CDSS News, Summer 2021

Two hands, one with dark and one with light skin, reach out to each otherCDSS Grants Support Equity Trainings

By Linda Henry and Kelsey Wells

In 2020, CDSS began offering grant funding to help communities and organizations host cultural equity and anti-racism trainings. We always enjoy hearing from organizers and participants after grant-supported events, and we are particularly excited to share these short stories from three people involved in two recent workshops: a cultural equity workshop for CDSS Affiliates and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workshop hosted by the DanceFlurry Organization for their staff and volunteers.

From a Participant:

I was most surprised to learn that the roots of contra dance are not exclusively white, but that the history of Black traditions has not been communicated over the generations. I’ve always felt badly that I enjoyed something that I thought was so centered in white culture, and it is freeing (and in hindsight, obvious) to realize that traditional dance, music, and community in Black, Indigenous, and white cultures helped to create the dances we love so much today. I will feel more comfortable inviting my friends from all backgrounds to try contra dancing with me, especially as our own community does its work on communicating our commitment to inclusivity and equity.

One of my ideas inspired by this workshop is for our Pittsburgh Contra Dance community to reach out to other dance groups that include people from various backgrounds in our area. Rather than “hoping” more Black, Brown, or LBGTQ+ people show up at our dances and hopefully feel comfortable enough to come back again, we can invite other groups to dance with us. Perhaps they are doing line dancing or Chicago Stepping; we can offer lessons, music, and dancing in both styles and encourage our community members to dance in both communities.

I have long known that contra dance is a place where I can meet and connect with people across class, race, education, political viewpoint, gender, etc., and this universal connection is one of the reasons I love dancing so much. The contra dance communities I have danced with at weekend events have been full of friendly, caring, social people—people who already have so many of the skills needed to become anti-racist. I look forward to the work that we envisioned.

-Donna Hetrick

From an Organization:

In November 2020, the DanceFlurry Organization received a grant from CDSS to support diversity, equity, and inclusion training to be offered online by the organization Move Together. The DFO’s Community Culture Committee worked with Move Together’s coordinator, Lisa Powell Graham, and consultant Dr. Andaiye Qaassim to develop the program. Dr. Qaasim presented a two-hour training session in December 2020.

This was the first time in the history of the DFO that all branches—including our Board of Directors, event organizers, and Flurry Festival managers and committee members—have participated in a joint meeting or training. The committee had set a cap of 50 participants for the training, and there were 43 stakeholders present. Dozens more were invited and now have online access to the recording and training materials. We were successful in getting our group interested in, thinking about, and talking about diversity and inclusion in the DFO in general and at our events.

The DFO held a followup meeting on March 31, 2021 to review the material covered during the December training and discuss how to move our organization toward greater diversity and inclusion. Fourteen people participated, including a core group of Community Culture Committee members and several other Board and Flurry Committee members invested in continuing this work.

Guided by committee leader Lauren Keeley, participants reviewed Dr. Qaasim’s slides and discussed the ways in which they understood race to be a social construct. They further explored the concept of equity and considered reasons why “colorblindness” is not a useful solution to racial inequity. The group discussed the importance of using language and terminology that is respectful of the people it describes, as well as the difficulty of choosing appropriate language given that conventions and preferences change and vary throughout cultural groups. Participants recounted their own experiences with and understanding of the term “racism” and the various things it has signified within different times and contexts, noting that while once referring primarily to personal prejudice, racism is currently understood to be a structural element of our entire society.

The group agreed that an important next step will be seeking out community organizations and agencies we might collaborate with in order to bring greater diversity to our events and include under-resourced and marginalized communities. Lauren subsequently created a spreadsheet to compile information on contacts committee members already have with other organizations. So far, list entries include organizations connected with local African American, BIPOC, and disability communities. Additionally, some participants have been attending a three-part Nonprofit Board Inclusion Training Series sponsored by a local foundation, and this DEI group expects to meet in alternating months going forward to continue its work.

The DanceFlurry is confident that this training and the additional work it inspired will have a lasting impact on our dance community.

-Lorraine Weiss and Shira Love, DanceFlurry Organization 

From an Organizer:

Our Affiliate Ambassador region received a CDSS grant to help make possible an online cultural equity workshop, facilitated by Jake Hoffman and Kafari. Twenty organizers from communities in our region (Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) attended, as well as five organizers from Wendy Graham’s Ambassador region (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico). It seemed to me that everyone who came was engaged and willing to participate fully in the work we were doing. It would certainly be more powerful and effective to do this type of workshop in person, but Kafari and Jake used several different techniques to encourage interaction and personal involvement.

Feedback from participants indicated that they found the workshop useful both personally and for their communities. There was interest expressed in more workshops, sharing of resources, and opportunities to continue learning.

