From the Mic Episode 21 – Penn Fix

Dancing is magical. And if you’re willing to dance with someone you don’t know, then good things can happen I think. And you put it in the context that you’re dancing not just with a partner, but you’re dancing with a whole community of people who are very supportive and joyous and having fun, that allows us to be optimistic.

~ Penn Fix

Show Notes

Meet Penn!

“From the very start of my career as a caller and dance organizer I was concerned about creating a welcoming environment in order to encourage newcomers and in particular the next generation of participants. After retiring in 2019 from my family business, I have refocused on this concern. Our community has worked hard to address issues around inclusion and safety. But have callers expressed concern about the dance compositions themselves. Are they accessible to newcomers? As a dance composer I have witnessed and contributed to the ever-increasing complexity of contra dances over the years. Today, I am concerned that these dances serve as a barrier to new dancers. Yes, some newcomers appear to get through them but at the end of the evening are the dances fun enough for them to return to dance again? The age-old question whether we should gear our evening to the experienced dancers or the newcomers is more relevant than ever today especially in light of our aging community.

I learned to dance in the Boston area and grew to love it in the Monadnock Valley of New Hampshire. For three years beginning in 1977, I danced five nights a week before moving back to my home in Spokane, WA. There I had no choice but become a caller; I learned in a vacuum in which I leaned heavily on my love of dance and skills as a teacher and coach. In the spring of 1980, I organized the first contra dance series and began calling that August. That series continues today along with a Wednesday contra dance series I began in 1988. My first contra composition was in 1981 culminating in a 1991 published book called Contradancing in the Northwest. Since then, I have 30 years- of unpublished compositions. I co-founded the Lady of the Lake Music and Dance camps with my wife Debra Schultz – Fall Weekend (1981), June Week (1986), and Family Week (1992). I also served on the boards of the Washington State Folklife Council and the American Folklife Center (Washington, DC). After serving on the board of Spokane Folklore Society forty years ago, I have returned to the board where I am currently Secretary.”

Sound bites featured in this episode (in order of appearance):

Dance Notation