The Tamarack Dance Association of Duluth has been encouraging residents and visitors to put on their dancing shoes and shake off the winter cobwebs at their folk-dance gatherings for over 30 years. With a welcome and inclusive ambiance, the grassroots organization arranges dances that are taught by a caller and include contras, reels, circles, jigs and squares.
Duluth resident and folk-dance enthusiast Terrence Smith is one of the founding members of the organization.
“Right around 1979 we started doing dances. I met my friend who plays the fiddle,” he explains. “We started doing regular family dances and community dances at a variety of halls by 1984, taking breaks in the summer.”
As the years passed, the group began to consider the benefits and possibilities that would be afforded to them if they incorporated. After being granted 501(c)3 status, they were able to apply for funding from different sources, one being the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. These grants have helped with the costs of hosting regional artists and callers, as well as supporting the group’s inclusivity initiative.
“We want our events to be a chance for all to gather together,” says Smith. “Simplicity and accessibility are very important to us. Having a sliding fee for admission to our dances for adults and families supports that goal.”
The association has a very close relationship with the Duluth Folk School and hosts its regular monthly dances there. The Folk School, which was founded in 2016, is focused on building community through providing a space to learn traditional and interesting crafts and skills. Through hosting music and parties like the Tamarack Dance Association third Saturday dances, they are increasing the unique opportunities for fun in the Twin Ports.
The monthly dances are immediately preceded by a two-hour old-time jam session with community musicians. Fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer and bass players are encouraged to bring their respective instruments and learn new tunes. Those who aren’t as musically inclined are still invited to join the fun; simply listening and dancing along are also welcome.
The organization is run by a working board of nine dedicated individuals. These board members come from a variety of backgrounds and includes a mix of dancers who attend regularly and people who play in the band and callers. Beyond the monthly dances at the Duluth Folk School, the Tamarack Dance Association leaders also help organize two larger events during the course of the year: Barn Dance in July and Woolsock in late December. These weekend-long events bring people together from throughout the region to share meals, learn at cooperative workshops, and of course, dance.
As is the case with many grassroots organizations, creating connections and bringing together like-minded people is a cornerstone of their ‘why.’
“We are sister cities with Thunder Bay and are just getting ready to have their folks play for our dance. Musicians from Upper Michigan, southern Wisconsin, and the Twin Cities also come to play. It’s really nice to have that cross-fertilization with other organizations and places,” says Smith. “For the families that come, it’s a chance to have that cultural connection to the community through participatory dancing. It’s hard to beat that.”
The Tamarack Dance Association is still finding its footing with all of the changes brought about by the pandemic. Prior to 2020, they would usually have a membership of 40-50 people. Smith sees potential for the organization’s growth and development as the situation with the pandemic evolves. In addition to reconsidering the membership structure, the leadership team is hoping to continue to expand the number of opportunities for dancers.
“We are trying to make that first Saturday a more specialized one for workshops and learning, followed by a dance specifically for families, one for the entire community, and lastly, a relaxed, houseparty-type atmosphere,” he explains. “No matter what, we aim to be accessible to all ages and abilities.”
For the full updated schedule of events, he encourages readers to check out the organization’s website and Facebook page.