Back in the spring of 1993, the relatively new Juneau contra dance scene was going strong with five dances a month, September to May. Still, it was not enough for a group of local avid contra dancers and folk musicians who were looking for a way to continue the dance and music fun into the summer. They decided to start a weekend-long camp devoted to nonstop dance and music, one that featured musicians and callers from out-of-town, similar to the camps held by other contra dance communities around the country. That August the first Camp DAMP was held at Argetsinger Methodist Camp at Eagle River. Twenty years later it is still an annual summer event with up to 65-75 participants each year. Many of the original organizers remain regulars.
“When we were planning it, someone jokingly suggested we call it Camp DAMP because it rhymed and was an ironic comment on what kind of weather we were likely to have in Southeast Alaska,” said Tom Paul, one of the original organizers. “At first we were worried the name might discourage people from coming. But then we realized DAMP was an acronym for Dance And Music Party, which exactly described our relaxed, informal vision for the weekend, so it stuck.”
Over the years, top contra and square dance callers and musicians from around the country have performed at the camp. This year, on Aug. 3-5, the 20th annual Camp DAMP will feature The Retrospectacles. a band of musicians about the same age as the camp itself.
The Retrospectacles are made up of fiddlers Josie Sokoloff-Toney and Andrew Foster, bass player Ethan Jodziewicz, and pianist Scotty Leach. The hot young musicians have quite a following in the Pacific Northwest and have played at venues from Portland to Seattle. Some of their fans are planning to attend the Juneau camp. Gordy Euler from Portland, a former caller at the Alaska Folk Festival, is the guest caller.
Euler and the Retrospectacles will be featured in dances on Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, as well as during two contra dance workshops on Saturday focusing on unusual formations and more challenging dances.
The camp officially starts with a barbecued salmon dinner Friday evening followed by contra dancing that often goes past midnight. Some campers come Friday morning to help bake homemade bread for the weekend. Saturday morning and afternoon have various dance and music workshop sessions and another long night of couple and contra dancing. Sunday morning traditionally starts with an English Country dance and two more dances follow before camp breaks up mid Sunday afternoon.
The attraction of a weekend camp, according to past participants, is that musicians and dancers can hang out together between dances, expand the friendships they make on the dance floor, trade tunes or try out new dances, and have the opportunity for spontaneous moments of dance and music. The weekend format is well-suited to contra dancing, highlighting its community-oriented nature; over the course of an evening dancers eventually get to dance with everyone in the hall.
Unlike most dance and music camps throughout the country, Camp DAMP campers share the cooking led by meal captains rather than hire a caterer. this helps keep costs down and extends the socializing into the kitchen before and after meals. In past years spontaneous song sessions have started in the kitchen with campers serenading the cooks and dishwashers. One year a rhythm and drum exercise inspired a conga line, which snaked through the kitchen picking up members until it morphed into an unplanned folk dance lesson in the main hall.
In addition to contra dancing, this year’s camp will have a waltz workshop and a swing dance workshop. Singers also have a song circle on Saturday. The session leans heavily to folk song but often includes Broadway show tunes and pop songs.
The cost for the entire weekend including six meals, two nights in cabins (or tent camping), and 12 dance sessions and workshops is $110 for adults, $85 for young adults 19-25, $50 for kids 7-18, and $10 for 2-6. (Kids are welcome but the camp has no activities for them.)
Space is still available for full time campers, especially men. Those that can’t make a whole weekend can come for any part of it, and pay a reduced fee.
For more information or to register for the camp, call 463-3214.