Door County Folk Festival
Get Your Foot In The Door!
Sister Bay, Ephraim & Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
Tel: (847)-846-8139, (773)-634-9381 -

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Blueprint for a Great Summer Dance Event - 2000-2001
by Sanna Longden - Evanston, IL


Paul Collins - Chicago, IL

One of the most exciting and well attended of the Midwest summer folk dance events is the Door County Folk Festival.  It combines the best of all possibilities in our ethnic dance world: camping and comfortable motels, early- and late-evening parties, live music and good quality recorded music, singing and instrumental classes, leader discussion forums, activities for families and children, stress relief massages, communal dinners, and workshops in a variety of ethnic and traditional dance forms.  Many participants bring their non-dancing spouses and/or children because there are plenty of other things for them to do.

The Festival takes place in Sister Bay and Ephraim, Wisconsin, two lovely little towns on the Door Peninsula, Wisconsin's "thumb" between the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.  It begins on Thursday following July 4th and continues through Sunday. Gerhard Bernhard (of Sister Bay), a musician, folk dancer, and entrepreneur, founded the DCFF in 1980.  Paul Collins (of Chicago), a facilitator/consultant who helps organizations deploy collaborative processes and a well-known Chicago folk dance leader and caller, helped Gerhard produce the first two festivals.  In 1982, Paul became DCFF co-director and helped re-design the festival. 

The festival is attended by 250-300 people, coming from all over the Midwest, as well as farther away places such as Manitoba, Ontario, Oklahoma, Texas, California, New York, and even Norway. Some people arrive on Thursday afternoon and stagger home on Monday morning, others just come for the great evening parties which have become legendary.  Until the village board instituted a 2:30 a.m. curfew in 2000, the Saturday Night-Owl party used to keep going until the previous year's record had been eclipsed. Those still on their feet (in 1998, 21 until 6:50am; in 1999, 23 until 7:05am) stumbled across the street to Al Johnson's Swedish restaurant (with live goats on the roof) for breakfast. 

Saturday night is also when individuals and groups compete in the "Folk Dance Olympics." This year's event was dedicated to our late friend, Larry Hoey, an important member of the DCFF staff from Milwaukee, who died last year in a car accident. Paul Collins projected a slide show with photos of Larry and other festival scenes on the walls so that Larry was there both spiritually and visually. 

People who stay through Sunday night (there are more every year) get to  participate in the "Survivors' Party,." which has evolved into a communal event where  all participants take responsibility for selecting, organizing, and playing music.  With very little structure, this evening flows as well as the other "managed" parties and lasts until curfew at 2:30am. 

The laid-back dance workshops are not taught by international luminaries, but by regional group leaders offering everything from international folk (including Balkan and Israeli) to contra, square, and swing, and this year, Sumatran and Native American.  Over the years, bands and musicians that have played for parties and taught music workshops have come from Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, South Bend, New York, and San Francisco.

Other events that give the DCFF its special cachet are the lunchtime discussion forums on recreational group concerns (this year, "Issues in Presenting Ethnic Dance" and "Using Alternate Music to Energize Dances"); the traditional Door County Fish Boil Dinner followed by dancing to live music out on the pier; and the 8 a.m. contra/square dance sessions led by Paul Collins, sometimes in his sleep after dancing till dawn.  Gerhard's Sunset Concert Cruise has been an optional extra, with dancing on the tiny upper deck as the sun sinks into the waters of Green Bay. 

Paul and Gerhard, with the help of many others, have brought the DCFF from very rocky beginnings to the well-organized, smooth-running, and joyous event it has become.  A few key people (Warren Kubitschek [South Bend, Indiana]; Georgine Paris [Chicago, Illionis]; Chris Alfeld [Madison, Wisconsin]; and Forrest Johnson [Big Bend, Wisconsin]) spend considerable time on pre-planning issues; others perform significant pre-work once the long-range direction has been set.  What is amazing is that while many staffers see one another during the year at dances and workshops around the Midwest, the festival work is accomplished without any face-to-face meetings.  Also, the good feelings captured during the festival seem to have fostered a community of people who not only work well for the DCFF as a self-directed group, but who also support each others' events during the rest of the year. 

Technology has also played a big part in the success of the festival.  The computerization of mailings and registrations and the ability to print and copy on-site name tags, tickets, and related materials have made administration much easier.  E-mail and the DCFF website have made instant communication and feedback a reality.  With the website, new people have discovered the festival, and in 2001, for the first time, there was a waiting list for work scholarships as a result of people learning about the opportunity on the website.

After the festival, the DCFF planners spend a lot of time reviewing participant evaluations and discussing possible changes, although this year someone wrote on  the evaluation form, "It's perfect, don't fix it, leave it alone!" 

For more information, visit the DCFF website:   To get on the mailing list for next year (July 8-11, 2004), contact Paul Collins at , or call (847)-846-8139.

Sanna Longden - Evanston, IL