How dance camp changed me


Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada July 14, 2019

Isabel Nemeth

Deep, mellow strokes from the bass intertwined with the violin’s piping melody ring in my ears as I sprint to the stage frantically looking for a dance partner. In the middle of tying my skirt, I feel a muscular arm grab my hand and we laughingly rush to get on beat with the music. As the band plays progressively faster, I feel myself go dizzy from all the turning and watch my friends become a blur. By the end of the song, my shirt is stuck to my back and my cheeks are bright red. Clutching my water bottle, I step outside, relieved to feel a cool breeze. 

Arriving at the border of Canada and the U.S. three summers ago is a day I will never forget. That night would simultaneously be my first night ever at a sleepaway camp and the start of a lifelong hobby. Having very minimal Hungarian folk-dancing experience, “being nervous” was an understatement. I did happen to know a few others who were also attending the camp, but they had all gone in previous years, so they were busy reuniting with old friends. To top it all off, my parents were not the ones who drove me up, so I was left alone to figure everything out. Nonetheless, I was still excited to try something new and out of my comfort zone. 

After the tiring eight-hour car ride to reach the campsite near Niagara Falls, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of not just the camp, but being in a new country as well. We passed by food-chains I had never heard of, saw the oh-so-famous waterfall, and received much different customer service than what we were used to before we finally set foot on the grounds. In every direction there were new faces each doing something different. This family setting up a tent, that one pumping an air mattress, the one in the far right corner registering a child while assembling a cot. Even though it was a hectic environment, after a couple of days I figured out ways to easily adapt to it. I was able to make friends while still focusing on mastering the difficult dance steps, overcoming my beginner’s hump. Before I knew it, my parents were pulling into the parking lot to watch me perform in the closing show. 

I knew I was going to miss the dancing, the memories, and the friends I made. But little did I know that it would change my life forever. Having only ten days to learn two full dance routines combined with a small acting portion, I became a flexible, spontaneous person. Thinking about impressing my parents at that final show drove me to stop worrying about the amount of work I needed to put in. It did not matter anymore that I had never tried folk-dancing before. “Just take it day by day, focus on learning this one particular part right now, forget about the bigger picture,” I told myself. I was giving it one hundred and ten percent, allowing myself to be coached and that is all I could ask for. At the finale of the camp, I realized that this was what I was most passionate about. 

Taking the trip up to Ontario for three more summers afterward allowed me to see that folk-dancing had furthermore changed me to become open-minded and ultimately versatile. But the best part was being able to understand my background better and connect with the people of my culture; something I never thought I would get out of going to a random dance camp in Canada. To this day, I am constantly begging my parents to let me join the nearest Hungarian folk-dance group.