So what i s Dance Camp? Before describing what Dance Camp East (DCE) is, lets say what it isn’t. It isn’t a festival, it isn’t a music and dance school, it isn’t a rave, it isn’t a life school, its all of these things and more, much more! DCE tries to do something quite challenging. Every year, it grows organically into a nurturing community in an empty wild-flower meadow on a farm in deepest Suffolk. The core ethos of DCE centres around a collective invitation to challenge yourself to be who want to be and to give yourself permission to try something new. Starting on the first evening, an unconditional offer of a shared meal is a first chance for new Campers to experience the community spirit that will unfold over the coming ten days. Then, during the opening meeting, a moving ceremony takes place. Two-hundred plus people sitting quietly together in a circle (with the forbearance of the many children present!) with Campers standing to offer what they will bring to camp, African dance, belly dancing, greenwood carving, sound bath, singing, drumming, ukulele, meditation, reiki massage, or simply just themselves and their intentions. The list of offerings is endless, and even after twenty-seven years, we can still be surprised by something new! Whilst there is much to do at DCE, camp is not totally activity driven. A contemplative walk or a chat with friends around the cooking fire is often all that many people need as a life reset and an antidote to the hurley burley of the rat race. As the community unfolds and becomes stronger during the week, Campers tend to spend more and more time in their camping circles, their adopted ‘family’ during the camp. In a technological age centred around the needs of the individual, building and being within a community can be challenging, and it is not unusual for Campers to experience mid-camp ‘blues’ which is why Wednesday’s Market Day provides a more relaxed pace so that everyone can collectively take stock and draw breathe before diving into the furious pace of the final fe days of camp.
So what of the camp location? On Paul’s family farm, grass-fed beef and thatching straw are mainstays of the business. The farm has enjoyed DEFRA high level stewardship (HLS) rating almost since the inception of the scheme in 2005. At the time when camp is held in late July, Paul and his family can be seen harvesting the wheat (an ancient English landrace or farmer selected variety, Squareheads Master) and manually stooking bundles in the field for the straw to dry in time-honoured fashion. Manually harvesting and stooking in this way has been found to still be the best way to preserve the straw and provide the highest quality for thatching. During camp, the blackthorn hedgerows, which groan with sloe-berries in the autumn, are alive with yellowhammers that sing their hearts out all through camp. In this place of bucolic bliss, DCE with a strong ethos around recycling, and particularly, its more interesting sisters, up-cycling and reuse, a walk around camp and the surrounding farm is of great interest to anyone considering or actually living more sustainably. For all amenities that are created, the intention is to work with nature and what there is available rather than creating from new. This intention has sparked some remarkable feats of engineering from Campers and from Robbie and other members of Paul’s farm staff, that any Bodger would be proud of! Take for example the derelict caravan that’s been refitted as a camp kitchen. Or the domestic radiator warming water over a fire to provide heating for an outdoor hot tub. Then there is a converted horse box remodelled as a sauna and the old pile of bricks and farm trailer turned into a mobile pizza oven. There is much to interest someone wanting to live off-grid. Looking more closely at the various contraptions, the first impression is that their construction is of the type that the famous British cartoonist, William Heath Robinson would have been proud! Examining the apparent muddle, however, reveals some ingenious solutions for a construction limited to recycled components. All the amenities are mobile and sit on wheels so that they can be moved around the field to reduce wear and tear on precious meadow-grass. The hot tub itself is a discarded bulk jam container that has had the top removed; ample to accommodate up to six people, but I’m told there have been larger numbers! The heat source is a small fire build on the trailer under a tented pair of domestic radiators lifted from a builder’s skip. Recycled agricultural drinking water pipes convey cold water from the tub to the radiators and warm water back into the tub by gravity. The sauna, however, is simplicity itself. A decaying horse box been repurposed by simply constructing a wooden cavity wall and filling it with sheep’s wool to provide insulation. The pizza oven is, like the sauna and hot tub, fully mobile. Built on a discarded farm trailer, recycled bricks are bound together with mud to provide an insulated cavity where a fire is set to heat the bricks. The resulting heat from the fire is enough to initially make pizzas and, when it cools further, bread and then cakes. Human waste disposal has not been left out of the equation. All the loos are composting, with containers rather than pits so that waste can be used on the farm. The designs are elegant. For Campers with mobility impairment, composting containers are buried under the floor of the cubicle, whilst in others, the cubicle is perched above the waste container which offers a fine view of camp whilst the occupant takes care of business! Campers are encouraged to use separate loos where urine is collected in huge containers, known euphemistically as ‘pee palaces’. Both types of waste are used on Paul’s farm to fertilise the fields.
DCE eschews the convenience of modern day living so that Campers are able to re-focus their thinking on developing a community. Circle life and the ethos of voluntary giving and acceptance can be challenging, but very rewarding and Campers often talk about the feeling of peace that they take away from camp. Organisers of the camp, who voluntarily give up their spare time, devote great energy in building a camp whose ethos is aimed at helping to changing people’s minds and behaviours around community, the use of resources and recycling. In our modern world, many people who would live more sustainable lives are often overwhelmed by the problems that Humanity faces. However, DCE shows Campers that if we work together we can change minds in communities and, with the resulting local behavioural change, we can together influence choices made by others in the wider world.
Dance Camp East: https://dancecampeast.wixsite.com/dancecampeast
Dance Camp is a joyful and very rewarding experience. And this year you can learn how to make wooden spoons!