Scandalous Dancing in the Woods

I’ve been writing lately about the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  The school celebrated 100 years since its founding this past summer.  When I attended the open house, I found an enchanting cabin, restored to reflect history.

Cabin

Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, the adventurous young women featured in my last post, visited the camp shortly after its founding. They were Smith College graduates, teaching for a year in the area.  They were eager to see the venture started by two other intrepid young women who had also graduated from Smith:  Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield.  Charlotte’s brother Bob was one of Rosamund’s suitors; his father owned the local coal mine, and he was very much an eligible bachelor.  He and Ferry Carpenter competed for the attentions of Rosamond.

Charlotte and Portia had worked in Chicago for two years to earn the money to buy the land for the camp.  Then they worked side by side with a small crew loaned by Charlotte’s father to build rustic tents and renovate the abandoned homesite on the property. They were sophisticated city girls; they had trouble providing meals their working crew would eat.  Afraid the crew would abandon them, they took the advice of Charlotte’s brother:  “…soak the potatoes in grease, over-cook the meat, boil the coffee, and serve them soggy pie.”  The formula worked like a charm.

Portia and Charlotte soon had students and teachers, all enjoying a very high quality of instruction in art and music, which continues to this day.  The atmosphere was one of complete artistic freedom, too.  Over the coming decades, Perry-Mansfield was a haven of the avante-garde, including the great dancer Merce Cunningham and his composing partner, John Cage.

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Local ranchers were suspicious of the place; rumors flew of young women dancing in the woods in diaphanous gowns.  The rumors were true. Dorothy and Rosamond watched actual outdoor rehearsals. Local wives and daughters were forbidden to go near the place; milk and butter were delivered to the creek nearby, to be picked up when the ranchers’ women were safely home again.

In her book Nothing Daunted, Dorothy Wickenden tells the story of the overnight visit Dorothy and Rosamond paid to the camp.  They loved the place.  Ferry Carpenter guided them along a two-mile forest path to get there.  When they were ready to leave the next day, his romantic rival, Bob Perry, one-upped Ferry by maneuvering his little Dodge in and out of the remote area so they didn’t have to walk back.  Rosamund described the living room, which doubled as a music room, as “one of the loveliest and most artistic rooms I have ever seen.”  I think the living room is long gone, but I found the restored cabin enchanting.  I’d cheerfully move right in.

CabinBed

Present-day students live in modernized cabins which were not part of the open house.  These cabins are now winterized.  They are a popular lodging option for skiers and other visitors to Steamboat Springs during the long, snowy winters when there are no students. The website is at http://perry-mansfield.org/.

To read more about the colorful history of the Steamboat Springs area, have a look at Dorothy Wickenden’s best-selling book about the adventures of her fearless grandmother and the best friend who accompanied her on the adventure of a lifetime!

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