We plan to travel Route 33 through West Virginia from the Virginia line to the Ohio border documenting local community square dances.
We, Augusta Heritage Center of Davis and Elkins College, plan to travel along Route 33 through West Virginia from the Virginia Line to the Ohio Border documenting community square dances. There are 10 communities along Route 33 that have or have previously had vibrant community square dances. The towns we will travel to are Henderson, Glenville, Elkins, Helvetia, Dunmore, Franklin, Sutton, Ireland,Harmon, and Riverton. West Virginia is unique in having maintained its traditional dances from the early 19th century to modern times. This dance form has been passed down from generations to generations in kitchens, dance halls and porches and now we would like to pass it onto you. We will be interviewing, recording, researching, talking to and dancing with our neighbors. The stories, the oral histories associated with dancing within these individual communities are as important as the events themselves.
Each dance site we will visit has its own varied customs. For instance in Helvetia, in addition to square dances, waltzes and the "Helvetia polka" are danced. In Henderson, there are "two steps" danced between the squares. From Helvetia towards the east, "mountain" or "big circle" dances are traditional, whereas, from there to the west, four couple sets or squares are traditional. We will take a look at step dance traditions that are commonly referred to as "flatfoot," "buck," "clog," "backstep," and "hoedown." We will also document square dance callers in each community. The oral traditions of calling reflect rural Appalachian values. The rhyming patter used when calling square dances change from one community to the next, for example: "Swing the one that stole the sheep, Then the one that ate the meat, Then the one that gnawed the bone, Then the one who carried it home. "
We want to make sure these traditions are documented before they are lost, or the old-timers pass on. As a resurgence of old-time music sweeps through Appalachia, we want to be able to share these distinctive local traditional dances with a broader base outside of West Virginia. We plan to begin to do this through establishing a website embedded with interviews, the specific calls and patter, and repertoire of music played at these individual dances. Next we plan to make a printed guide along Route 33 featuring the stories and heritage of each community square dance. Come dance with us across West Virginia!
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