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Folk Festival Marches in the Branches of May

The feeling of anticipation and excitement was palpable as the participants in the Mountain Folk Festival entered the Old Seabury Gym and gave performances of traditional country dances, some of which had been learned in less than a day.

BC's Country Dancers help bring in spring by carrying blossoming branches.

The Mountain Folk Festival, which celebrated 71 years of bringing the Berea community and visitors together through country dancing, kicked off on Friday with the arrival of several dancing groups, some from schools a great distance away. The groups included the Berea Festival Dancers and BC's Country Dancers as well as dancers from Silver Creek School in Berea; Breathitt County High School in Tullahoma, Tenn.; The John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C.; Heritage Heart in Nelson Co., Ky.; and Olney Friends School in Barnsville, Ohio. The groups were busy all day Friday learning new dances and songs and exploring the Berea College community.

Saturday brought more workshops for the students, but the real fun came that evening as various young men and women took to the gym floor to perform what they'd learned that weekend. Jennifer Rose, the leader of the workshop "show offs," began the event by inviting the audience to sing along to an old sea shanty called "The Drunken Sailor." After that, a few people performed a short morris dance called "Nelson's Praise." The Advanced English Dancers captivated the audience with their large rendition of the dance called "American Husband," which sent dancers swirling across the floor.

Rose called for a short break for the dancers while she entertained the audience by singing the "Breakfast Song," a favorite among children. She soon got the audience involved, asking everyone to sing along and then breaking them up to sing in round.

When the dancers returned, the largest display of dancing was found in "Bacca Pipes," a dance in which two "baccy" pipes are placed on the ground in the shape of a cross, and dancers perform complicated dance steps around the pipes, careful to not move them. Heels clacked loudly on the floor, and laughs emanated from the crowd as several of the children kicked their sticks around.

"Bacca Pipes" was followed by the rapper dance where five dancers are connected by flexible, two-handled swords known as rappers. They form an unbroken chain through which the dancers weave in complicated patterns. Experienced rapper dancers will also jump or flip themselves over the swords. For the first group, comprised of mainly children, the audience applauded their efforts as well as the star they made by interlocking their swords at the very end of the dance. The Berea Festival Dancers also performed the rapper, wowing spectators with their experience and skill with the swords.

For the grand finale, the festival leaders gave a surprise dance, the "Levi Jackson Rose," to the tune of "October Rose." After another brief break, all of the students who participated in the festival came back out to do the "Gisburn Processional" while holding flowering branches. The dance was symbolic of heralding in the month of May and the spring season. "We're carrying in our future," said Rose. She later added, "We hold the future right here, in our children."

After the branches were carried away, the audience members were whisked onto the floor to participate in mixer dances. Dancers as well as inexperienced spectators cheered and encouraged one another along, creating an even more festive atmosphere. The mixer dances were called by Bob Dalsemer, who is the coordinator of music and dance programs at the John C. Campbell Folk School. He is also the former president of the Country Dance and Song Society of America. Dalsemer has 25 years of calling experience, an easy going manner and exceptional teaching skills. He is one of the country’s most popular traditional dance callers.

The Mountain Folk Festival celebrates young people dancing and learning to dance. It was started as part of the Appalchian outreach programs of Berea College. The Festival has trained both dancers and dance leaders who have carried on the cultural folk traditions of the area. For more information on the Mountain Folk Festival or Berea College's dance department, please follow the links below.

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