Shelby holding Jasper, a tame barnswallow rescued by one of the families living in the village.

Opportunity of a Lifetime: A Dancing Rabbit Update

When people typically think of opportunities of a lifetime, they think of travelling to beautiful locations, meeting new people, learning new things, and having an experience that will be told in many stories for the rest of their lives. What if I told you that this was possible to obtain at an ecovillage? 

My name is Shelby, and I am an intern for the nonprofit at Dancing Rabbit, the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture (CSCC). I am 23 years old and a student at Mississippi State University in pursuit of a master’s degree in Applied Anthropology. I specifically focus on cultural anthropology, and I am interested in sustainability and development. 

For my internship, I have been given different tasks to help my colleagues who work for the nonprofit. Some of the tasks have been small, such as going through computers to compress the files and add them to Dropbox, while other tasks will extend until the end of my time here. For example, I have been helping our Marketing co (gender neutral term) with creating content to be posted for our patrons on our Patreon page.

Additionally, CSCC gave me a project about two weeks into my internship here that they envisioned as the most impactful of my time here; it is a large project that is still ongoing. I was given the task of interviewing all the Rabbits about the different co-ops around the village in hopes of measuring their operating effectiveness. Other questions are involved, such as gathering perspectives about the Dancing Rabbit Ecological Covenants (a variety of core rules that govern what kinds of behavior are acceptable in the community), what is working well at Dancing Rabbit, and more. It is my job to not only conduct the interviews, but I also am tasked with analyzing the data, putting it into a paper, and also a Zoom presentation for Rabbits. Based on my background in cultural anthropology, and in preparation for my master’s thesis, CSCC thought this would be mutually beneficial.

My experience

While the internship is fantastic and better than I could have dreamt of, there are other aspects that I have to talk about. I cannot help but mention the amazing people here and the beautiful friendships I have made. I think making friends is typical for an internship, but the difference with this is that I came into people’s lives. They live here, they play here, they love here. Some even work here! Their lives are here, and they allowed me to enter into that. 

They were open with me from the beginning, and I allowed myself to be open with them in return. We have check-ins where we openly discuss how we are doing – truly doing. I experienced emotional rollercoasters, but it was reassuring knowing that others are also feeling lots of emotions just living here. I felt included from the day of my arrival, and I have had multiple people throughout my time here ask if I plan to come back even to visit. 

I have felt from the beginning a bittersweet feeling, and it only increased as I continued doing the interviews. Some people shared stories about their lives, and some showed me into their homes. I even had someone make me biscuits and gravy since I am from Arkansas and might be missing a part of southern culture! I feel so many feelings about being here, knowing that I will miss a new place and new people. 

A wild bobcat Shelby encountered while out for a walk
A wild bobcat Shelby encountered while out for a walk.

It’s funny thinking back to my arrival and not knowing what to expect. My friends made fun and said things like, “Have fun at your hippie commune!” (although Dancing Rabbit is not a commune), and “We will have to come up to Missouri just to get you, because you’ll refuse to leave. We’ll find you covered in mud and leaves, and you’ll fight us trying to capture you.” Those comments are so far from what it is actually like to be at an ecovillage. 

In the beginning, I was extremely nervous about showing up to an ecovillage in a Ford Mustang. No one (and still to this day) cared about what car I drive, how much I drive it, or where I go. It was shocking, and after meeting everyone, it seems silly to think about how or why they would ever care. 

I think there are many misconceptions about what it is like at an ecovillage. First of all, they do not all consider themselves to be hippies! I had someone say they do not feel like a hippie at all. Additionally, people do not just go around 24/7 being naked in front of everyone. That may be silly to say/read, but it is something I have heard about others not living here. There is an acceptance if someone chooses to be clothed or not; from my experience, most people stay clothed unless swimming or showering, just like in everyday culture. The best thing I can suggest is that before accepting what others say, try it out yourself! This applies to all aspects of life, too. Getting this internship happened by mistake; due to COVID-19, most internships I applied to in January and February got cancelled or moved into the school year. Fortunately, my undergraduate professor emailed the Executive Director of the nonprofit, and she decided to give me a chance. Although this happened by mistake, I do not believe my time here is; this has been an opportunity of a lifetime that I will tell stories about for the rest of my life.

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