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By Karen Bennett
[Written in August 2011. A slightly-different printed version was published in the October 2011 issue of the Ontario Folk Dancer.]
"Where's Stockton?" is the first question my Ontario folk dancer friends ask me when I tell them I'm going to Stockton Folk Dance Camp in California. Stockton is about 80 km. (50 miles) southeast of Sacramento, or about 133 km. (83 miles) northeast of San Francisco. It has no air service, so what most long-distance travellers do is fly into Sacramento (my choice) or San Francisco and go by ground (car, train, bus) from there.
The camp is held for two identical-program weeks on the generously-treed campus of the University of the Pacific. This year, the first week stretched from July 24 to 30 and the second week from July 31 to August 6. I arrived in camp on Saturday, July 30 in order to attend the first-week Balkan banquet and to greet friends who would not be staying on for second week. (For anyone wondering what I wore at the banquet: It was one of my Albanian costumes.)
The second question I'm usually asked by Ontarians is, "Isn't it terribly hot there?" No, because it's a dry heat in Stockton. It's a relief to get away from the weather in Toronto in July. Plus, all the facilities are air-conditioned. And my dormitory room looks out on the restful prospect of a California redwood. What's not to like?
The 2011 camp dance teachers were: (1) Roberto Bagnoli, teaching "What's Hot in Europe"; (2) Fusae Senzaki-Carroll (a long-time protegée of Atanas Kolarovski), teaching Macedonian dances as a last-second replacement for Paul Mulders, a Hollander who'd been denied entry to the States the day before camp started because he carried the wrong type of visa; (3) Erica Goldman (Israeli); (4) Bruce Hamilton (English); (5) Jerry Helt (Squares and Contras); (6) Jaap Leegwater (Bulgarian); (7) Richard Powers (Vintage and International Couples); and (8) Andy Taylor-Blenis (Portuguese). Leading the singing class was accordionist and singer Michael Lawson, a member of the band that played in the evenings and at lawn parties.
This year was my fourth time attending Stockton camp; 1993, 2009 and 2010 were my previous times. I admit, I'm fond of the state of California as an outside-of-Canada place to go for long folk-dance events. Over the years, I've gone several times to Santa Barbara camp (run by Tom Bozigian in the 1970s and '80s; I first saw Richard Powers teach there); to Mendocino for an all-French camp, with a band and dance teacher imported from France, in 1999; and to numerous shorter workshops, such as Kolo Festival in San Francisco. The 1993 Stockton camp was the last time I had the privilege of learning from Atanas Kolarovski.
To give an indication of what's on offer at Stockton, this was the schedule for Tuesday August 2: At 8 a.m. were two dance classes (there were three dance floors altogether), taught by Richard Powers in one room and Erica Goldman in another; at 9:05, Andy Taylor-Blenis, Fusae Senzaki-Carroll and Bruce Hamilton taught; from 10 to 10:25 was a coffee break when all dancers assembled to socialize; at 10:25, Fusae and Richard re-did, in different locations, the dances they had taught earlier, and Jaap Leegwater presented his dances of the day for the first time. At 11:30, there were four events running simultaneously: Erica re-teaching the dances she'd done earlier, Bruce doing the same, Jerry Helt teaching squares for experienced dancers, and Michael Lawson teaching singing (in a dormitory lounge).
At 1:30 p.m. on every day except Wednesday (which is an all-review day) and Saturday (when there's a long break before the talent show at 2 p.m.), a Culture Assembly is held, preceded by interesting/amusing videos assembled from various sources (previous camps, YouTube, etc.). One video was a collage of Stockton talent contests, with the highlight a Scottish strathspey done in bath costume (towels, bathrobes, shower caps, back-scratchers, etc.), accompanied by Marianne Taylor on the piano singing "Rubber Ducky, You're So Fine" in a screechy voice. (Marianne died in 2008, aged 78. I attended my first workshop by her in 1976 and have many fond memories of her. Andy Taylor-Blenis, her daughter, resembles her in many respects.)
I made a point to attend assemblies if I could. Andy's was excellent. She showed pictures and videos of her parents (her father was dancer Conny Taylor); of her childhood, which included yodelling sessions with members of the Von Trapp family (of The Sound of Music fame); and of Portuguese dance and costume. Over the week, dances that Andy taught that I originally learned from Marianne included Vira da Nazaré and Vira do Sitio. Andy also taught Malhao, which has been a staple in Ontario for many years.
