Portland Intown Contra Dance is really proud and happy to have been selected by the Maine Arts Commission for a project grant to help us expand the already awesome emerging caller and musician mentoring program we've been spear-heading for the past several months. Our buddies at the DownEast Friends of the Folk Arts are partnering with us to help this happen.

We’re feeling successful already and this infusion of funds will further support this important program. PICD is seeing an average of twenty new dancers every Thursday evening at our weekly dance, individuals who are quickly turning into regular dancers. Scores of experienced, yet latent, local dancers have re-entered the scene and feel enlivened by the local dance. Additionally, barrels of dancers from New Hampshire and Massachusetts are discovering the Maine scene, seeing Portland as a gateway to experiencing traditional dance in the state.

In this environment, ten student callers have already taken the stage and are currently under the tutelage of a Nationally-acclaimed caller, Dugan Murphy. Ongoing feedback from these individuals tells us that they’re feeling well-trained, confident, excited to be engaged in this art, and inspired to continue calling.

Another twenty-or-so callers have been trained in a classroom environment, gaining hands-on experience through peer-to-peer classroom teaching. 

Mentee Caller Jeannine Ameduri calls at PICD July 14, 2016. Photo by Dela Taylor.

Mentee Caller Jeannine Ameduri calls at PICD July 14, 2016. Photo by Dela Taylor.


Our next steps are to continue the work with caller mentees and expand the program to include emerging contra dance musicians, who will receive training in the last quarter of 2016 and take the stage as 2017 begins.

If you are not already familiar with the Maine Arts Commission, I encourage you to visit their website or contact the executive director of the agency, Julie Richard. They are a dynamic state agency supporting Maine arts and culture through their grants and services.

What difference does this program make? Traditional music and dance arts have been integral New England cultural practices since the late 17th century and we’re now glad to be passing on these practices to new, modern audiences. As our dancers know, contra dance is an intergenerational, cross-sectional social dance that enables just about anyone to connect to a loving, safe, enlivening community. People find confidence through dancing. They find friends who support them throughout their lives. They find safety, wellbeing and respect in a substance-free environment. And we pass a rich history on through the generations.

We couldn’t be happier. We extend a hearty thanks to everyone involved with PICD. You're a part of our mission to enrich lives and cultivate a vibrant community through dance. The traditions we love so much are spreading!

CDSS: Yes!

This series is supported in part by the Outreach Fund of the Country Dance & Song Society.

Saying that brings me warm memories of watching Mister Rogers and Sesame Street on PBS as a kid and hearing that the programming was made possible by a bunch of people... and (hey!) viewers like me. Me! Sitting on the carpet in front of the TV, chin on my palms and elbow perched on the floor, I was happy, and felt even then like I was part of something that people cared about.

We at PICD have been feeling just how much so many people are caring about Portland's community dance series. All of our volunteers, organizers, performers, idea-givers, car-pool opportunizers, and helpers of all other sorts have made this happen: our first dance on Thursday, June 16 was a mad success, bringing in about 125 dancers who beamed to the tunes of Audrey & Clayton and welcomed emerging callers Gretchen Carroll and Annabel Dryden to the stage.

Dancers swinging at the June 16, 2016 PICD dance. Dugan Murphy and Audrey & Clayton performing. Photo by Dela Taylor.

Dancers swinging at the June 16, 2016 PICD dance. Dugan Murphy and Audrey & Clayton performing. Photo by Dela Taylor.


And, yes, the wonderful thing is: it's not just us, our own community, who care about us - we're feeling the love from outside Portland, Maine, too. Just this month we were ecstatic to find out that the Country Dance & Song Society (CDSS) awarded PICD a start-up grant. They're a national organization invested in keeping dance, music, and song that is rooted in North American and English traditions vital and sustained in our culture. The grant they awarded us is about ensuring that PICD gets off to a strong start as one of the many hundreds of organizations bringing traditional art to life across the U.S.

