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We are a creative collective of individuals who love to dance, as well as a consortium of cooperatively run, not-for-profit, freestyle barefoot dances in the New England area.

Feeding & Being Fed by Dance New England

05/08/20

In its most basic definition, to feed means to provide a supply of something for a person, organization, or machine. We generally think of this in terms of actual food, and I have both supplied and been supplied with a wide array of comestibles; but I have also given and received nourishment from Dance New England (DNE) in so many other ways. This post is an attempt to share with you a very brief history of how I, personally, have fed and been fed by DNE over the last thirty years.

The food at DNE’s Dance Camp has been a hot topic since my very first camp. Some people loved every meal while others complained bitterly about the lack of varied protein in the vegetarian-only menu. Personally, I liked it well enough, although my first few years it seemed as if every meal was primarily lentils. But the main thing it had going for me was that someone else was making it and, other than my chore shifts, I got to just show up at meal times, fill a plate with good-enough and sometimes delicious food, and not plan a menu, shop, cook, or clean up the dirty dishes.

What an amazing break from what I did a lot of at home, as mom to two small children. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook and am quite skilled at it. But at that time I saw Dance Camp as a break from all the mom duties (the kids stayed home with their dad) and everything that went along with home routines. Heaven!

In those early years, as well as consuming those legume laden meals, DNE fed my mind and my spirit in so many new ways. Those first few camps were a bizarre mix of culture shock and homecoming.

Like so many, growing up I had never quite fit in with the crowd, and when I got to DNE it felt like I had found my tribe — but it took me a couple of years to really get the lay of the land. I loved the cool, hippie-like vibe, the flowy clothes and the naked waterfront but I wasn’t sure about how to navigate the sexual/sensual energy on and off the dance floor. I loved the variety of classes and other activities but had trouble shaking the feeling that I had chosen the wrong place to be, and was missing something better happening somewhere else in camp. Now we have a convenient acronym for that: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and I had it bad in the beginning!

But most importantly, I had experiences and made connections with people that completely changed my life. Breathwork class blew my mind and led me to becoming a certified Breathwork Instructor. An Egalitarian Partnering dance class taught me how to truly dance with another person. Playing with Passion helped me figure out how to navigate that sexual/sensual tension that had confounded me at first. And many of the people I met in Family Groups, classes, and just hanging at the waterfront or talking with in the late-night vortex of the dining hall in those first years became my closest circle of friends, and remain so until this day.

By my fourth year I knew it was time to give something back so I decided to help with camp set-up. In those days the set-up crew was small and the work was intense. Meals were mostly eaten out in the area’s small restaurants or were pizza brought in. A few folks brought produce from their gardens or small loads of groceries and made impromptu meals for themselves. Nothing was coordinated but we all needed to eat. Somewhere along the way I volunteered to organize and prepare the food for set-up, and I did that job for the next couple of decades!

Like many things in DNE, cooking for set-up evolved over the years. The set-up crew went from about 25 people to well over 100. The fare went from whatever I could make out of last year’s leftover non-perishables (one year I made mac and “cheese” out of last year’s dried pasta, pureed potatoes, and nutritional yeast!) to having a budget, pre-planning a menu, and ordering food that included freshly delivered produce and dairy, as well as overseeing a small team of helpers. It was a big job and I loved it, even in the times when there were incredible challenges.

Some years deliveries were late and there wasn’t enough food. Other years timely access to the kitchen wasn’t provided to prepare the first meal. One year I had to cook for 150 DNE folks while Robin Hood’s full kitchen staff was preparing food for a football camp happening during our set-up. And then there was the year someone donated two huge cans of tuna so I prepared a big bowl of tuna salad as part of a lunch during set-up. Many joyfully scarfed down that salad in record time but a few were vocally upset about “DNE-sanctioned, non-vegetarian food,” and it launched what some of us refer to as “the tuna wars of the late ’90s.”

Feeding up to 150 people during set-up became a much more complex task as the acceptable diet of the DNE community became much more diverse. Somewhere along the way we decided to offer vegan and wheat-free options at every meal, as well as providing refrigerators for personal food storage for those who needed animal protein or other special food not offered by the DNE kitchen. Every year I fielded requests for garlic-free or nightshade-free options as well as complaints about too much or not enough seasoning.

Special requests and various complaints intensified after I vacated the kitchen as the camp attendee numbers swelled, sometimes up to 500 people in our years at Camp Robin Hood. People wanted more dessert! Less dessert! More snacks! Fewer snacks! More food availability! Less food availability!

I, personally, bow down in gratitude to the brave and talented people who have headed our camp kitchens and fed me so well over the three decades that I have attended camp. It’s not a job for fainthearted folk! But even with all the challenges, the opportunity to provide nourishing and delicious food for community members who were working hard to make camp happen always felt like a joy and a privilege to me.

Just as feeding the set-up crew for all those years ended up feeding me in so many ways, every time I took the opportunity to teach a class, lead a women’s circle, co-lead a visioning weekend, serve on a committee, or give in any of the other various ways that I’ve contributed to DNE as a whole, I have always received nourishment from the giving. Over the years, I have been fed by DNE in so many ways it’s impossible to enumerate but I’ll conclude by naming a few more specific highlights, in no particular order:

  • Being encouraged and met with loving acceptance when I performed at the Festival for the first time.
  • A women’s circle where we lined up by age and I landed next to the woman who would become my best friend.
  • Chocolate cherry bread so delicious I kissed the feet of Brian the baker who, sadly, got sick and had to leave camp after just 4 days of baking for us.
  • Recognizing my own inner Goddess during a synchronized naked dive with 8 other women into the lake at Omni.
  • Fresh-baked bread every day!
  • A healing circle held for me during my fight with cancer, so powerful I survived and am now considered “cured.”
  • Lying on gym mats in the grass field at Camp Mataponi watching the northern lights with a new camp romance who would become my beloved husband.
  • A Biodanza class with almost 200 people dancing ecstatically in the field at Camp Robin Hood
  • Looking out over the dance floor and seeing people I’ve been dancing with for decades, and knowing that I belong.

Penny Field