I started writing a column called “Cracking Chestnuts” after an exciting gathering in Syracuse, NY in March of 2004, when a group of interested callers spent a day together looking at some favorite contra chestnuts. The column ran in the CDSS News, newsletter of the Country Dance and Song Society. It first appeared in the July/August 2004 issue with a look at the dance Devil’s Dream, and ended with an article about Chorus Jig in the May/June 2007 issue. Here is part of what I wrote to introduce the column:
We live in a time of great choreographic creativity. Many talented authors are creating a near constant stream of new and interesting dance sequences. However, while many of these dances are just wonderful, I am increasingly convinced of the value of much of our older repertoire as well. Chestnuts add variety and interest to a dance program, and also seem particularly well suited to promoting satisfying and excellent dancing.
The column was my attempt to take a fresh look at some of my favorite old dances. The content was meant to be more accessible than scholarly. I tried to present each dance in a way that told the reader something about its character, and sensitized readers to details about dance that were important to me. I also tried to have a bit of fun as I wrote.
In 2008, CDSS published a compilation of the columns: Cracking Chestnuts: The Living Tradition of American Contra Dances. As well as all the columns, which have been polished a bit for publication, the book includes additional pieces from David Millstone, appropriate tunes for all the dances, and an appendix of twenty more chestnuts. Go to the CDSS Store for ordering information.
On March 14, 2009, I held a book release party and dance. As part of that David Millstone and I created a special Money Musk Moment that turned out to be international in its scope. The following year March became a Money Musk Month. Since then we’ve been delighted to see many young dancers become excited about dancing the Money Musk.
In 2013, David Millstone and I put together a set of video examples to illustrate all the dances in the book, now available for your viewing pleasure, thanks to generous support for the project by CDSS.