August 10, 2005

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Clearly blogging has not figured prominently in my summer activities, but dancing has. A lot of people look at me funny when I tell them I just got back from vacation and they say, "oh really? Where did you go?" and I say "I went to dance camp!"

Okay, it has actually been almost a whole month since my summer vacation, but it has taken me most of that time to come to terms with the fact that it is over for another year. I'm homesick for Pinewoods.

Pinewoods is a traditional dance and music camp located in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was originally founded in 1919 as a girl scout camp, but included English country and Morris dance in its program since the earliest years. By the 1930s, it had switched over completely to being an adult dance camp. These days it is operated by a partnership of organizations devoted to folk/ethnic/traditional music and dance: The Folk Arts Center of New England, and Country Dance Society, Boston Centre and the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society Boston Branch.

As far as I know, Pinewoods is the only permanent camp in the country, maybe the world, that is specifically designed for folk dance. The setting is 25 acres of pine forest located between two small lakes. There are four dance pavilions, open-sided buildings with huge wooden dance floors uninterrupted by pillars. The two larger pavilions feature stages and amplification systems for music. The camp house offers a cozy place to gather indoors, with its big stone fireplace, book-lined walls, and plenty more space for dancing. It also has a wonderful porch overlooking the waterfront on Long Pond, with its swimming area (complete with a floating dock you can swim out to) and canoes and kayaks you can take out for a paddle any time you feel like it. The accommodations are mostly in two-person cabins, or larger cabins divided into two-person rooms. They don't have indoor plumbing, but they do have electricity, and some have porches. The communal bathrooms have "real" plumbing and decent showers.

The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society Boston Branch runs two Scottish dance sessions at Pinewoods every year. If you go to both, as my husband I have for the past three years, they make up a full week of dance nirvana. You start with the wonderful facilities I've described above, then you add a full staff of top notch musicians and teachers, and you get something that is even better than the sum of its parts. And I haven't yet mentioned the excellent food, the wonderful parties, social dances, and other special events planned by the organizers, and the fun people.

What's a day like at Pinewoods? Well, it starts with the piper, who acts as the camp alarm clock. You wake to the strains of the bagpipes in the air (or in the case of the makeshift pipe band some of the campers put together this year, the straining of the bagpipes in the air). After a tasty breakfast, there are two hour & a half long dance sessions with your choice among several different classes for each session. After lunch there are two more sessions. Classes are available for every level of experience, plus there are classes especially for those who want to work on technique and those who just want to do social dances. There are also classes on highland and Scottish step dancing, a class for musicians, and this year they even had yoga. After dinner every night there is a social dance, followed most evenings by a theme party of some kind. There are some people who are up well into the wee hours every night. It is amazing how quickly the ears learn to shut out the sound of bagpipes at 7am, which seemed so impossible to sleep through on the first morning!

As you can see, it is pretty easy to exhaust yourself -- you can literally spend 9 hours a day dancing if you have the stamina. But one of the great things about Pinewoods is that you don't have to. If you need to take a break, you can always opt for swimming and sunning on the dock, relaxing on the camp house porch with a book, or just taking a nap.

If I had to name one thing that really makes Pinewoods special, though, it would be the music. No question about it. The musical staff are outstanding, and when you are at Pinewoods, you can almost always hear music from somewhere -- pianos, fiddles, accordians, whistles, and oh yes, bagpipes. There is music to wake you, live music for every dance class, people jamming for fun, someone practicing a tune they learned in class or just playing for the sheer joy of it.

I could go on and on (as if I haven't already). I'm obviously a Pinewoods addict. So, if you hang around me much, don't be surprised to hear me start yet another story about my summer vacation: "This one time, at dance camp . . ."

Posted by ldfs at August 10, 2005 3:06 PM