PICD is a group affiliate of CDSS, which means that we are eligible for grant funding, we're able to get group discounts on insurance, we can hop-on to CDSS's non-profit status, and we have the chance to learn best practices in organizing alongside other dance groups from across the country.

But enough about us. Let's talk about *you* and CDSS. CDSS supports people like you who practice these traditions. They host events like skill-building camp weeks, provide resources, share information, give funds to organizations, give scholarships to individuals, and so much more. If you're interested in contra and and the wide, brilliant world beyond contra, CDSS can hook you into a glee-filled world where you're connected with leagues of others who care as deeply as you do. So check 'em out.

We'll be sharing resources from CDSS in the coming months. And, as PICD blooms, we're excited and proud to call CDSS our supporter. And we're proud that we're one of many, many linked groups bringing joy and connection to local communities.

Book 'em Doog-o.

Have you seen this schedule? It's your birthday every Thursday for the next year.

Folks, it's happening. I know, I know - it's soooooo exciting. (!!!) But, seriously - take a deep breath and peek at who PICD is putting on the roster through December. 

!!!, right?

Wait - what's that? You don't recognize some of the names? Well, that's cool. Let me tell you why:

Two important elements of our mission at PICD are to nurture emerging talent and contribute to the ongoing, vibrant, lived tradition of contra dance in Maine and New England. So, as we're booking talent, we have two ideas in mind:

1) We want to be a place where talent develops.

2) We want to be a place where exciting performances occur.

As we held our hand to our brow and took a wide view of the contra dance horizon in Maine, we realized more callers are needed for the coming decades. So, several months ago, Dugan Murphy and I hosted some Calling 101 classes in our home in Portland. Over twenty five interested folks from Maine and Massachusetts came to the really cozy bootcamps and walked away knowing the basics. Dugan is currently working with a handful of these new callers (including me!), providing the mentoring needed to blossom.

Now, in the Midwest, there's a really generous and lovely tradition of hosting open calling after dance weekends. This, I've learned from cutting my teeth at Jan Jam this past January, is the BEST environment in which to learn how to call. All of the dancers are experienced, they're all really comfortable with each other from dancing together all weekend, and they're tired as all get out. The pick-up band of experienced musicians is just as tired, and, hence, generous, too. New Midwestern callers can go to dance weekends every few weeks and practice, practice, practice.

In New England, we have no such opportunity.* The neatest thing New England has going is the Mad Robin Callers Collective in Vermont, which is a community of callers who host monthly dances and training opportunities for budding and experienced callers alike. You might have noticed that Vermont's more than a stone-throw away, so in Maine new callers have limited options. They can possibly be booked for small community dances, faraway dances, or house dances, but it means they're calling a whole evening without a mentor or a net, and with no appreciative feedback.

Image of Sassafras Stomp taken at PICD April 21.

Image of Sassafras Stomp taken at PICD April 21.


Enter PICD. We're going to be a space for these emerging Maine callers to perform and get the practice they need. We're really proud and happy to book them, and to give them the safe, loving environment that nourishes their growth. These callers will receive ongoing feedback and will have an experienced caller with them to help them learn in real-time. Our hope is that PICD's culture and willingness to be a resource will accelerate these performer's growth and they'll join the community of awesome, high quality callers we'll all appreciate for decades to come.

As for musicians, we're excited to be booking a cross-section of emerging bands (like Catastrophe and Chimney Swift), new collaborations (like Drive Train), and damn talented well-knowns (like Pete's Posse). This mix of talent will contribute to a lively, unexpected, and exciting series. And, as PICD grows, we hope to be able to provide mentoring opportunities for emerging musicians, as well. In fact, we've applied for a grant from the Maine Arts Commission to host a mentoring program and we've been walking around with crossed-toes and -fingers as we're waiting to hear. We'll keep you in the loop on that one.

So, resume your excitement, tape up your dance shoes, and get your ten-dollar-bills ready, folks. The enchantment - and the profound contribution you'll all make to the contra community here in Maine - starts June 16.


