Home and Away Magazine - September, 2003
A Happy Camper
A writer packs her dancing shoes and heads for Ballroom Vermont, one of many camps tailored for grown-ups.

By Shelly Steig

My childhood camp experiences were nothing to write home about. Creepy crawlies burrowed in my sheets, and the heat and humidity were enough to make anyone melt (salt pills were part of the daily menu). I could have composed some pretty creative verses for the Camp Grenada song. Thank heavens, my recent experience at a camp for adults changed all that. Now I can write "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" with the best of news.

NOT CAMP GRENDA
Several years ago, I tricked my husband into taking ballroom-dancing classes. After some initial skepticism (at 6 feet 8 inches tall, he's not exactly a candidate for twinkle toes), he learned to glide gracefully around a dance floor, and he signed us up for another go-round. Over the next few years, our dancing days were sporadic, and we confused the waltz with the fox-trot and the rumba with the cha-cha. When I heard about Ballroom Vermont, a dance camp for grown-ups, I thought we could have a second honeymoon while we relearned all we had forgotten.

Located in southern Vermont, the Stratton Mountain Inn, host of Ballroom Vermont, is luxurious enough to qualify for a first honeymoon. Perched high on Stratton Mountain with lovely views of the Vermont woods, the lodge-style inn offers the finest in cuisine- no salt pills on this menu. On the first night, the chef prepared a sumptuous buffet of lobster, salmon, crisp salads and delectable desserts. It was a good thing the dancing, which I had never considered to be aerobic exercise, started immediately.

After dinner, we joined other novices for our first lesson. More advanced dancers headed for the intermediate and advanced classes. There were 14 campers in beginners, including four individuals and six couples. (Instructors are assigned partners to singles according to their dancing experience.)

Nancy Carr and John Staines were one of the couples. Staines, a 78-year-old retiree who lives in Puerto Rico, considers himself a chronic self-improver. He has attended a Spanish language camp, beekeeping camp and bamboo woodworking camp. When he heard about Ballroom Vermont, he called Carr, a New Yorker he hadn't seen in 12 years. They had dated, but she was surprised to hear him ask, "How would you like to go away for four days to this dance camp?"

Other members of our group included a doctor of psychology, a bicoastal couple and a man who had been critically injured in a car accident one year prior. Peggi Elfe, our enthusiastic instructor, showed us the rudimentary mechanics of dancing. When each couple had mastered "pushing the ball" (acting as if there was a beach ball between them in order to create space), she led us through more complicated turns and steps. Although we danced mostly with our partners, we took one turn with each member during every lesson. Since the best bonding often takes place under stress, our group got quite tight as we tripped over each other's feet.

We connected with campers in the more advanced groups as we soaked our sore appendages in the hot tub. I could tell, as the five and a half days passed, how dancing took its toll on the feet by following the "heel progression." On the first and second day, many of the experienced ladies had on three-inch heels. The third day the heels diminished to two inches. By the fourth, many women wore flats and, on the fifth, I saw a few in slippers.

The short week wrapped up with a formal dance during which everyone got to show off their newfound moves. Some of the more industrious campers performed tango and waltz repertoires. Then, six-time U.S. Rhythm and Latin champions Bob Powers and Julia Gorchakova awed us with a performance that defied the mechanics of human anatomy.

As the band wound down, it was time to pack our bags and say goodbye. Everyone agreed that Ballroom Vermont was a delightful experience- we honed our skills, had a ball (literally and figuratively) and made some wonderful new friends- and it only rained once. For more information about Ballroom Vermont, call (800) 242-8785.

CAMP CHAMPS
Are you interested in going to a camp for adults, but you're not sure what is available? It seems there are as many camps as there are interests. One of the best places to search for the perfect camp is at www.grownupcamps.com. This comprehensive Web site lists hundreds of camps divided by interest and region.

Some organizations specialize in adult camp experiences. One of the most famous is the Disney Institute, located in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Call (800) 282-9282 for information about its programs, which include culinary arts, animation, photography and gardening.

The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, N.Y., offers courses in health, psychological development, the arts, relationships and sports. Call (800) 944-1001.

Immerse yourself in the native tongue and culture of another nation during adult learning sessions at Concordia Language Villages. Programs, which include Finnish, Norwegian, French and Japanese, are held in four culturally accurate villages near Bemidji, Minn. For more information, call (800) 450-2214.