A couple hundred dancers, musicians and artists gathered at the Claggett Center on Friday, where they will dance, sing and learn until it is time to ring in the new year.
The retreat, the Terpsichore Dance Holiday, is celebrating its 24th anniversary this year and its third year at the Claggett Center in Adamstown, said program director Seth Tepfer.
The holiday offers attendees a chance to connect by taking classes in different kinds of dance, music or storytelling. Each dance class is held to live music from musicians who come from as far as Canada.
“What’s really important about this camp is the community, that is [why] we’re together with people who like to sing, to make music, to dance,” Tepfer said.
The week of classes and activities culminates with the New Year’s celebration, in which the attendees stand in concentric circles and sing harmonies in the round.
Bob Mathis, who was one of the co-founders of Terpsichore, said that the idea behind singing is that everybody gets to do it in unity.
“We’ve always sung on New Year’s, it’s quite beautiful,” Mathis said.
It’s a different celebration from the typical New Year’s, which often includes alcohol. While Tepfer and Mathis admit that some people might bring wine to the celebration, they both said that alcohol is not at all the focus of the event.
“It’s kind of an alternative to mainstream America,” Mathis said. “It’s very healthy, in my opinion. It’s not for everybody.”
The camp is sponsored by the Lloyd Shaw Foundation, named after the man who helped bring square-dancing into schools in the mid-20th century.
When Mathis and his co-founders were creating the camp, they wanted to make sure that it was family-friendly. Many people come with their children, who then continue to attend every year well into their own adulthoods.
Tepfer said that this year, the camp has registered children ages 1 to 18. Each age group has different classes, but there are also plenty of classes that are completely intergenerational.
Tepfer brings his two sons every year, who are now 11 and 14.
“My boys are seeing their peer group and the next age up peer group doing the dances, doing the performances, being on staff,” he said. “So they can see that this is something they can be doing, and there are other ways of growing up as a teenager, rather than just video games and all the normal teenage angst.”
People come from all over to attend the dance camp, as far as California. Tepfer himself is from Atlanta and drives over 600 miles to help run the camp.
Claire Orner is from a rural community in northwestern Pennsylvania and looks forward to the camp every year. She teaches the youngest children’s classes, educating them on dance, music and the outdoors. Her two sons, who are now 18 and 21, have been attending the camp with her and her husband for the last 10 years.
She initially heard that the camp had an opportunity for contra dancing and knew she wanted to go, since she and her family hold their own contra dancing event in Pennsylvania every year. Contra dancing is a kind of community dancing in which couples move in lines and frequently change partners with one another.
“The beauty of contra is it’s so intergenerational,” Orner said. “You learn some basic skills, the young are dancing with us older folks.”
Shelby Winkler actually met her husband contra dancing. The two have been coming to the camp for 23 years.
“It’s become a community, so even if you’re a new family or a new person, people come with families on their own, all ages, they find community here,” Winkler said. “And I think that’s what makes people decide to return.”
In addition to contra dancing, the camp has plenty of opportunities for other types of community dancing. Tepfer said that there is something very validating about the activity, which is often dictated by a “caller” who tells the dancers their next movement.
“We’re all doing the same movements together. People are making mistakes but they’re just moving on,” Tepfer said. “And just holding hands with people, there’s something very validating about the entire experience of community dancing, about holding hands that touch that’s so missing in today’s virtual world.”