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Traditional Dance Preserves And Transforms

Whether it’s joining hands with strangers in a community square dance or doing freestyle clogging at a festival, many people in eastern Kentucky know how to kick up their heels and enjoy the traditional dances of the region. These dances, according to Dr. Susan Spalding, Berea College dance instructor, reflect the values of the region, and passing along the love of these dances is important in preserving those values.

Spalding speaks on her love of dance

Spalding recently spoke to her colleagues about the importance of dance to the region when she presented “Rise and Shine - Traditional Dance and Community Development in Eastern Kentucky” at the monthly Friday Faculty Colloquium April. Dance is huge part of the instructor’s life. She has been dancing and writing about the subject for 20 years and “fell in love” with square dancing and clogging years ago in the Virginia hills.

“I love the friendliness and neighborliness; meeting up with new people around the circle; the smiles and hellos, the taking of hands,” explained Spalding. “It feels very community-oriented and old time music makes my heart happy.”

Since arriving at BC in 1995, Spalding has been attending dances at Natural Bridge Resort State Park at the popular Hoedown Island in the middle of a lake in the park. The Country Dancers, which she sponsors, also perform and participate at the Mecca for area folk dancers at least once a year.

These dances, held every weekend in the warm months, brought Spalding into contact with many people in the dance community. Perhaps the most influential among them was the late Richard Jett. The Wolfe County resident was a former educator and administrator and was heavily involved in local government and civic projects. He also loved dancing and singing and worked to help talented young people throughout his career by organizing dance and singing groups and events throughout the region.

Jett, who died suddenly last August just after hosting the nightly hoedown event at Natural Bridge, made a big impression on Spalding. “He really saw how dance has the power to transform people and how to cohere groups. ... He would go out onto the dance floor to interact with the dancers and joke with them and make them all feel welcome. ... Richard Jett was a wonderful, kind and generous man.”

The professor admired the way Jett used dance to build personal confidence in individuals as well as in the Appalachian culture. “It expresses the values and beliefs both to themselves and to visitors to the region. ... I think it says, too, that the development of the region is dependent on the development of the individual.”

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