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Dances from the Past Influencing the Present

Arches, figure eights and turns were being called out for the dancers participating in the 72nd annual Mountain Folk Festival during the weekend of March 7 and 8. The dancers were mostly young adults and children. Some were dressed in the traditional garb of long dresses or suspendered pants while others were dressed in jeans with mp3 players in their pockets and cell phones at the ready. The songs that they danced to were not the typical “Top 40” hits of today, but instead they danced to various folk songs as they practiced some of their newly-learned traditional dances. Most of the dances had originated in Europe before the 1600s, not the typical dance of teens today, but they danced well, and the joy that they took from the experience was obvious by the expression on their faces.

Students line up to participate in one of the many dances of the evening.

Even though the roads were treacherous from the previous night’s snow and ice, the turnout for the dancers and the audience was still impressive. The groups attending were Berea College Country Dancers, Berea Festival Dancers, Silver Creek Country Dancers, Angletesse Dancers, Heritage Heart Dancers, Brasstown Country Dancers and the Nashville Home-school Dancers. Many of those who participated had been coming to the event for years and this year was no different. Jennifer Rose Escobar and Pamela Corley Slowkowski were in charge for another successful year. Theresa Lowder, the director of the Berea Festival Dancers, was impressed by the turnout saying, “In spite of the weather, we had more than 100 dancers. They danced for two days and two nights.”

Younger and older participants alike were geared up and excited by the chance to learn many new dances and show off their skills in dances they already knew. Many families turned out in support of their dancers, though many of them had also danced in the program when they were younger. The students seemed to enjoy themselves out on the dance floor, students like Jonathan Taylor, age 13, who already knew the dances. When asked if he was having fun, he replied simply, “I had fun because it is fun!” His twin sister, Anna Taylor, was in almost the same boat, saying the dances were “Fun, but there is a lack of guys.” Her words rang true as girls ran frantically to grab a male partner for duo dances and grabbed a friend instead when a young man could not be found.

Bob Dalsemer, from Hayesville, N.C., was the guest caller for the weekend. Dalsemer helped to establish the Baltimore Folk Music Society, was president of The Country Dance and Song Society and is a regular dance instructor for The John C. Campbell Society. He also produces a Friday night concert series with local musicians that are open to the public. He specialized in American contra, square and circle dances and has composed new dances. He has been the principal caller for the Mountain Folk Festival at Berea College in Kentucky since 2000.

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