BACDS American Dance and Music Week — June 30–July 5, 2013 BACDS American Dance and Music Week, June 30–July 5, 2013

Words about AmWeek by David Schwartz

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dance Camp


Seven Tips for the Tentative

by David Schwartz

In 1992, I attended my first weeklong dance camp in The Mendocino Woodlands. At the time I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, and even though other camps such as Pinewoods and Ashoken were closer to home, I took a three-week vacation on the West Coast and decided to spend one of those weeks at BACDS' English/American Dance Week. I thought I would get the award for having traveled the furthest, but to my surprise I was greeted upon arrival by two other Connecticut dancers.

My real concern was not that I would have to share the long-distance prize, but that I would burn out on dancing long before camp was over. Outside of work and love, I had rarely signed up for seven days of anything and the thought of incessant dancing had me worried: would I ever want to dance again after such an overdose?

At dinner later that day, I mentioned my apprehension to a dance camp aficionado who had attended numerous week-long camps all over the country. He attempted to assuage my concern. "On the first day or two," he said, "it seems like you have a very long week ahead of you. But then before you can say ['Let's dance!' to everyone, it is time to say goodbye].

By [2005] I was a Bay Area resident and a veteran of, oh, maybe half a dozen week-long camps put on by the organization. During the winter and spring of 2005, I had tried unsuccessfully to persuade two friends to sign up for camp. Both had expressed a familiar worry: "I don't think I could stand a full week of dancing," said one. "Three hours of dancing on a Saturday night is just about my limit," moaned the other.

So, while the days of American Week whizzed by (they always do, just as the dance camp pro from 1992 had predicted), I took a little time to deconstruct the week and figure out just how it is that time flies when I'm having so much fun. Since there are seven days in the camp (counting day of arrival, which includes an evening dance), I came up with seven tips for the apprehensive, based on my experiences at American Week 2005.

  1. Take a hike. Ride a bike. Read a book.

    You don't have to attend every daytime dance workshop. You can walk the shady Big Tree Trail to gaze at a mammoth redwood or take a dip in the fern-lined swimming hole on the Big River. Visit the nature center across from the beaver pond (be sure to circumnavigate the pond on walking trails) or show up for several naturalist-led hikes during the week. And, if you don't mind a little ridicule (or, if you're willing to find a secluded spot under a tree), you can even do a little work on your laptop. Ooops, I meant lap-dulcimer!

  2. Let out your inner goofball.

    The programmers who organize dance camps don't only arrange dances. They fill your day with amusements of many flavors. One of my favorite slots in the daily schedule is called "Back Porch." It's a potpourri of songs, stories, skits and general jocularity that takes place before lunch every day outside the dining hall. Anyone can sign up to be on the docket. Last summer, Carol Ormond had us all in stitches with expert renditions of "Sven and Ollie" jokes, delivered with a killer Minnesota accent that Garrison Keillor would die for. Kalia Kliban taught us a head-shaking array of annoying stunts that anyone can perform with a plastic drinking straw. I especially liked the daily episode of "Camper of the Minute," a creation of Donna Hunt and Lynn Ackerson who singled out a different unsuspecting camper each day for mirthful public recognition. Sixty seconds later, the camper's minute of glory was over.

  3. Try something new.

    The daily workshop schedule always includes a few dance forms unfamiliar to many campers. There are also music workshops. In 2005, some people took up clogging with Kalia, while others got started on banjo with Stuart Kenney or worked on their fiddling with Andrea Hoag. I went to the couples dance classes led by Richard Powers, America's premier master of Vintage Dance. Since the first time I had seen the cross-step waltz, I had wanted to learn it. With Richard's class, I soon became a cross-stepper (not to be confused with a cross-dresser, also an option at dance camp, but probably belonging under #2, above).

  4. Try something old.

    Daily workshops give campers the chance to push themselves beyond what they'll encounter at weekly dances. You thought square dancing too easy? You would have changed your mind at Kathy Anderson's workshops. Even if you didn't regularly attend Kathy's class (preferring to use your afternoons to exercise some of the option listed in #1, above), on the last day of camp she announced a special session for learning the notorious Dutch Crossing. There was a real sense of group accomplishment in mastering this complex geometrical dance done in groups of 16.

  5. Make a friend.

    At your weekly dance, or even at a dance weekend like BACDS' Fall or Spring Weekends at Monte Toyon, you'll never have as many opportunities to meet fellow dancers in such a relaxed setting. Three times a day, campers sit down together for a meal. There are myriad opportunities for socializing. Cliques R Not Us: I always felt welcome when joining any group of diners at any table. There is a symbiosis between eating and dancing; when you've met someone at a meal, you are likely to seek him or her as a dance partner later in the day.

  6. Eat till you . . . dance.

    The food at almost every dance camp I've attended has been superb -- so good that the camp organizers tout the caterer's name on the fliers, along with the musicians and dance callers. Annie Johnston's meals and snacks at Mendocino in 2005 were no exception. In fact, at one meal some of us mused about renaming the event American Dance & Dine Week. With unlimited visits for seconds, there is, of course, the problem of caloric indiscretion. But then again, it won't be but a few minutes before you can dance those calories off.

  7. Get [some contra BLISS].

    [Though you may] worry about whether you're overdosing, you may find yourself dancing your heart out -- and loving it! At regularly scheduled community dances, you may never have realized how high your endorphin levels can go. After a week of dancing, you will discover endogenous opiates that you didn't know you had. It's not just the quantity of dance that kicks up these natural chemicals, but also the high quality of the music and the calling. Out of all possible bands and callers, BACDS programmers always scour the country for the best staff they can find. Add to the mix a room full of fellow dancers whose skill and energy level is palpable, and the result is a dancing high that would probably be illegal if anyone in Congress knew about it.

So there you have seven tips to ease you in the direction of American Dance and Music Week 2006. I don't promise they will all work for you. At camp, you may discover seven others, or seventy. But I feel confident in promising this: give it a try and the week will whiz by faster than a do-si-do.

David Schwartz lives in Oakland. He is a dancer, journalist and an award-winning author of 50 children's books including How Much Is a Million? You can visit him at -- or at BACDS' American Dance and Music Week.

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