FAREWELL TOM

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“Dance every day of your life.”

That was Tom Deering’s motto, and he did his best to live up to it. Some of that dancing was on a stage, but most of it was elsewhere – in community centers and dance halls, in little towns and villages, in gymnasiums and summer camps and everywhere in between. One of the founding members of Radost Folk Ensemble, Deering’s intense involvement with folk dancing touched every part of his life, and since his death on February 6, messages from his extended dance community have filled my social media feeds.

All dancers feel they’re part of a tribe, but folk dance reaches past distinctions of high art and professionalism, and connects so many individuals from different groups that it has a special resonance for the people who practice it. And while many of us are born into a folk community, singing and dancing as our parents and grandparents did, some of us are claimed by a tradition that isn’t necessarily our heritage. Like falling in love, the work sweeps us in and holds us close.  The songs and dances of Eastern Europe were not a big part of Tom’s genetics, but they organized his life just as DNA would.

He started “holding hands and making a circle” as a high schooler in Portland, Oregon, dancing in an ad-hoc program at a local college. The folk dance community is as complex as the concert dance world, running workshops and master classes, seeking out mentors and teachers, but as it comes from a social dance tradition, many of its programs are as much party as performance.  For many it is an extracurricular obsession, an art form built to bring people together and create a social life, despite the daily demands of work and family.

Eventually making his way to Seattle, Tom was in the right place at the right time, helping to found Radost in 1976. The company specializes in works from Eastern Europe and Tom was a key member of the performance ensemble from the beginning, dancing Americana and Balkan works on their mammoth seven week tour of Eastern Europe in 1981. He took it on himself to learn as many dances as possible, acting as a dance captain and stager for the company and holding much of their repertory in his kinetic memory. He seemed to take a special relish in the works with challenging time signatures, stepping, jumping, twisting and swinging in 7s and 11s and 15s.  

Watching him teach was especially revealing. His respect for the work, and for the people who it represented, kept him vigilant, and he expected others to live up to that responsibility. He always kept the community aspect of the dance in mind. Details were important, because they made the group work together – they made a handful of folks with busy and disparate lives into a village.

There will be some kind of celebration later this spring, with plenty of dancing. In the meantime, when you’re in class, or rehearsal, or in the bus on the way to work, look to your right and your left – these are your people – for that moment, you are with your tribe.

For more information on Radost Folk Ensemble, visit http://www.radost.org

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