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Dance Musicians Week students serenade folks as they enter the Dining Hall for lunch.



Student learn to play together as a dance band.

In 2001, I received a message from Bob Dalsemer asking if I would join the instructor team for Dance Musicians Week at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Lifelong mentor, fiddler, caller and instructor extraordinaire David Kaynor had thrown my name out to Bob, the music and dance coordinator at the school at the time. At that point I was living in Western Massachusetts playing with David and the Greenfield Dance Band and had been devoting much of my time to being a touring singer songwriter. I had been in the contra dance scene picking tunes for about a decade. My musical influences were a woven patchwork of the folks that had surrounded me growing up in New York—Jay Unger, Lyn Hardy, Molly Mason, Sonny Ochs, Pete Seeger. Being born into a family of activists and labor organizers, community was most important and music was (and is) the vehicle and the glue that tied it all together. We were raised to believe that music and dance for music and dance’s sake is not enough. Community first.


A band of DMW students takes the stage for one of the nightly contra dances.

“Sing behind the plow!” is one of the great mottos of the John C. Campbell Folk School. Upon first look into the Folk School it seemed to be a kind of Brigadoon, a place stuck in time. Of course, I mean that in the best way. At that point in my life I was lamenting the waning of “community” in “community dance” and was excited to see a place nestled in the far west mountains of North Carolina, founded in the 1920s by the grandmother of the twentieth-century folk music revival, Olive Dame Campbell. Mrs. Campbell based the philosophy of the Folk School on the Danish tradition of folkenhojskolen which aims to foster culture and tradition through noncompetitive adult education—metalwork, quilting, woodwork, photography, cooking—happening alongside a rich tradition of music and dance, with folks from the surrounding Brasstown community invited to weekly concerts and dances and given special admittance into classes. I heard a student once comment “This place is like a kind of Whoville!” referencing the idealistic village from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is exemplified best by the very fact that each dance ends with a short goodnight song, sung with hands joined in a circle. The facilities are surrounded by hills, rivers, lush gardens, outdoor folky sculptures and paths through the woods. Best of all, the dancers are not contra “dancers”—they are mostly just folks from the community. Their gauge of a great experience is more based on who they got to see that night, not how slick the floor was or what tempo the band had played. I had found my place, or maybe the place found me!


Dance Musicians Week students play for dancers in the Music Studio.

This July will be my thirteenth and Dance Musicians Week’s twentieth (!) year. Since 1994 the staff has included Larry Unger, John Krumm, David Kaynor, Bob Pasquarello, Susan Conger, Sue Songer, Naomi Morse, Susie Secco, and myself among others. Over the course of the week, the instructors (two fiddlers, a picker and a piano player) corral up to thirty-plus students in large group activities (dancing, discussions, jams), small group coachings, and individual lessons. Every day ends with a contra dance, at the beginning played for by the instructors, and by the end of the week almost exclusively by the students. Students are assembled into bands where they prepare a set of music (or four!) to play for the boisterous evening dances. The joyous and refreshingly simpler feeling of the week is also fed by the very fact that very few class participants are “insiders” in the dance scene. Sometimes students come to the week never having danced, or only having played a few tunes on the porch. On the other hand, we’ve had stellar jazz or bluegrass pickers, professional classical players and many who could belt out an old gospel hymn. Sometimes they’re back for their tenth year; many levels of players support one another. Just like a CDSS week, this is THE great accomplishment.


Bob calls the dance, while Gretchen, a tenured Dance Musicians Week student, plays piano.

Ultimately what DMW does is tie together, in a neat little package, the marvelous culture of Brasstown, North Carolina. The Folk School and the week bring different ages, backgrounds and tastes together. I have seen hesitant men, women and couples there for quilting or Windsor Chair Making become lifelong contra dancers because of the evening dances. Craft instructors come back to take our class, and suddenly someone I knew as a master woodworker is a great bass player too! If all the world was like the Folk School, no one would hesitate to try something new, help a fellow friend, and respect the beauty that we create together. If all the dance world was like Dance Musicians Week, there would be more people dancing and playing this stuff!

