"A Fantasy Come True"
It was 1983, and newlyweds Lissa Callirhoe (then Alice Van Camp) and Harlan Van Camp were enjoying themselves at northern California’s Mendocino Folklore Camp. The couple got to talking with a fellow dancer who said she was thinking about holding a Scandinavian dance camp at a Northern New Mexico college.
The little-known college, she said, was a stone’s throw from the gorgeous Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Hot springs dotted the area. And oh, yes — on the grounds of the college was a castle.
Lissa was intrigued. New Mexico was full of international folk dancers. Northern New Mexico was a perfect summer getaway. Why not hold a dance camp at the castle?
The couple visited the college and learned that its facilities were, indeed, available for rental. Part of the 19th-century castle was still sound and could accommodate their needs. So Lissa and Harlan enlisted the help of fellow folk dancers and got to work.
Lissa dropped fliers announcing the camp into her local mailbox. Someone else dropped dog poop into the box, and it got on the flyers. But since nothing deters the mail, the Post Office kindly placed each invitation into a plastic bag—and delivery proceeded.
While recollections vary, it probably took about six months to organize the first August Camp. The 12-member organizing committee included Charlene Baker, Jane and Gary Diggs, Jan Erickson, Derek Roff and others. See the full list.
The founders tapped Graham Hemple, a popular California dance teacher, as guest instructor. Group members taught some dances, too. And the Balkan women’s chorus Svirka — to this day a local favorite — performed and gave singing lessons.
“The castle was beautiful, like a fantasy come true,” said Lissa. “I do recall that the stained-glass windows in the ballroom had holes in them, and a few birds came in.” It would be several years before the grand facility would be fully restored.
Lissa laughs about an embarrassing moment she had in one of the dorm’s
co-ed bathrooms. “One night I came in around 4 a.m., drunk on dancing and quite bare. Bob Baker (a beloved folk dancer, now deceased) was there. He didn’t say anything — he was a gentleman.”
The August Camp Committee held two more camps at the college. While planning their fourth camp, the group received notice that the castle had been condemned, forcing them to find new digs.
It would be several years before a wealthy benefactor would finance a full restoration of the once-grand Montezuma. Learn about the castle's colorful history.