Prescott Memorial School students have been enjoying a residency this year in traditional New England social dance, or contra dancing. They have learned the basic figures of traditional social dancing, both historic and modern. It also has allowed students to connect with each other and with music/rhythm through dancing.

This has been funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Belfast Flying Shoes outreach fund. Chrissy Fowler, a member of the Belfast Flying Shoes dance community, is the dancer in residence, and she has completed two of three sessions with all kindergarten through sixth grade students. Fowler also provides professional development opportunities for the staff so they may integrate contra dancing into their classroom routines.

The fall and winter sessions have had Fowler working with combined classes each week for four consecutive weeks. At the conclusion of each residency, Prescott Memorial has hosted a community contra dance featuring live music where all attendees dance together, which allows the residency to reach beyond the school itself.

The two community dances have been highly successful, with parents and community members participating and those who initially observed from the audience joining in, so that before the evening had ended, everyone was on the dance floor. Fowler will be back in May for one last residency, culminating with a schoolwide contra dance in June.

One of the highlights of this residency has been watching how (through Fowler's magical techniques) the students and staff are able to abandon their inhibitions and feel comfortable trying something new. It has been amazing to observe students who struggle with peer relationships walk up to someone from another grade and ask if they could be their partner.

It’s also heartwarming to see how well the older and younger students work together. They help each other learn the dance steps with patience and kindness, laughing and smiling all the way. The students have learned to appreciate the music and movement of traditional New England dance and value its importance to social skills, community building and having a culture of inclusivity.

Prescott staff and students are very grateful to the Maine Arts Commission and Belfast Flying Shoes for providing this wonderful opportunity. Many thanks to Chrissy Fowler for her expert dancing and calling techniques and to Prescott staff member Patty Crawford for writing this grant for the school.

Nancy Stove is principal of Prescott Memorial School in Washington.