Billy Fischer’s blonde dreadlocks swung wildly as he placed one near-blackened bare foot in front of the other and wound around the room. “Now swing you neighbor!” he shouted. “Now swing your partner!”
He laughed, a wide grin spreading across his face.
Down a set of stairs and into a dimly lit room, New Havener Diana Brownell and transplant Matt Ampleman were catching up after almost a year of not running into each other around town, swapping stories as others milled around a stack of brownies and apple pie behind them. Somewhere deeper in the room, Atticus’ Charlie Negaro walked from table to table, perusing goods up for auction that ranged from lush, still-dirt-smudged fennel to handmade pottery and theater tickets to several local venues.
Upstairs, Fischer ushered in another stage of the dance. Over 100 pairs of feet pounded the floor as at least 50 faces dissolved into laughter.
Welcome to the second annual New Haven Farms Contra Dance, the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, which doubled as a shoe-tapping celebration of health, hearth, and harvest last Friday night at 1253 Whitney. Over three hours, 271 people packed the space, raising $8,000 from their contributions while making it the largest event yet that 1253 has hosted. The organization is still calculating the amount raised from sponsorships and winners of its silent auction.
Started last fall by former NHF director Rebecca Kline — read about that here — this year’s contra dance built on a young tradition in the best of ways, adding a short, touching documentary by local filmmaker William Minter...
... more auction prizes on which to bid ...
... and new dances that kept the audience side-stepping, paddy-caking, partner-whirling, and breaking into face-crumpling laughter for three straight hours.
James Jenkins, New Haven Farms’ executive director, was at the center of activity, grinning as he do-si-do’ed and watched attendees mix and mingle. As winter creeps in for the organization, he explained, the dance was a chance to reflect on the work that the organization has done under his leadership: joining the city’s Health in Your Hands initiative with its Green Thumb Challenge, expanding its farm-based wellness program, and sharing healthy eating tips from the WNHH studio.
“1253 Whitney parallels New Haven Farms’ spirit of community and innovation, and Billy Fischer has choreographed another joyous celebration that brought together program participants, long-time supporters, and new friends,” he said after the event.
“The New Haven Farms community is palpable at Phoenix Press Farm during wellness classes, as well as when participants and supporters share their farm stories. Friday’s contradance embodies that energy, and the video we debuted links us all to the essence of our mission — to change the story of food security and diet-related health in New Haven,” he added.