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Traditional Folkdance in Kentucky

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Traditional Folkdance in Kentucky


Article by LeeEllen Friedland describing the social setting for community dances as well as the dance figures themselves. She differentiates among three types of dance: single dancing, couple dancing and group dancing.

Folklorist Burt Feintuch provides a historical look at Kentucky dances in his article here.

(excerpt from pp. 6–7)
"The frequency of dances in Kentucky varied from one community to the next. Most communities had a dance once, or sometimes twice a month. Everyone, young and old, attended. Starting in the early part of this century, the young people of some communities got together to socialize more often and had a dance every Saturday night.

"The dances were always held in people's homes. Neighbors took turns hosting them. Most houses were small and had small rooms leading off each other. Dances flourished in such seemingly inconvenient places. All the furniture was cleared out of the front room or "sitting room," and as many people as could fit comfortably in that space would dance, often only four couples. The musicians and the caller would stand in the doorway and the rest of the room would be filled with bystanders. Sometimes there would be another set or group dancing in the room on the other side of the doorway.

"It is important to realize how much of a unified, community experience these dances really were. Primarily, they provided a time to socialize and dancing was indeed the best loved way to do it. Since the available space often limited the number of people dancing at any given time, there were usually quite a few bystanders chatting or taking refreshments. Dancing, nevertheless, was the focal point. There was never any distracting activity near the dancing. Bystanders encouraged dancers with inspired whoops and hollers, or sometimes teased a friend who was dancing in the set. The dancers themselves, although focused on each other, the music, and the caller's instructions, responded heartily to the bystanders' input. The dancers sometimes responded with eye contact,a teasing reply, or more often a burst of energy or innovation in their dancing. The caller might react to the bait by calling a tricky figure or a local favorite that would raise the intensity of energy in the set. The-musicians were also responsive and matched the energy and innovation of the others in their playing. The cat-calling did not occur constantly through a dance. It was an embellishment; a special, playful spice added to spur everyone's spirits. It is indicative, however, of the underlying and constant involvement of everyone in the room. During a dance, the energy and fellowship was shared by everyone present. It was in the truest sense a community experience."


Country Dance and Song, #10 (1979), pp. 5–19, published by Country Dance and Song Society; used with permission of the author and CDSS.

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