Dancing Folk

Dancing Folk is the campus's folk dancing group, most known for holding monthly contradances, but whose dances often include selections of square, hambo, polka, waltz, English country, and anything else the members want to experiment with. The group was founded in the 1997-1998 academic year by Ethan Plunkett '00 and Julia Goren '01, alongside their sister group and band, Rude Cider.

Of the Folk's approximate ten monthly dances, two are usually professional bands and callers and the remaining are played by Rude Cider and called by students. Two dances, one near Halloween and one near Valentine's, are themed dances with traditions. The Folk also coordinate trips to dances occuring in the area, most commonly in Greenfield with Wild Asparagus and other bands, North Adams with the Flying Garbanzos, or regional dance festivals like the Dance Flurry and New England Folk Festival.

The current contact person for the Folk is Maia McCormick, <email>mm11@williams.edu</email>. Contact her with any questions, or to be added to the dancing folk listserve, where dances will be publicized.

History in people

One can recount much of the history of the Folk just by going through the people who have lead it over the years.

Ethan Plunkett '00 founded Dancing Folk in his sophomore year. At the April 22, 1998 meeting of College Council, Ethan is on the record as requesting $195 for a dance May 8, though this was probably not the first dance. Ethan was the Folk's first caller, and was also the first person to pass on training and dances to the next generation. Among others, he wrote "The Witch Flew the Coop", the contradance of his most called after he left for its inclusion of the popular, but dangerous, swinging star figure.

Julia Goren '01 was a close help to Ethan if not co-founder with him, and was the first leader and founder of Rude Cider, a band formed in Spring 1998 so that there could be live music at the campus contradances the Folk put on.

Bill Sacks '03 was the second caller and leader of the Folk, taught by Ethan. His leadeship marked a shift in focus from coordinating travel to off-campus dances to a major increase in regular, well-attended, monthly campus dances. He led until his graduation (receiving major help with organization in his last year because his thesis was massive). Known for his excellent Abe Lincoln costume at the Halloween contra '01.

Nina Trautmann '03 took leadership of Rude Cider after Julia left, but was also was co-leader of the Folk with Bill, and his close friend. Known for proficiency with many instruments, especially strange percussion tools. Knowledged also in many strange forms of swinging, which she passed onto us.

Jonathan Landsman '05, taught to call by Bill, took leadership his junior and senior year. Focused on adding themes and traditions to dances, such as Valentine's and Ides of March, and worked with Matt to raise the difficulty of some dances. Known for elaborate ASCII pictures in all-campus emails.

Matthew Spencer '05 learned to call from Bill as well. Taught himself piano, just cuz he felt like it and knew it was needed, and became an active member of Rude Cider, leading it his senior year. Close friends and co-leader with Jonathan junior year. A contradancer since childhood at summer dance camp, Matt was one of the most experienced contradancers of the Folk, and a true Renaissance dancer through music, calling, and dance ability.

Molly Hawkins '08 learned to dance back home in Florida, learned to call from Jonathan in a Free University class during her freshman Winter Study. Came up to Jonathan in the first dance of her freshman year and asked if he could teach her to call. Thrust semi-unwillingly into a leadership position next year due to the great need and her undeniable fitness. Breaks her heart not to be able to dance all the time.


Sometimes from the vision of one person and sometimes from the organic history of the whole community, the Folk have had the pleasure to see a number of traditions develop to decorate their year of dances.

Halloween contradance

Usually the biggest dance of the year, and the one most adorned with traditions, the Halloween Contradance has been a special dance since at least 2000. Attendees wear and dance in costume. The hall is decked out for the season, recently with colored streamers and balloons, jack-o'-lanterns, gourds, and corn stalks.

The intermission of the Halloween Dance has always been special.

  • 2001, Bill Sacks '03 dropped fake paper money from the ceiling for dancers to scramble for, one of which was marked as a "winner", and traded in for a prize. Heather Brutz '02 performed a dance on stilts for the crowd.
  • 2003, Bill Sacks's old purple plastic sandbox was cleaned out after its long repose near the Forest Garden compost pile and filled with water for the first intermission bobbing for apples. This was followed by the first intermission mop the floor after bobbing so we don't break our necks.
  • 2004's intermission featured an elaborate contest, in which ten Odd Quadders competed against ten non-Odds (including some Odds who joined them to even things up) competed in three apple events.

Starting in 2002, the last dance of Halloween has been The Wizard's Walk, and by a tradition begun spontaneously by the dancers, the whole hall calls a part of it.

After the Halloween Dance, all dancers and friends are invited to sleep over at the Outing Club cabin, where the spend the night singing largely from the folky songbook Rise Up Singing.

Valentine's Day contradance

Scheduling made the February contradance arrive every year near Williams' Winter Carnival and Valentine's Day. The former was used in billing the February dance until 2003, when Jonathan decided to try his hand at adding a theme to a previously themeless dance. He chose Currier ballroom and enhanced that space's romantic ambiance with decorations. As a crowning touch, three dozen roses were saved as a surprise for the final waltz, and then placed in the teeth of the girl in each couple as they danced. This tradition continued for years after, though crappy funding from the Cosponsorship Fund required the substition of carnations in 2005.

Dance Flurry

Very close to the Valentine's Day dance, sometimes even the morning after, the Folk travel together to big folk dance festival in Saratoga Springs, the Dance Flurry. About a dozen Folk attend, and the club provides trasportation through college vans and private cars. Many years, the club has been able to stay the night(s) with friends at Skidmore, once in exchange for holding a (rather poorly attended) dance for their dance club.