CDW Founders & Early Supporters

Meet some of the lovely folks who founded and danced with CDW in 1974:

Fried de Metz Hermann (11/13/1926-01/13/2010)
Fried de Metz Herman a petite, peppery Dutch woman, who would often lapse into her  native tongue. When she first taught a figure that she eventually called, ‘meander,’ she said something in Dutch. Seeing the perplexity in the dancers’ faces, she promptly translated: “goose march.” When a dance tune had lyrics in Dutch, she sang along in a light clear soprano.

Fried was expert in both English and Scottish country. She was  certified as instructor in both traditions with knowledge broad, deep and practical. Herself an elegant dancer, she labored tirelessly to lead us to the highest level of English style that we were capable of achieving.

In her own dancing, Fried could be very mischievous, throwing in a great variety of movements beyond the formal choreography but only if they did not intrude on the space of other dancers. At the same time, she could put strict curbs on us if we did not meet
her standards of invention. “Don’t twiddle” is a command engraved in our collective memory.

Fried’s greatest legacy is the publication of a large collection of English country dances, most of her own composing, and the rest revived and interpreted by her. Near the end of her life she finished a major work, Serendipity, which is still available for purchase.

Christine Krehbiel Helwig (06/27/1913-03/20/2009) Christine-Helwig
with grace and charm covering a steel backbone, she was the great  enabler among our founders. Christine had honed those politically useful qualities in a long public career ending as supervisor of the Town of Mamaroneck, which contains the Village of Larchmont. Her connections gained CDW its first dance space in the Playhouse at Flint Park, Larchmont.. Very likely, it was she who persuaded Phil to be the musician for our newly forming group. As a dance leader, her forte was to make each person feel as though she cared about that one very deeply.

Christine also arranged public performances by members of CDW.
Through rehearsal for performance, the dancers enhanced their skills and established a firm repertoire. She did the same for Country Dance New York. Her managerial role in country dance  seemed without limit. She served on the Executive Committee of CDSS, the national country dance society, where contributions included assisting in CDSS’s successful campaign to establish Pinewoods Camp, Inc (PCI) — an organization which went on to purchase Pinewoods Camp in Plymouth, MA, where many dancers, leaders and musicians sharpen their skills during summer vacations and have a roaring good time.

Over the years, Christine developed a keen interest in historical dance. With violinist Marshall Barron she published two books on 17th century country dance: Thomas Bray’s Country Dances 1699 and Purcell, Playford and the English Country Dance. In her final years she began a collaboration with other history buffs to write another work on early English country dance but it was not to be.

Phillip Merrill (03/12/1905-12/06/1985)

merrill_p_02_1974_by_Marlis_Muller  studied at the Eastman School of Music where one of the tenets of his training was that a good musician must have dance experience. Instead of the ordinary gym periods of ordinary schools, Eastman had English folk dancing. Phil quickly became an accomplished country, morris and sword dancer.

At the age of 22 Phil connected with the Country Dance and Song  Society to remain for the rest of his life, ending as the society’s music director. He became renowned for the irresistible pulse of his music and his skillful variation and improvisation. Few knew that those abilities were handy in a job as piano accompanist for silent films which required swift adaptation of moods and tempo to events on the screen.

At times Phil would emerge from his role as dance musician and teach dances in his inimitable crisp, clear style.  His standards for dance and music were high. He did not accept behavior that worked against those standards. One of his great peeves was the monotonous heavy clapping at the downbeat of each bar that some dance groups engaged in. He felt this destroyed the lilt of the music and the airy style of English dance.  When the crowd got too raucous, he would stop playing, fold his hands in his lap and swivel on the bench to stare at the miscreants. A swift hush followed. Without a word, he then resumed playing.

Whatever he did, he did with panache.

Fried-and-Phil

from Bob Erenburg:

My former wife Fran and I started dancing in NYC in September of 1973. In the summer of 1974, we attended Pinewoods Camp for the two dance weeks. It was there that Fried Hermann and Christine Helwig took us under their wings since this was our first time at a dance week, making sure to invite us to the parties that seemed to occur spontaneously at camp.

I don’t remember the subject coming up of their plans to start Country Dancers of Westchester (CDW), but somehow we were dancing regularly in Flint Park in Larchmont on Thursday nights. Fried and Christine called the dances and Phil Merrill played the piano. It was a small building, but adequate. The dance floor held about 16 to 20 dancers, as I recall. It also had a small kitchen.

A couple of years before Fried passed away in 2010 she mentioned that, of the original CDW folks, she and I were the only two left who still dance. I was very touched.

The piano back then was in poor condition. It had a soundless D or G(?), right in the middle of the keyboard where you really need it; this problem didn’t faze Phil. Neither did the trip up to Larchmont from his apartment on Manhattan’s West Side.

At that time there were very few Pat Shaw dances being done in NY.  May Gadd, the esteemed and long-time director of CDSS, did not quite approve of Pat’s taking a second look at Cecil Sharp’s interpretations. But Fried loved Pat’s inventive and flowing dances and taught us many of them.

At some point, Leah Barkan, who had been dancing with us, was sitting out a lot at the Flint Park dances. Once when I asked her to dance, she declined, saying that she was learning to play for ECD by watching Phil. Eventually, she was playing for us. When we moved to a larger venue in Pelham, Leah started leading a house band that became Musical Cheers.

From the ranks of early CDW, Fried and Christine organized performance demonstrations. I remember dancing under the high tension wires at an historic house in Westchester, in colonial costume!

One of  my early memories is of Christine and her husband Ed hosting a New Year’s Eve party at their home in Larchmont. After a delightful dinner prepared by Christine, we moved the furniture in the living and dining rooms to the corners and had room for a longways dance, with Fried and Christine calling and Phil playing the piano.

As CDW grew, and the number of New Year’s revelers increased, the party outgrew their home. And that was the beginning of the annual New Year’s Eve dance that CDW still sponsors.

Somewhere, about that time, Fried and her husband Al started hosting a New Year’s Day brunch. I think this was a bit of rivalry between Fried and Christine; although you’d never know it from their public roles as teachers and callers of ECD. Each had a very strong personality. Both were superb teachers; each with their own sense of style.

Beyond CDW, they both taught/called at CD*NY in Duane Hall on Manhattan’s 13th St. Christine, with her cool personality, loved the pas de bas used for a dance-around in North Country dances. Fried contrived a dozen little dances meant as teaching tools, some of which have become popular dances, such as “Six for the Six Proud Walkers.” Christine started a performing group, “The Chelsea Dancers.”  Often when I’m dancing I  recall their specific teaching points for a dance I’m doing.  Two truly great women.

3 Responses to CDW Founders & Early Supporters

  1. Allen Dodson says:

    There is a factual error in the Christine Helwig description that should be corrected. CDSS does not, and never has, owned Pinewoods. CDSS was instrumental in setting up a separate organization, Pinewoods Camp, Inc. (PCI) which bought the camp from the Conant family. (I am sure Christine assisted greatly in doing this).
    CDSS has significant representation on the PCI board, but they are completely separate organizations with separate operations. As a former PCI board member, I know people are frequently confused about the two organizations, so if you could correct this, it would be appreciated.

    • TessQ says:

      Thank you, Mr Dodson, for your interest and for pointing out the error in our narrative. In consequence, I have edited Christine Helwig’s description in a manner which I hope more accurately reflects her involvement and the distinction between CDSS and PCI.

  2. Pingback: Celebrating and Honoring | Country Dancers of Westchester

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