*For now: PICD plans to host a Midwestern-style dance weekend in the coming years, but that's another topic for another blog post... "Later," she said, rubbing her hands together and hoisting up her eyebrows absurdly in anticipation.

We PICD the Right One.

Submitted by Dela Taylor

The night of Thursday, April 21, 2016 hosted the best blind date in recorded history. 

One hundred and twenty three people filled the State Street Church in Portland to test the space for what we hoped would become a new weekly Portland Intown Contra Dance series.  The result?  Oh, man: love!

Image of April 21, 2016 Portland Intown Contra Dance by Naomi Marthai.

Image of April 21, 2016 Portland Intown Contra Dance by Naomi Marthai.


What happened that night?  Sassafras Stomp (including John Pranio) provided the music, Dugan Murphy called half of the evening and I called the other half, and one hundred and eighteen dancers made the space glow with happiness.  Our volunteers helped it all happen: Jonathan Freedner set up the hall and made it orderly; Jamie Oshima made the band sound great; Naomi Marthai took photos; Shea Murphy of Fat Sheamus Productions took video; and Jesse Vear, Lily Kapiloff, Nancy Kierstead, and Marie Duryea made everyone feel oh-so-welcome as they came in.  Many others contributed their thoughts and energy in anticipation of the dance, and we're grateful for how all of these contributions came together for an unforgettable evening.

Image of Dela Taylor and Sassafras Stomp (John Pranio, Johanna Davis & Adam Nordell) at the April 21, 2016 Portland Intown Contra Dance   by Naomi Marthai.

Image of Dela Taylor and Sassafras Stomp (John Pranio, Johanna Davis & Adam Nordell) at the April 21, 2016 Portland Intown Contra Dance by Naomi Marthai.


The crowd was a mix of regular dancers from Maine, new dancers, folks who had danced in the past and were coming back to contra because they heard of the event on Facebook or from friends, and people who came to town from out-of-state just to support this developing adventure.  A few people reminisced with us about the contra dances that used to happen in the same space years ago and were really excited about the prospect of a weekly dance.


What about the future?!  This series is headed toward the altar with State Street Church!  We're currently negotiating rent and working out the issues with the space to improve sound and temperature.  Should all go well, within a few weeks, we'll be booking weekly dances that will start this Summer.  (I know!  This Summer!!)

To stay in the loop on the progress of this dance - and be invited to the next one:  Sign up for the mailing list on this website or join our Facebook group.  To find our group on Facebook, simply search for "Portland Intown Contra Dance" and request membership.  We'll add ya in a jiffy.

Image of dancers at April 21, 2016 Portland Intown Contra Dance   by Naomi Marthai.

Image of dancers at April 21, 2016 Portland Intown Contra Dance by Naomi Marthai.


How can you get involved now?  David and Callie Chase, Cary and David Walker, Matteo Paris, Marie Duryea, Joyce Menges and Steve Raymond have all donated generously to help PICD establish itself.  Because of them, we have this awesome website for a year, a relationship with the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS), insurance for the year, and non-profit status.  Gratitude is oozing from our pores for these lovely people and their gifts.  Please help us thank them with mountains of hugs and high fives.

We still have costs associated with the series, like fans, name-tags, and other supplies, and we have a wild pipe-dream for a sound system we can leave in the space.  We welcome your tax-deductible donations, which will earn you oozing gratitude, mountains of hugs and high-fives, and lots of other recognition.  :)

PICD is also welcoming volunteers and serendipitous somethings.  If you have a contribution you'd like to make, like donations of buttons from your cousin's button factory, serving as Keeper of the Mailing List, volunteering at a single dance, or planning funky contra flash-mobs to promote the dance, for instance, just let us know.

I'm available at and Dugan, my partner in bliss, is at  Send us a line!

Midnight musings on money.

Submitted by Dela Taylor

Making this dance happen means lots of elbow grease and dimes.

It takes only marginally less time to complete a grant application for $500 than it does to complete a grant application for $5,000.  ...Or so I found out this evening at 11:44 p.m.

It's also soooo worth it.