-Gaye Fifer

CDSS grants to help support anti-racism and equity workshops are currently available. Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis; the usual amount is $500. Find out more and email any questions to

Pandemic Panaceas:

The Portland Megaband 2021 Virtual Concert

By Sue Songer

Portland Megaband

The annual Portland (OR) Megaband contra dance on the second Saturday of March is a much-anticipated occasion for band members and dancers alike. It is a festive affair in a beautiful hall with 75 musicians and up to 600 dancers. In 2020, just one week in advance of the event and after the band had been rehearsing for two months, we made the difficult decision to cancel the dance. By October 2020, with the prospect of missing another Megaband “season,” the Portland Country Dance Community board allocated funds for a new idea: The Portland Megaband 2021 Virtual Concert Video.

So, with 67 musicians signed on, seven tunes selected for three separate videos (jigs, reels, waltz), arrangements decided with roadmaps through the music outlined, five guide tracks for each of the three videos laid down (some specialized for horns and percussion, some with voice directions), instructions written for each set, four rehearsals Zoomed, 207 videos uploaded, each video reviewed by the organizers, technical glitches removed, videographer magic completed—149 days from when the project was first proposed to the band (with conceptualization another month or two prior to the band start date), the Portland Megaband released its concert video in March 2021.

Knowing that the technical aspects of recording would present a challenge for many band members, we organizers chose tunes from the Megaband repertoire that were both accessible and recently played. The various arrangements (sections coming in and out, drones, harmonies, trading phrases) were all familiar patterns from our live dances. Band members did have to become accustomed to responding to voice or written directions rather than the conductor hand signals used at live dances, though. We used the Zoom rehearsals to practice playing along with the guide tracks and to learn when and when not to play and how to switch tunes without the benefit of a conductor. (The conductors on the video were added after the fact.)

Following the release, the three separate video compilations were merged into one, converted to HD, and the final version was placed in its permanent home on YouTube. As you watch, think not only of the technical details outlined above but also about each band member working in isolation during the heart of the pandemic and the dreary winter days. They faced and overcame the challenges of learning new technologies, patiently recording multiple takes (often amidst tangles of cords and gear) until they were satisfied with the results. Each band member contributed their piece of musical heart to the connected whole. It held us together during the 2021 season and now gives us something to look back on with pride.

The all-volunteer Portland Megaband is open to any musician on any acoustic instrument at any level of experience, and skills range from expert to beginning. It plays a benefit dance once a year for PCDC. This tune, “The Banks of the Inverness,” is the first tune of the set of reels.

Sue Songer is founder and director of the Portland Megaband. Drawing from the Megaband experience, Sue travels to other dance communities to work with local musicians in an open band format. Sue is well known for her contributions to the larger dance community, including publishing the Portland Collection tune books and companion CDs.

Watch the Megaband and play along!

The Banks of the Inverness sheet music

Rachel BellRachel picking up her first batch of books from the print shop.

Pandemic Panaceas:

This Part of the World

By Rachel Bell

The pandemic has been a wild ride for all of us. For me, it has been a strange mixture of grief and contentment, of losing my way while somehow also finding a version of myself that I didn’t know existed.

I had been thinking of putting together a book of my tunes for ages, but had trouble even beginning the process when I was constantly traveling from one gig to the next. The pandemic forced me to sit still long enough to dive into some big, long-term projects, and that was such a gift. Last fall, I set to work combing through the 100+ tunes I’ve written in the past 15 years. They were a jumble, some still in scribbled form, others transcribed in various notation programs with very little consistency.

I finally settled on a list of 80 tunes and then buckled down to work through them all. I never would have dreamed that I would have so many decisions to make while compiling this collection. I wrestled with endless questions about chord progressions, bar lines, and ties. Yet during the most intense period of COVID winter isolation, the book provided a welcome focus to my days. It became my companion. I was fortunate to have an incredible support team walking every step of the way with me—at least twelve people who were crucial to the process. They have my undying gratitude, and you can read more about them in the book!

As the months wore on, the proofreading and editing intensified, and I started to feel imprisoned by the project. But then, miraculously, the finish line came into view, and This Part of the World was born. I named the book for a tune I wrote after moving to Brattleboro, VT. The tune “This Part of the World” is one that came into my head fully formed, unexpectedly; other tunes in this repertoire emerged as tiny snippets that I worked and reworked to develop into full melodies.

The thing I didn’t quite anticipate was how meaningful it would feel to watch the whole collection come together. It was like reliving my career. These tunes are my scrapbook, capturing snapshots of significant experiences I’ve had and places I’ve visited, as well as honoring people I cherish. I also began to recognize this as an opportunity for a new kind of connection with the music and dance community that I love so much. I miss being out there playing for dances more than I can even describe. I miss seeing all of you, feeling the joyous energy exchange that happens in dance halls, staying at your houses, and sharing meals together. But I feel a little better and a little less isolated when I imagine that some of you will sit in your kitchens playing these tunes. Perhaps some of you will curl up on the couch and read through the stories. Maybe this is one small way to keep our dreams of dancing and making music together again alive.

