Dunkirk," learned from New Hampshire dance caller Dudley Laufman, so gave their new book the title: "Chimes of Dunkirk - Great Dances for Children," published it in 1991, and named their publishing company New England Dancing Masters (NEDM).

Somehow the "Chimes of Dunkirk" collection found its way into major children's music education distributors catalogues, in particular West Music in Iowa. The NEDM four were surprised to be suddenly selling hundreds "Chimes of Dunkirk" books every year. In 1993 they published "Jump Jim Joe — Great Singing Games for Children" (now "Rise Sally Rise") and the two collections quickly became classics for elementary school teachers across the United States.

Since then the NEDM four have published five more book/CD dance collections and three DVDs. Over the last 30 years they have sold over 50,000 of their dance collections, mostly to elementary school classroom teachers. Thousands of music teachers and hundreds of thousands of children have enjoyed the dances from these NEDM collections.

The NEDM four all lead workshops for music teachers on teaching traditional dance to children. Mary Alice and Peter Amidon have led music teacher workshops in 45 of the 50 United States, often as headliners at national music teacher conferences. This year is Andy Davis' final year of a 30-year career teaching elementary school music in greater Brattleboro elementary schools. He also directs a community choir, co-directs a church choir, is a member of Nowell Sing We Clear, and runs this Village Dance series. Brass has played for 100s of contra dances throughout the United States and leads dance residencies in elementary schools as well as summer choral camps for teenagers and adults. She has been leading the River Singers community chorus for 26 years.

"We had no idea that our little 1988 brainchild of a book and companion cassette tape would turn into such a significant force in American dance education," Peter Amidon said. "We hope folks in the greater Brattleboro community, their children, and their grandchildren, will come and join us as we celebrate with dancing for all at the beautiful Evening Star Grange in Dummerston."

You can find out more about New England Dancing Masters at dancingmasters.com.

The Village Dance Series, as always, welcomes dancers of all ages and abilities. The program is well suited to school age children through adults. All are welcome, no experience is needed and all dances are taught.

For more information contact us at village@dancingmasters.com or call 802-257-1819.


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