What I Learned Living at Dancing Rabbit: A Guest Post

Kylie at DR in 2005 helping with a controlled prairie burn.

The other night I was making my favorite late night decadent snack—chocolate chip vegan pancakes covered with chunky peanut butter and dipped in maple syrup—when I remembered that I got the idea for those pancakes from a fellow community member, Jennifer, at Dancing Rabbit, where I lived for two years.

So many of my favorite (admittedly weird) snacks that I make regularly, I first learned at Dancing Rabbit.  Popcorn with nutritional yeast, dill, and soy sauce.  Nori rolls with rice, almond butter, and sauerkraut. Oatmeal crunch with raw oats, peanut butter, maple syrup, and chocolate chips.

I learned serious cooking skills there as well, skills that have saved me money, time, and from being hungry in my post-Dancing Rabbit years as a broke graduate student: how to make beans, bread, biscuits and tortillas from scratch. How to make a satisfying meal when there is almost nothing in the cupboard. What to bring to a potluck for thirty people. Cooking has become a major source of joy for me in my life, and I’m so glad I learned those skills.

I moved to Dancing Rabbit in 2005 thinking I would stay there forever. It turned out I was only there until 2007.  I loved Dancing Rabbit, but it didn’t work for me. I didn’t have a good way to make income. I missed cities, libraries and bookstores. It was too hard to be a single lesbian in a community full of mostly heterosexual couples.  Had Dancing Rabbit been located 20 minutes from a city, I might have happily lived there forever. Or perhaps had I arrived at Dancing Rabbit in the future—say, a time when the new common house was built, more housing and work options were available, and the community was larger.

But even though I only lived there two years, the time I spent there changed and enriched my life in ways I never could have guessed. Having lived away from Dancing Rabbit for six years now, I find the whole experience a gift; one that I am still unpacking, and probably will continue to unpack for life.

I can’t say that after living at Dancing Rabbit I became a sustainability expert. I do live car-free, and have done so for all but one year of my life. That wasn’t a change I made at Dancing Rabbit, but DR is where I learned why that choice is so important, and decided to commit to being car-free.

I do eat all organic food, eat mostly vegetarian (I was a vegetarian before DR, but a vegetarian who didn’t know how to cook!), shop in a food cooperative, share my living space with housemates, and bring cloth bags to pick up my groceries. I shop at local independent stores whenever possible, and try to buy sparingly, and to reuse items.  I use compact fluorescent bulbs, take fewer showers, use products that don’t harm the water supply, flush the toilet less, buy recycled materials and recycle as much as possible. But, I still have a long way to go when it comes to living sustainably.

The attraction for me in moving to Dancing Rabbit was always primarily about living in community, and secondarily about sustainable living, so perhaps it is not surprising that the main takeaways for me from living at Dancing Rabbit were more personal and interpersonal. I met so many great people at DR, including my best friend Tereza. I learned about the joy of feeling connected to a whole community of people. I discovered so many creative ways to have fun with other people that I had never tried before: singalongs, ultimate frisbee, open mic nights, ice hockey, sweat lodges, board games, charades, and crafts. I still deeply miss the creative and impromptu social life I had at DR—it has been really hard to recreate that aspect of ecovillage life in the city.

At Dancing Rabbit, I learned how to speak up at meetings: how to take my own feelings and opinions seriously and to share them with other people.  I learned that I can influence other people; I don’t have to be a passive observer in the groups I belong to. I also learned how to organize events, a talent that has helped me immensely in my post-DR work and social life.

Perhaps most importantly, living at Dancing Rabbit made me realize that the way things are in our American cities and towns and workplaces is not the way things have to be. Collectively, we can change our minds, we can create something else. We can work with each other to try different ways of living. The major gift living at DR gave me was immersing me in a much more creative way of approaching life, helping me realize that life is meant to be lived to the fullest.

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Kylie Sparks (formerly Suzanne) moved to DR in 2005 from Portland, Oregon, and is currently a reference librarian and ESL tutor in the Boston area. She loves learning languages, reading mysteries and science fiction, cooking, and contra dancing.

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