This Part of the World coverListen to samples of some of the tunes!

Check out the book!

This Part of the World sheet music

In 2018 I moved from Western Pennsylvania to Brattleboro, VT, drawn by the magnetic force of Karen Axelrod, Becky Tracy, and Eric Martin, as well as the dance and music scene in general. Although I miss being near my family, this move is the best thing that's ever happened to me. This place feels so magical, not just because of the music, but also because of the community, the hiking, the waterfalls, the quirkiness, the arts culture...on and on.

This can be played slowly and freely, not quite a waltz, with the feel of an air. I like to play it in a hushed way a few times through and then build up to a fuller version that uses the B♭ and Dm in parentheses.

Pandemic Contras

By Daniel Clark

Six socially distanced people do a contra dance on an outdoor basketball court

Members of the Walla Walla, WA, area dance community have been enjoying a new dance format we call Pandemic Contras, which we’ve developed since last August.

As I was missing the in-person contra dances, and not finding virtual dances satisfying, I began working on a new in-person contra dance format intended to be both safe and legal under COVID-19 guidelines. Our local pandemic rules in effect at the time limited gatherings to no more than five people other than members of our own household, so we began with just two or three couples who were intimate partners, and we danced outdoors with masks, gloves, recorded music, and social distancing except with our partner.

Our basic Pandemic Contra (PC) format requires a minimum of six feet between all dancers other than intimate partners. With that spacing, we’re able to dance all of our normal contra moves with both our partner and our neighbor, usually allowing 16 beats rather than eight beats for neighbor figures because of the added distance involved.

We swing with an intimate partner in the traditional way, and enjoy zesty neighbor swings with gloved dancers giving weight on the ends of a six foot sash.

Because of the distance and time required for interaction with non-intimate dancers, we’ve had to write new dances or modify old ones, which we’ve then worked on as a group to adjust to the new timing and spacing. In addition to dancing outside, we’ve also needed larger than normal dance space, and we’ve been using outdoor basketball courts and parking lots.

After at first dancing only with intimate partners, we then introduced what we call Pandemic Hybrid Contras, which are written and timed to allow for either intimate or non-intimate partner moves. Since the official limits on the number of participants in outdoor dance events has been eliminated in our area, we’ve also been able to add live musicians, but still wanted to limit our events to just a few couples, and continued to make participation by invitation only.

Now that we’ve had some experience with the hybrid model, and there are still no local limits on the number of participants allowed in outdoor settings, we’ve realized we could return to public dance events that accommodate dancers without a partner, as long as they follow our distancing, masking, and glove requirements for use of the sashes.

Our current list of PC dances includes contras, circles, waltzes, a reel, and a square. Two of the dances follow, and five more are featured on our Walla Walla Friends of Acoustic Music website (, along with videos and dance instructions.

With the relaxed protocols for fully vaccinated people recently announced by the CDC, for our May Third Saturday Dance we decided to limit attendance to fully vaccinated dancers. By continuing with our masks and gloves, we were able to enjoy normal dance moves and close interaction with all dancers, which was a delight.

We’ve been greatly appreciating the sociability and exuberance that Pandemic Contras have brought back to our lives, and encourage others to give them a try.

Happy return to the dance!

Daniel ClarkDaniel Clark is a lawyer in Walla Walla, WA, who has been dancing, calling, and composing contras since 1987. He is the author of Come Dancing—A Collection of Contras, Circles, Squares, & More (2014), as well as several other books. He can be reached by email at

Contra Dance: Make Hey

By Barbara & Dan Clark
Written January 23, 2021

Improper PHC*

A1 Forward and back with your neighbors (8)
Back and forward with your partner (8)
A2 Follows begin a right shoulder hey up and down the hall (16)
B1 Hey back (16)
B2 Couples half do-si-do with their neighbors
and face a new couple (16)


For A1, after the forward and back with your neighbors, back away from your partner, then return. For B2, couples pass neighbors by the right shoulder as a couple.

* In the PHC format (Pandemic Hybrid Contras), those couples who are intimate partners may dance normally, while those who are not maintain social distance at all times. All dancers wear masks and gloves. The dances are held in the open air in a space large enough to allow the required social distancing. Swings with your neighbors or non-intimate partners are usually done by the dancers giving weight from opposite ends of a 6-foot sash.

Circle Mixer: Pandemic Circle Mixer #2

By Dan Clark
Written December 16, 2020

A1 All into the center and clap on 4, then back out (8)
Face-to-face do-si-do your partner (8)
A2 (Balance and) swing your partner (16)
B1 Face-to-face do-si-do your neighbor and sash up* (16)
B2 Swing your neighbor, leads leave the follows on your right (16)


The face-to-face do-si-do move is done by the dancers circling each other face to face in a clockwise direction. In A2, intimate partners can balance and swing, while others simply swing with a sash.

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