We've reached 3 p.m. in the Tuesday schedule. Until 3:55, Roberto taught two dances while Bruce Hamilton imparted teacher training tips and tricks for English dance. At 4:05, a teacher from San Jose, California taught "classic dances," while a faculty teacher presented a "Dances for All Ages" class. Then it was time for supper, followed by "lawn party and picture night" at 6:30: live music by the band on the lawn in front of the dormitory; the teaching and leading of fun dances; and photos of the attendees, most dressed in spectacular ethnic costumes.
Tired yet? Better not be. At 7:30, there were three classes: Jaap re-teaching the dances he'd presented earlier, Andy doing the same, and Jerry teaching recreational squares and contras. At 8:40, everyone assembled in the main dance hall for "Old Favourites," played by the band, and at 9:10 came the party called "Once Over Lightly," which was a quick review by all the teachers of what they'd taught during the day mixed into general dancing (always including squares, a Stockton tradition). And for the truly masochistic, there was an after-party, which ran from about 11:10 until whenever in the morning (3 or 4 a.m. was common). The band played some sets at the after-party as well as "Once Over Lightly." The singing class could perform, with the band, what they'd learned that day (or perhaps dance songs they knew already, such as Moja Diridika). For anyone feeling peckish after 11 p.m., food and drink were sold by camp volunteers in one of the dormitory courtyards outside the after-party room.
"Was there nothing else to do?" I hear you ask. But of course. Other activities included rummage sales; two shops wherein to buy costumes, books, music and videos (one shop was run by Marge and Anna Gajicki and the other by John Filcich); the campus library in which to research dances and music or check e-mail; tea parties and wine and cheese receptions; auctions; a talent show; and special one-off dance sessions such as the Jean Brown Recreation Workshop, at which anyone could teach a dance as long as they'd signed up in advance. (I have yet to volunteer at the Jean Brown event. What I'd really like to do is an hour-long class in French and/or Kurdish dance. Albanian dances have been taught every year for at least the past three years, so they're not as rare at Stockton as French and Kurdish.) And this year, there were several events to mark the stepping-down of Bruce Mitchell after 25 years as camp director. (And in order not to exhaust my readers, I've truncated the list of things to do.)
On a typical day, upwards of 30 dances might be taught. Nobody can retain so many dances, and I don't even try. This year, I tended to go to Roberto and Andy's classes, and without fail to the singing class, at which I learned two or three new songs a day. I rely on the DVD of all the dances, which may be bought at the end of camp, to remind me of what I'd learned. The DVD also comes in handy if, at evening parties, I see dances I fancy by teachers whose classes I'd not made it to that day. For example, Richard Powers presented "a keeper" called the Tokyo Polka, a line dance done to adorable music.
I tended to go to Roberto's classes in part because he was teaching some Albanian (one of my passions), but this year the dance of his that conquered me at once was a faux-Greek island dance (choreographed by Maurits van Geel) entitled Syrtòs Kitrinou, done to a ravishing Greek-Gypsy song by Eleni Vitali (available on YouTube for the ravishment of all). In fact, so beautiful was Eleni's singing that I found it hard to pay attention to the dance! After a little experimentation on the side, I realized that the music could also be used to dance Rumelaj (of genuine Gypsy provenance), although a bit more slowly than we're used to.
The only other Canadian at camp in the second week was Heather Leepart from Saskatchewan, to whom I introduced myself by saying, "Hey there, Saskatoon; I'm Karen from Toronto." Dancers from British Columbia came in 2010, but in general, Ontarians are rare birds at this camp. Quebec, however, has contributed teachers and dancers aplenty. As might be expected, people from California, Washington state and Oregon predominate, but my dorm neighbours hailed from Wisconsin, and a large contingent from Brazil, Japan and Taiwan can be counted on every year.
Despite the "greying of folk dancing," there is always a respectable and welcome youth complement at Stockton: scholarship students mostly, but also young people who grew up coming to camp, plus a few children under 10.
In 2012, camp will be held July 22 to 28 (first week) and July 29 to August 4 (second week). Teachers will include George and Irina Arabagi (Ukrainian and Moldavian Couple Dances); Pampa Cortés (Argentine Tango); Sonia Dion and Christian Florescu (Romanian Line Dances); Jerry Helt (American Squares); Bata Marčetić (Serbian); Richard Schmidt (Polish); and Iwao Tamaoki (Japanese). Next year will also mark Stockton's 65th anniversary; it began in 1948 with almost exclusively couples dancing.
Bruce Mitchell urged all of us to bring a friend to next year's camp, but total costs for an Ontarian to attend really add up, and I doubt I possess any friends with several thousand in spare money whom I could persuade to come with me. Even so, allow me to provide the camp URL for registration and information purposes (including dance syllabi for every year the camp has been operating, and links to photos): www.folkdancecamp.org. I've already sent in my deposit for both first and second weeks (and have lined up a square-dance partner!) for 2012.
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