What’s life like at Dancing Rabbit?

I’ve been asked this question a lot from friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers over the course of the last year.  I’m happy to answer, but there’s only so many hours in a day to tell each individual or small group my major take aways from living in an ecovillage for about 8 months.  So here’s an account that will hopefully answer some common questions and raise new ones.  Asking me questions is good!  I’m not bored at all by talking about it over and over because it is a deeply interesting topic, and those questions often prove useful for me in helping me reconsider my answers or explore new angles I hadn’t thought of previously.  This post is to be the first in a series, each relfecting on a salient topic about life at DR.  

There’s no one story of what Dancing Rabbit (DR) is.  The rabbits will tell you this themselves.  Sure, there’s the mission statment, convenants, guidelines, and social norms they must all abide by.  But at the same time, everyone is there for a different reason.  I’ve yet to find a common thread among them in my conversations and interviews other than a vague notion of wanting to make a change in their own lives and have that change the world.  I’m working to develop and narrow what that means in terms of ecovillage life as activism, because most of them see living there as a form of activism, though not always in the sense that the rest of us see it.

First, what is an ecovillage?  Gilman and Gilman (1991) served us what has become the most oft-cited definition: "human-scale full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development, and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.”  Consequently, ecovillages can be rural, urban or suburban because they are experiments in the social side of sustainability instead of the production of material goods (though the two inevitably go hand in hand).  DR is a village of about 45 adults and 10 children living in about 30 dwelling units.  Their goal is to grow to 500-1,000 people, something that very solidly fits the bill of a human-scale full-featured place.

Like most other ecovillages, they are an attempt - an experiement - at living sustainably.  Such a concept, narrowed by capitalist greenwashing for general audiences, permeates through every aspect of life, from the (mostly) vegetarian diets to amount of water one uses to wash dishes, from careful selection of where food comes from that they put in their mouths to the careful depositing as it comes out the other end, every act of consumption that could be derived through a carbon-based energy source is carefully considered and minimized.  Recycling outweighs trash, and compost outweighs the other two.  Solar panels and wind turbines dot the landscape, producing clean energy that is fed back to the grid in times of surplus.  

No one in the village, I heard many rabbits claim, lives entirely sustainbly.  Rather, the emphasis is usually placed on the notion that the village is an experiement.  Moreover, it’s a testing ground for new ideas.  Technocentric solutions like ultra-effecient air source heat pumps can be found alongside antecendant natural building techniques.  My neighbor had a strawbale house with such a heat pump, and a sound booth with highly sophisticated recording eqiupment across the room from a wood-burning stove.

Second, DR is rural.  Very rural.  Like, the county only has a population of 5,000 and the nearest pharmacy, hardware store, and bank are all 15 miles away.  Nonetheless, the folks in the village eke out a living on 280 acres bought on the cheap in 1997.  None of the original founders of the village remain, though their legacy continues through the land trust that manages the operational side of the village.  I’ll say more about the economics of the village and the founders economic legacy in a future post, but suffice it to say that the village very nearly stands on its own.  They trade with neighbors, build their homes, and import hundreds of people a year to see whats been done.

In being so removed, they open up a space interested others can “go to” and see what sustainable living can imply.  This “go to” is troubling in some regards, since it similarly implies that sustainbility must be sought away from the city, which is simply not true. Rather its better to see this rural-ness a lending a uniqueness to the ecovillage experience that is DR.  They can eschew building codes, which on one hand allows for the implimentation of some some very interesting concepts, but on another hand makes for shoddy and often dangerous electrial or propane installations.  Some of the prettiest buildings I’ve ever seen are there, because they were built without regard for prim neighborhood association standards or conventional valuations of real estate.  There is another post forthcoming in which I will dicuss the polycephalous approach to home building there, which is split between natural building and high-efficiency conventional building - both of which need not inherently take place in the rural setting of DR.

I met dozens of visitors, guests, and tourists in my 8 months, though the number of people that came through was in the hundreds.  Everyone has a reason to go: the locals from the county come to see about the “wierdos” their neighbors have told them about; hippies, natural builders, communitarians, wanderers, professionals, academics, programmers, and people from all walks of life found something they wanted to experience in the village that is a dot on the vast open spaces of northeast Missouri.  I certainly did, and learned more and experienced more than I thought I ever would.  I swam naked in a pond in broad daylight in front of others and felt the persisent shame about my body that always lingered in the back of my mind melt away.   I ate better food than ever before in my life, built a lot of picnic benches out of reclaimed wood, learned more about the flora of Missouri than I knew up to that point, and played my first-ever game of Dungeons and Dragons.  Yet, the only way to know DR is to live at DR, and member Tereza (whos lived there for 15 years!) told me that it usually takes someone a couple years to fully grasp things like village governance structure or the cliques of social life.

Life was never boring.  I have a lot to reflect on and share, and in the coming weeks I hope to put it all up on here for everyone to see.  In the mean time, feel free to ask about something specific in the comments below.  If its big enough, I might even give it its own post!

Zach Rubin, 2018