There are many camp experiences that offer instruction, dancing and a wonderful time. Of course I love all of the dance weeks and weekends that I have been fortunate to be a part of. The Folk School is just a bit more special as it rekindles some of my formative and warm childhood memories. Being in the Hudson Valley in the 1970s I danced and sang for the love of family and community at a political function or a Sloop Clearwater meeting with Jay, Lyn, Pete, the Hudson River Sloop Singers, etc. Art, craft, music and dance for its own sake was useless unless it bound the community together. The John C. Campbell Folk School remembers what it’s all about. After twenty great years, David Kaynor, Sue Songer, Naomi Morse and I try our hardest to uphold the doctrine of Olive Dame Campbell at Dance Musicians Week. Come join us sometime!


We celebrate the 20th anniversary of Dance Musicians Week this summer. DMW is a fun-filled class devoted to learning and improving techniques of playing and arranging music for traditional contra, square, and couple dancing. It is a magical summer week where spontaneous dance bands serenade classes and Dining Hall porch lines. Extra evening dances make happy musicians and happy students. Peter Siegel originally wrote the wonderful article above for the Country Dance and Song Society News, Winter 2013-14. Register for Dance Musicians Week July 6-11.

DMW-PeterPeter Siegel is an award-winning singer songwriter and player of traditional tunes from around the world. He has recorded extensively, most recently on Pete Seeger’s Grammy award winning CD “Tomorrow’s Children.” His songs, tunes and musings have been published in various places over the years including Sing Out! magazine, and the Portland Collection. Most important to Peter, he’s currently a Vermonter, a music teacher and father of Zinnia and Case Siegel. Visit Peter’s website.




Calling all Dance Callers

by Annie Fain Barralon on April 1, 2014

in Featured Classes, Featured Teacher, Music! Dancing!

Former Dance Caller's Workshop student Leah Dolgoy calls a dance in the Community Room. Photo by Lee Depkin.

Leah Dolgoy, a former Dance Caller’s Workshop student, calls a dance in the Community Room. (Photo by Lee Depkin)

Have you already done some contra or square dance calling, are an experienced dancer and looking to take your skills to the next level?

Join not one, but TWO dance calling masters for a week of all day, hands on, calling experience and mentorship.

The Dance Callers Workshop (June 15-21) emphasizes program planning, teaching techniques, working with beginners and effectively using live music. Individualized instruction can also include various styles of traditional square dance calling. Two daily practice sessions with a group of real live dancers and nightly public dances ensure plenty of microphone time, particularly because the class is limited to 6 students.

Meet your instructors:

Caller-BobBob Dalsemer

Bob Dalsemer has been calling square, contra, and English country dances for more than 40 years. He has called throughout the U.S. and in Canada, England, Denmark, Belgium, Russia, and the Czech Republic. Bob’s original dance compositions are danced at contra dances throughout the country. He is the author of “West Virginia Square Dances” and has collected traditional square dances in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. In 2011, Bob received the Country Dance and Song Society’s Lifetime Contribution Award. Visit Bob’s website.

Caller-DianeSilverDiane Silver

Diane Silver has been a die-hard contra dancer, swing dancer, and kitchen flat-footer for over 10 years. As an instructor and a caller, she loves sharing high-energy dancing that allows everyone to “play” with the band. Highly acclaimed for her clear, efficient teaching, positive energy, and spirit of community building, Diane is great at breaking down moves and adapting to individual learning styles. Her motto: “I can’t believe this much fun is legal!” Visit Diane’s site.

On top of it all, your live music for the week are the renowned Folk School favorites, Steve Hickman & John Devine.  

