RSU 20 receives $5,000 grant for contra dance programs

Feb 11, 2013
RSU 20 students dance down the hall.

Belfast — Students in RSU 20 are kicking up their heels, thanks in part to funding from the Maine Community Foundation. The school district received a $5,000 grant from the Expansion Arts Fund of the Maine Community Foundation to support contra dance residencies in all nine of the district’s elementary schools this school year. Linda Hartkopf, school health coordinator for RSU 20, submitted the grant last fall.

Chrissy Fowler, a traditional dance leader and an experienced educator from Belfast, is teaching the PreK-Grade 5 students and their teachers the basics of contra dancing, from the refined social skills of inviting and accepting partners to the cognitive ability to follow the repeating patterns and rhythm of the figures. During each residency, older grades are paired with younger ones, enhancing the dancing for all.

Tapping into her teaching background, Fowler shares her love of traditional dance with students and staff. She explained, “It is a rare and wonderful thing to have music, physical exertion and cooperative participation embedded in a single inter-generational social activity. The joy is palpable.”

And at times it’s even a bit emotional. When the students beautifully accomplish the figures of an elegant dance, Fowler confided, “A first-grade teacher and I actually get teary-eyed – every single time!”

Each school residency concludes with a community contra dance for the school’s students and staff, as well as their families and friends. The Belfast Bay Fiddlers, a large and diverse local group of traditional musicians, provide live music for these school dances. Two district-wide community dances, planned for later this spring, will welcome families from all nine elementary schools.

The contra dance program in RSU 20 is also supported by the parent-teacher organizations at each school, with additional support and funding from the Country Dance and Song Society (a national arts organization – cdss.org), DownEast Friends of the Folk Arts (a statewide traditional music & dance organization – deffa.org), the Belfast Bay Fiddlers (local traditional musicians – belfastbayfiddlers.org), Belfast Flying Shoes (a local dance series – belfastflyingshoes.org), and a private foundation.

A statewide organization with offices in Ellsworth and Portland, the Maine Community Foundation partners with donors and nonprofits to strengthen Maine communities. For more information, visit www.mainecf.org or call 877-700-6800.

The Belfast Flying Shoes Dance Series, an affiliate of the Country Dance and Song Society, sponsors a community dance and contra dance on the first Friday of each month at the American Legion in Belfast. For more information, visit www.belfastflyingshoes.org or www.cdss.org or call 338-0979.

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