Jeremy Carter-GordonPhoto by Deborah Payne

Why I Serve

By Jeremy Carter-Gordon

I am a CDSS Board member because at every stage of my life, CDSS has been present, creating and nurturing the communities that I have grown up with, taken inspiration from, and shaped my current career and connections in the world. I am a board member because I believe the privileges afforded to me should be available to more than just those who can easily afford them, and that it’s a community responsibility to share and make that so.

A few years ago, my parents told me that they made the conscious choice to introduce me to activities that I could participate in at any stage of life, not just as a child or young adult. The traditions, singing, and dancing that I learned at dance camps, as well as at CDSS Affiliate dances, indeed formed a foundation for the way I move through the world. My excitement surrounding the connections that are formed in these intergenerational communities led me to switch my college major from physics to anthropology with a focus on dance. A passion for sword dancing—first learned at Pinewoods, and developed through Tom Kruskal’s youth teams—led me to a Watson Fellowship collecting sword dances across Europe, and then to a MA in ethnochoreology. The experiences of being surrounded by song and improvised harmony led me to singing with Windborne and touring.

I believe in the value of traditional participatory arts at every stage of life, for a wide range of people. Beyond the well-documented physical, mental, and emotional benefits of both social dance and group singing, I have seen the value of having lifelong, intergenerational communities. It is watching friends who I danced with in Pinewoods kids classes bringing their own children to camp. It is traveling and staying at the house of another dancer, and feeling a joy of belonging and connection. It is returning to a home dance after years away, and being welcomed back with warmth.

In my time on the board, I hope to be able to make this kind of experience and trajectory accessible to more people, particularly folks who haven’t been able to participate. It’s not that I think everyone should make music and dance their career. Rather, I want the opportunities, community, and support that I experienced to be available to folks from all backgrounds and walks of life, and I want to continue working to make CDSS spaces proactively equitable, inclusive, welcoming, and sustainable.

It’s exciting to talk to staff and board members about how we work toward these shared goals. For CDSS, along with many organizations, the pandemic has been a time of huge challenge, along with a healthy dose of reexamination. We all deeply miss the living, breathing, dancing, singing immediacy of camps and other activities, but I do find gratitude in the time we have taken to reimagine the future—not just in the short term, but for the decades to come. I appreciate that the way that CDSS is approaching these initiatives feels new and powerful, and in particular that because questions of cultural equity, fair pay, diversity, board recruitment, camp accessibility, and organizational planning are all intertwined, solutions must be as well!

In the past year, I served on the Cultural Equity Task Group (a subset of the board), helping to imagine, design, and recruit for our amazing Cultural Equity Advisory Group, led by Dr. Dena Jennings. While this group has been working over the course of this year to analyze the organization from an equity perspective and provide recommendations for change, the staff and board have not stopped doing our own work to create a more equitable CDSS. On all the committees and task groups I have taken part in, equity is one of the first considerations in conversation. Whether it’s conversations about how camp can balance affordability and access for all campers with fair wages for teachers and musicians, how to create material to help teach the traditions we love to grade school teachers in multicultural classrooms, or even what it means to be on the board and the responsibilities, work, and contributions we ask of board members, I am constantly hearing questions that ask we take a broader, more inclusive perspective.

CDSS is looking to make sure that we are not only serving those who are in our community (because we have been meeting their needs already) but also looking at how we can better serve the needs of folks who aren’t present yet. And what has been particularly fulfilling in these conversations is noticing how often these two goals align. Making our work, programming, policies, hiring, and board more equitable isn’t just helping those who have been excluded or underserved, it is directly making things better for those of us already deeply embedded in this community.

I would like to end with an invitation to reach out to me if you have questions or thoughts about CDSS, this work, and the board. I am excited to keep hearing from people and engaging deeply in this community, these conversations, and this work. And I hope to see you on the dance floor down the road.

Highlights from 2021 Board Work

  • Launched the Cultural Equity Advisory Group, a nine-member team hired to analyze CDSS’s operations from an equity perspective (read more)

  • Continued conversations about cultural equity within committees and task groups, including discussion prompts for Board members and time set aside at Executive Committee meetings to dig deeper into this work.

  • Conducted the annual board meeting and quarterly executive committee meetings online (for the second year!), which were productive, in spite of the challenges of not being able to meet in person.

  • Hosted new quarterly learning sessions for board members, focusing on a single issue each time (finances, cultural equity, fund-raising) and giving participants space for more in-depth discussion.

  • Held special online events to engage donors and answer their questions about our current work and future plans.

  • Drafted and passed revisions to the CDSS bylaws and hosted our first online membership meeting.

  • Decided to initiate CDSS’s next strategic planning process one year early, given the rapid changes in community needs and priorities.

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