September 27, 2007

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage to Celebrate 10th Anniversary With Special Open House

What began as a dream more than a decade ago has turned into a growing community in Scotland County.

Dancing Rabbit will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the ecovillage near Rutledge with a special celebration Saturday, September 29th. Tours will be offered every half hour during the open house scheduled for 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. with guests seeing the community’s solar energy system, organic gardens and examples of strawbale housing.

The rural community has come a long way in 10 years. It started as an idea among a group of college friends in Stanford, CA.

The concept for Dancing Rabbit started in 1993 when Cecil Scheib, Rachel Katz, and Tony Sirna (and others) were living in a student co-op at Stanford.

“We moved to Scotland County in 1996 and bought our land in 1997 (280 acres),” said Sirna.

“I met Tony and Cecil in college and they were very interested in the idea of creating an ecovillage,” said fellow founder Rachel Katz. “We were friends with Sandhill and when we were looking for a location, they invited us to settle near them. Also, the people were friendly, the land inexpensive, and the laws favorable.”

Dancing Rabbit started with 6 members but in 10 years has expanded to now be called home by 37 individuals, including 8 kids.

“We have built 16 buildings with most of them incorporating some form of natural building including strawbale and cob,” Sirna said

DR as the residents often refer to their home, is totally off the grid with 10,000 watts of solar panels and 3 windmills.

“Our goal is to demonstrate sustainable living and inspire others to live more ecologically,” Sirna added.

That message was broadcast to the world when Dancing Rabbit was featured on an FX Network television episode of 30 Days. The program took two New York City residents out of the city and “off the grid” to live at Dancing Rabbit for a month immersed in the community’s ecological lifestyle.

It’s that very lifestyle that brought Katz to Rutledge and has kept her here for over a decade.

“I like living in alignment with my values, whether they are about my impact on the environment or how I want to balance work and recreation,” she said. “I feel very privileged to be able to structure my life as I wish.”

Sirna offered a similar affirmation of life at DR.

“For me I enjoy getting to live out my ecological values with other people who share them,” he said. “I love the day to day camaraderie and cooperation with so many people. I also enjoy having a flexible schedule and working on so many different things day to day - gardening, construction, computer work, childcare, cooking, and more. I love how our lives are in touch with the seasons and the natural world around us.”

Their surroundings have changed quite a bit. Katz grew up on Long Island, in the suburbs of NYC and attended Stanford University, which is where she met Tony. Sirna was raised in suburban Detroit before moving to the West Coast to go to school.

“We ended up in Rutledge because we had visited Sandhill Farm and really liked the area and made good connections here,” Sirna said. “The people in Scotland County were, and are, incredibly friendly to us and welcoming. We were looking for affordable land where we could grow food without having to irrigate.”

It has been 10 years since the community was born and its founders noted plenty of changes in that time beyond just the large amount of growth.

“In the beginning our facilities were very primitive and rustic,” Sirna said. “After 10 years we now have a lot of infrastructure and things are

comparably very comfortable and modern.”

Both Katz and Sirna agreed that the past years have only scratched the surface of what the future holds for the ecovillage.

“There are two challenges that I see, one external, one internal,” Katz said. “Internally, as we grow we struggle with the social issues that go along with having more people. People know and trust each other less, and it is more difficult for us to continue to practice consensus decision-making. It seems that many communities plateau at around 80-100 people and it will be interesting to see whether we can make strong enough systems and culture to push past that number.

“Externally, there is the struggle with staying relevant. When we started a decade ago, neither biodiesel nor climate change were household names. We need to keep expanding what we do and talk about to stay at the cutting edge of environmental sustainability and remain an inspiration.”

The community’s outreach efforts as well as its continued growth over the past decade have insured just that. Dancing Rabbit has been an inspiration to many in the community that have toured the village or have followed the residents’ efforts in the newspaper, on television or via the DR website (

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