Newtown resident Patricia Campbell is organizing a special event, “All Hands In: A Celebration of Community through Traditional Song and Dance,” to take place Friday, March 22, at HealingNewtown Arts Center. It is Mrs Campbell’s hope that she will be able to help fellow Newtown residents continue in their healing following 12/14.
“I purposely waited before putting together this event,” said Mrs Campbell, who does dance calling with The Reel Thing. “After 12/14, I was trying to figure out how I could help in any way. My gifts are traditional dance and song. I know how healing and therapeutic these can be, as well as fun.
“I didn’t want to do anything right away,” said Mrs Campbell. “I wanted to give everyone some time. There was also a zillion things already happening.”
Once she began organizing her thoughts, however, putting together a family friendly event combining music and dance “was a no-brainer,” she said. Patricia Campbell & The Reel Thing have done programs over the years for birthday and anniversary parties, neighborhood block parties, children’s and family events, even a Colonial-themed wedding reception. They provide music and calling for family dances, barn dances, and intergenerational dances, as well as educational programs.
Mrs Campbell and the band use live music and traditional social dances including contra, English country dance, folk dances, and Colonial/18th Century dance to teach social studies, language arts, geography, physical education, and cultural diversity. Their workshops and programs are available for schools, libraries, historical societies, cultural and civic organizations, and private groups.
“All Hands In” will run from 6 to 10 pm and will include a number of segments. There will be a family dance beginning at 6, a song circle to feature sea chanteys and other chorus songs led by The Johnson Girls (“a four-part female, a cappella sea chantey quartet who are very popular here and in England,” said Mrs Campbell), and then a community dance for the latter part of the evening.
Everything will be participatory. The dancing will be a mixture of traditional country dances including circle, square, and longways (“Think Virginia Reel,” says Mrs Campbell).
Traditional dances, she says, “can be done by anyone coming in off the street.”
All of the dances during “All Hands In” will be led by callers. A caller does a walk-through for each dance, and then continues to prompt dancers through the music once it starts. As Mrs Campbell points out on her website (CountryDanceCaller.com), in an age of increasing isolation and solitary activities, traditional dance continues to bring people together the way it has done for generations.
“This is all about people holding hands in dance with friends and neighbors and new friends,” Mrs Campbell said last week. The Reel Thing — Bill Campbell (guitar and bass guitar), Fran Hendrickson (keyboard and accordion), Julie Sorcek (flute and saxophone), and Sue Hill (fiddle) — will be the core band for the evening. Special guests are expected.
“This is all about dancing together, with other people, in a safe, fun, easy way,” Ms Campbell added. “It’s the opposite of creative solo dance.”
Tod Whittemore has agreed to help Mrs Campbell call dances on March 22.
“He has fantastic energy, and he is funny,” Mrs Campbell said of Mr Whittemore. “He is a great caller. He has said he never knows what is going to come out of his mouth.”
Mrs Campbell was at The 26th Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend about six weeks ago. The three-day event celebrates the best of traditional and contemporary New England contradance and music. It is held at the University of New Hampshire, and offers workshops and events for musicians, callers and dancers. Mr Whittemore was one of the guest callers for that weekend, and Mrs Campbell couldn’t help but smile when she recently recalled the weekend.
“I found myself laughing so hard my face hurt,” she said. “I thought, because of his energy and sense of humor, he was the perfect person to ask to join us for All Hands In.
“Dancing really makes you forget things for a while,” she continued. “You have to put everything else aside for a few hours and just focus on dancing.
“You may pick up your worries again at the end of the night, but they’re probably going to feel lighter,” she said.
Mrs Campbell, a member of The Country Dance & Song Society, has been given a grant by CDSS to help cover the costs of All Hands In. She plans to use part of the grant to reimburse some of the performers for their travel expenses.
“Everyone that I’ve asked is donating their time, energy, and talent,” she said. “It’s the least I can do, to offer to at lease cover some of their travel costs.”
Refreshments will be provided by New Morning Country Store of Woodbury.
The event will be free, but there will be two donation baskets set out. Attendees can choose to offer donations to HealingNewtown and/or The Newtown Lions Club Foundation. The Newtown Lions Club Foundation has partnered with Connecticut Counseling Association to provide counseling services to the families, first responders, and others in the community affected by 12/14.
“The first responders, I was thinking about them before I even found the space to present this program,” said Mrs Campbell. She had considered holding the community dance in Booth Library’s lower meeting room and then thought about Edmond Town Hall’s gymnasium before receiving an invitation from HealingNewtown Chair Jennifer Johnston to use the recently renovated space on Queen Street.
“Now that HealingNewtown is offering so much, to me and the community, I want to give back to them as well,” Mrs Campbell said.
Registration is requested and can be done through HealingNewtown.org.