Steve Hickman on fiddle and John Devine on guitar

Steve Hickman on fiddle and John Devine on guitar

They have performed as staff musicians for a number of Folk School music and dance programs over the years. Steve has toured with numerous bands singing and playing fiddle and harmonica for more than 25 years.  He is especially well-known for his basters of the art of “hambone” or body percussion.  John Devine specializes in contemporary folk songs as well as standards from the 1930s and 1940s.  Together, they play a wide variety of country, folk, bluegrass, Irish, swing and traditional old time music.

Register for the Dance Caller’s Workshop today.


Here are a few details of a Christening Gown handcrafted by heirloom certified seamstress, Connie Foley.




Phone The Craft Shop for more information or come by and see Connie’s exquisite work! 

You may even get to meet Connie too!


The Craft Shop Hours:

Mon., Tue., Wed., Fri., Sat. – 8am-5pm
Thu. – 8am-6pm
Sun. – 1-5pm
Phone for pricing and shipping info: 828-837-3899
Or, stop by, we’d love to see you!

Handcrafted Merchandise Arriving Daily
At John C. Campbell Folk School Craft Shop!

Bottom floor of the Olive Dame Campbell Dining Hall. Campus Map



Cory and fellow Tinsmithing student play music in the Community Room after Show and Tell

In the spring, the Berea College Bluegrass Band comes down from Kentucky to charm the Folk School Community with a Friday night concert and a jumpin’ Saturday night dance. I had the opportunity to have a good porch sit with Cory Shenk, a former Work/Study, Sticks in the Mud Dancer, and former man-about-Brasstown. Cory left Brasstown to pursue his undergraduate degree at Berea College. He is a member of the Berea Bluegrass Ensemble who will be playing at the Folk School April 4.

Laying on the hay in the Folk School field

CP: When were you a Work/Study?

CS: March 14 – May 15, 2010. I remember the date clearly because I recall being mesmerized by the St. Patrick’s Day Party at the Murphy L & N Train Depot. Dale’s imitation of a leprechaun trapped in a brown paper bag – I thought that was brilliant!

CP: What have you been up to since your W/S session?

CS:I am currently a student at Berea College. I have been there for three years pursuing my undergraduate degree. I’ve also done a bit of working and traveling. I went to Ireland and Japan with the Berea Bluegrass Band. For a while before I went to Berea, I was working with Meredith Dahle (former host) at Sugarboo Farms in Blairsville. That was great because I could still be involved at the Folk School.
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Leah and Aubrey Atwater play “Red Rocking Chair” on the Music Studio Porch.

CP: Welcome back to the Folk School. What’s it like to be back as a second-time host?

LD: It has been so incredible to be back in this community. It’s a bit like coming back to folk-craft-musical-dance wonderland. Some of the cast of characters has changed, but the heart of the matter is the same. 

Karen Mueller and Leah Dolgoy

Karen Mueller and Leah Dolgoy

CP: How is the Folk School different than your regular life?

LD: I think the best way to illustrate this is by telling you about what I’ve been up to between my last host term and my return to the Folk School. I finished my last host term in August 2011 and went back to school that September. Conventional school. Graduate school in Occupational Therapy. I remember the first day I went to get my ID card. I went to a computer and used a touch screen to print out a number. And then proceeded to wait in line for hours while cranky people all around me played on their iPhones. I remember thinking to myself, “when you register at the Folk School, a work study greets you, hands you a map, tells you how to find your housing through the woods, and directs you to the room with the freshly baked cookies.” Having just finished conventional school, it is so nice to return to a Danish Folk School model of learning. 

I arrived at the Folk School for my current host term on Christmas Day. I walked into Keith House, and was just struck by the comforting familiarity of everything around me. The smell of the wood, the creaky floors, the feeling of the Jr. host room at the top of the stairs. Then Winter Dance Week started. Suddenly I was in a literal embrace with all of these dear lovely folks I hadn’t seen in two years. I would run into friends in the contra dance line. I very quickly became re-acclimatized to the rhythm of how things are around here – morning song, ringing the bell, the exact time it takes to walk from any point on campus to the dining hall and not be late.

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