PICD currently has two grant requests out for financial support:

- One, with the Maine Arts Commission, would support an awesome year-long mentoring program for emerging contra dance callers and musicians who want to hone their craft through experimentation, coaching, and live practice at once per month 'teaching dances.'

- Another, with the County Dance & Song Society, is much simpler: it would cover the cost of liability insurance for our first year of dancing.  (Any twisted ankles will be hurriedly taken care of by Widget Insurance Co. & Co.) 

We've still got pipe dreams: a high-quality, permanent sound system for the venue, air circulators, paying our talent really well...  And, well, we'll be chipping away at those goals over the next year.  We want this series to be well funded, sustainable, and stand-out awesome - no matter how many Pulitzer Prize winning novels we could have written in the time it takes to finish off these grants...  ;)

Do you have ideas about funding (or the winning combination of an angel's heart and deep pockets)?  Send me a note with a quarter taped to it at

Oh, Won't You be Our Neighbor?

Submitted by Dela Taylor

So, how does one go about creating a contra dance series?

Well, if you're Dugan Murphy, you research the heck out of contra dance and organizing approaches, you survey tons of dancers and organizers and performers, and you meditate on the idea for several years until you're absolutely sure you can commit.

If you're me, you start with the questions "Why?" and "How do we want to feel?"

And, if you're friends with awesome people in the Maine community, you ask them lots of questions and bank on their wisdom being the divining rod to success.


Each of these approaches has contributed to robust conversations and some hardcore planning in an effort to grow support for a weekly Portland Intown Contra Dance series.  What have we learned?

- That our community in Maine is really strong, really respectful, really genuine, and really, well, GOOD.  We're lucky, folks.

- That a Portland series could bolster the state community by strengthening musicians and callers through education, by offering an anchor dance for talent traveling from out of state, by hosting standing weekend carpools from intown Portland to dances in other parts of Maine, and by sharing our success stories as models for other series (just as we've learned from so many others!).

- That there is a lot of enthusiasm for a weekly dance series that not only provides the opportunity to dance more frequently, but also feels church-like.  What does that mean?  It means that more than simply hosting dances, we're investing in fostering a loving, joyful, supportive community of friends who meet inside and outside of the dance hall.  It also means that our dance is about honoring traditions and cultivating ways of being with each other that nourish the larger community.

- That dancers are yearning for a space where they can have more playful or uncommon contra experiences, like dress up parties, electro-contras, dancing outside or in quirky places, more couples dancing, more training on dance technique, etc.

- That folks want more places to learn or practice calling and hone their musical abilities on a routine basis.

- That everybody wants to feel safe, respected, and included at dances.  Period.

- That there is a great deal of imagination and generosity in our Maine contra community and a lot of resources and support for getting a series off the ground.


As this community forms in Portland, we want to be clear about our values and take into account how we can best contribute to all the great stuff we already have in Maine.  Here's a go at articulating this:

We're happy you're here.

Our contra dance is welcoming to all people.  

We create a safe and respectful space together, encouraging healthy self-expression and high quality communication.  

We cherish our local dance community and act in ways that nourish it.  

As members of the broader Maine and national contra dance communities, we honor our roles in preserving and evolving contra traditions.

And we have fun.  Lots and lots of fun.

Let's dance.


These words will likely change, but our hope is they give everybody an idea about what's brewing.

We invite you to join us for our second 'test dance' on Thursday, April 21.  We'll try out the hall at State Street Church (159 State Street) and, if all goes well, we'll have a weekly dance in the space starting this June 2016!  Sassafras Stomp will be performing and Dugan and I will split the calling for the evening.  Beginner's lesson at 7 p.m. and contra dancing from 7:30 p.m. 'til 10 p.m.  As always, all people welcome, and new dancers encouraged!

After, join us from 10 p.m. 'til close for snacks and drinks just down the street at LFK (188A State Street in Longfellow Square) to let us know how it went.  All ages, all people welcome!

And, if you have an idea to share or you want to be a part of building this series, send me a note at  Let me know what you're excited about.